Why it sucks that Star Wars is full of white guys

The internet exploded when director J. J. Abrams let the world have a first peek at the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII, but not all the shouting has been celebratory. Out of the 13 cast members revealed, only two were female (Carrie Fisher and Daisy Ridley) and only one was a person of colour (John Boyega) and many criticized the predominantly white male cast.

Part of this reaction is likely in response to the announced departure from Star Wars’ expanded universe as a basis for the film, as the expanded universe has received a lot of praise for its increasingly diverse cast. Many female fans especially have voiced their appreciation and adoration for many of the expanded universe’s female characters who continue to be well-developed and fully fleshed out individuals rather than mere props and tokens. A common example of this is Ahsoka Tano from the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series.

lando calrissianWhile something can be said for how Princess Leia’s take-no-flak attitude spoke to girls and women in the original trilogy, other examples of female characters in the film franchise are few and far between. Padmé left much to be desired for a vast section of the audience, including those who were just looking for a character who seemed like a genuine human being, not just a potential role model. On the whole, there just doesn’t seem to be any female film characters other than Leia that leave a lasting impression. Similarly, Lando Calrissian was the only person of color in the original trilogy, and the lasting impression of Lando on fans as a traitor has been the subject of parody in the past. Notably, actor Billy Dee Williams is presently absent from Episode VII’s cast. The prequel films also saw the inclusion of the character of Mace Windu. Overall, this gives the impression that part of the formula for the cast of a Star Wars film is to make sure you include one white woman and one black man, and for a woman to be able to speak more than a few words, she must be either someone’s love interest or motherly figure.

While the reality of one film trilogy not having a male-to-female or race ratio that comes anywhere near reality certainly does not seem like a big deal worthy of extensive criticism on its own, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of films do not have casts that accurately reflect the world we live in when it comes to race and gender differences. This trilogy does not exist in a vacuum, and criticisms of its casting must be considered in the context of the society in which they occurred. Caucasian males are dramatically over-represented in film and this is not accurately addressed by token people of color or female love interests. Ultimately, many Star Wars fans were hoping that this new trilogy would not continue this pattern of over-representation since there is no real reason for it. Unlike a franchise like The Avengers or even Star Trek where the characters come from an existing intellectual property which already contains a predominantly white male cast, this new trilogy of Star Wars films features completely original characters that are not bound by previous representations. Obviously, a character that is Han and Leia’s biological child would be Caucasian, but other than a situation like this there’s no reason for a 92% white and 85% male cast. With no justification of being a cast of characters written in a time before modern day race relations or feminism, where is the explanation for a lack of people of color and women? What can we attribute it to other than a systemic preference in the film industry to tell the stories of white males as the stories for everyone and the stories of women and people of color as those the stories for those groups alone? Why, in 2014, is “white guy” still our default setting?

Ahsoka Tano from Star Wats The Clone Wars

Admittedly, these 13 individuals do not make up the entire cast of the films, nor does their mere presence make any clear indication of how their characters will be written. However, past experience has left many pessimistic, myself included. At present, many are betting on who will be Daisy Ridley’s sibling or love interest, and who will be John Boyega’s best friend. I don’t believe that it is fair to label director J. J. Abrams as a misogynist or racist based solely on this casting either; his previous work on shows like Alias and LOST show evidence to the contrary even if his recent big screen exploits have cast a shadow. However, it is fair to say that Abrams in contributing to a larger problem in films involving the erasure of women and people color. We know from the greater Star Wars universe that women and people of color exist in powerful roles, so why do they all seem to be in a galaxy far, far away from the spotlight?

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Genevieve LeBlanc
Genevieve LeBlanc 126 posts

Genevieve LeBlanc is a contributing writer for NerdReactor.com and lives in snowy Canada.