Star Wars and Diversity in Modern Casting
So I will begin this post by admitting that as I represent arguably one of the most privileged class of people in the world i.e male, white, heterosexual, American, middle-class, I am probably pretty tone deaf when it comes to certain complaints about diversity. I will also admit that as an OG Star Wars fanboy I am probably going to be a bit more forgiving in the early stages of PR for Episode 7.
So the other day a photo was released showing the core cast for the next movie in the franchise, directed by J.J.Abrams. I share below:
Nevermind how many of us were geeking out about seeing Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in the same room. Apparently the first thing a lot of people noticed was the lack of ‘diversity’ in the cast. Only two female leads and only one non-white guy. Annalee Newitz, writing for io9, has some major complaints:
Having Ridley is great, but one new female lead in a cast of men? That’s how we launch ourselves into the future of this series, which inspires little girls with pink swords, as well as old girls like myself who graduated to sharper weapons long ago? Are we seriously still pretending that the universe is comprised almost entirely of men (and mostly white men at that)? Mythic tales are supposed to open up possibilities, not shut them down.
I am doing a lot of head-scratching about this. After all, the core cast of the original three movies was white (except for Billy Dee Williams’ Lando). We know that Han Solo and Leia got married and so unless biology works different in the Star Wars universe than it does here on Earth, they are going to have white kids. We also know from the Lucas-approved book series that Luke Skywalker marries a ‘fair-skinned redhead’ named Mara Jade so again, biology seems to dictate white children. The books also indicate a total of three sons and one daughter for the core characters. Abrams has already made it clear that he is not going to follow the plots of the books exactly but it is assumed he is sticking to some of the basic framework.
Given the overall negative impression most people have of Episodes 1-3 and the still-beloved status of Episodes 4-6, it is conceivable that no other movie release has ever received the scrutiny awaiting Episode 7. Prior to its release in 2015 every tiny detail that comes out will be analyzed ad nauseum. This is expected from the core fanbase however it comes as a bit of a surprise to me how much the general public might be interested in what the cast looks like.
Newitz has a good point about the opportunity for Disney (owners of the Star Wars franchise) to create some new role models for young girls. Episodes 1-3 failed to deliver on that front and there wasn’t enough mainstream support for the Clone Wars animated series to get large numbers of young girls onboard with characters like Ahsoka Tano or Asajj Ventress.
These days casting studios seem to not only have a business rationale for a diverse cast (diversity can = bigger box office) but now they seem to be charged with a moral obligation to represent diversity whenever possible. Is this fair? My inclination is to say no, but again, I am the white guy. I think that if a diverse cast makes sense in the context of the story being told, then yeah, this should be a natural byproduct of storytelling. But diversity simply for the sake of diversity? My conservative DNA has a real problem with this.
My hope is that this is much ado about nothing. The character of Mon Mothma could easily play an important role in the new movies and we don’t know how big of a part is awaiting Daisy Ridley as Jaina Solo. It is also likely that Mara Jade will be cast at some point (I’m rooting for Rene Russo). And maybe Lando will be added. Not to mention a host of other ancillary characters who can be female, non-white and hopefully appease the complainers. In the meantime, maybe young girls don’t necessarily need female role models:
Mike Dwyer is a freelance writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture, the outdoors and whatever else strikes his fancy. His personal site can be found at www.mikedwyerwrites.com. He is also active on Facebook and Twitter. Mike is one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky.