[Editor’s Note – Two of our writers wanted to take a shot at the recent Star Wars boycott controversy. Normally we’d select one to run with it, but they both offered different takes on the topic that we felt were interesting and worth hearing with the overall broad strokes complimenting each other. So, here’s both their pieces!]
The Star Wars franchise is huge and I mean HUGE. I’m sure most of you know this but for those of you don’t it is a behemoth. Everything from merchandise, apparel and even a religion. As a huge Star Wars fan I am constantly trying to chill about the new movie that is due for release on the 17th of December.
The new trailer was released and I cried big ugly tears from excitement. I love love LOVE it; the books, the art work, the cosplays and even the fandom. Except, something cropped up that made me laugh and I laughed hard because there has always been a part of me that wondered how unaccepted representation can be within our fandoms.
When I say representation I mean representation for everyone regardless of colour, age, religion, ability and gender. The standard for a protagonist is caucasian and male for most genres of movie. There has been an increase in diversity but the backlash from fans following the release of the latest trailer. If you haven’t watched it yet, have a look below.
Two trolls on twitter got undoubtedly one of the most ridiculous hashtags trending. #BoycottStarWarsVII started trending because the poor individuals who started it claimed that the diverse nature of the cast was promoting “White Genocide”. Let that sink in a bit …… They want to encourage a mass boycotting of Star Wars because of a lack of white leads. Luckily the first couple of tweets were trolls but the ones that followed, not so much.
Here is one of the tweets that started it
The casting of British actor John Boyega as Finn is what sparked all of this. Why now you may be asking yourself ? Well all because it is closer to the release date of course. Nothing like stirring the pot just as it comes to a simmer. John Boyega was cast months and months ago so this makes me wonder as to the timing of the trolling. Some mistook the tweet as something serious and made it serious. The first tweet was taken to heart by alot of people because it seemed to kick starta vile call to arms to boycott the latest movie. The boycott fake or not is discriminatory, some would even say racist. I would agree with most of these statements but my heart is leaning towards ignorant as well as racist.
When the cast was released I was ecstatic because the last time I saw a cast as diverse recently was the cast of Sense8. Diversity is not a strong point in a majority of blockbuster movies and the fact that this happened gave me a bit hope. Hope for all the people that give their heart and souls to this franchise but don’t feel represented within it.
Others (the ones who took this seriously) have had the gall to say that this agenda was pushed by SJW’s or that, and I quote ,” black people are misapproriating white media “. At this point I should have developed abs from the bouts of hysterical laughter that I have had. Misappropriating white media, wow just WOW. Have to hand it to them this is a reach even for them . It’s nothing new that leading role actors tend to fall into the category for white males but to cry foul for having a diverse cast is frankly quite pathetic. Day in day out people watch shows that they enjoy but aren’t represented in and you know what? They suck it up and deal with it. Very rarely do they manage to get these hashtags trending. Who knew a little melonin could cause such uproar.
I was speechless for the longest time because this term of “White Genocide” honestly did not and still does not compute. The rest of this persons twitter is pretty much the same. So Star Wars is being used as a prop to spread their despicable message. But what I have to say because of that account all those who agree with the boycott have reared their butt hurt heads at the fact that the white man doesn’t always save the world…… Surprise surprise. Is it truly that hard to believe that entire ethnicities don’t just disappear in the future. Could it be that the future isn’t as white washed as some hoped it would god forbid that diversity remains a thing.
So, what I have gathered from this occurence is that black people can only be in Star Wars if they are supporting actors, not the main focus of anything, or providing voice talent off-screen, like Darth Vader. In the future god forbid a dark skinned person be actually needed to help save the world. As long as you are of an alien race or white, being at the helm of saving the world is part of your job description.
On the flip side if you are a woman you are in the clear! Star Wars has always had a pretty diverse cast.. seriously though did they not watch any of the previous 6 movies or at least the original trilogy?!
— Jon Tsuei (@jontsuei) October 19, 2015
This is how I honestly want to imagine George Lucas is like today because I had a good laugh best laugh I’ve had in ages. The whole situation has filled me with a strange sense of glee that people are so bitter over such a thing as skin tone. Chances are these people were of the same ilk of the ones who cried “feminist propoganda!” at Mad Max: Fury Road.
The force does not discriminate and neither does a galaxy far far away. I still smile each time I see the hashtag because only some truly butt hurt individuals would feel so personally attacked by a world they wouldn’t last 5 minutes in. I am so proud to be a fan of Star Wars as a whole because the majority reacted the same way, worldwide. The fact that it managed to get trending was because most were just baffled that it ever became a thing. Change is truly coming and I hope people like the ones who made themselves known on twitter will be disappointed more in the future. The world is full of colour all people need to do is open their eyes and minds. Even if people do boycott it, I won’t be mad and do you know why? Because I will be sitting in my movie seat basking in all the multi ethnic glory that is Star Wars: Force Awakens.
Earlier this week, the internet was met with a new hashtag. It was spawned in the wake of the recent trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The trailer shows, among other things, that one of the leading characters, Finn (John Boyega), is black. Some thought that this casting would alienate the films core audience of white males. Others went further, saying that the move was a cynical attempt to appeal to a particular political point of view. Others went still further, taking the move as evidence of an attempt to marginalise white people from Western popular culture so as to pave the way for the subjugation of caucasians culminating in a ‘white genocide’.
According to Josh Dickey of Mashable “Of everyone who tweeted the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII on Monday, 94% were merely expressing outrage over its existence, according to a statistically relevant sample examined by social media social listening and analytics firm Fizziology for Mashable. The other 6% were “racist trolls trying to get people mad,” the firm told Mashable, adding that many of them also used their rants to campaign for Donald Trump.” Meanwhile, Fruzsina Eördögh of Motherboard explains the inciting incidents in detail.
The whole debacle is curious for its before and after quality. Indeed this very article started life as a form of protest. Supposing that the hashtag was the result of embittered bigots I felt compelled to speak up. To draw attention to the colossal ignorance that had spawned the hashtag and and how it was a pathetic attempt to espouse that same ignorance. However, there are two considerations to make. Pointing out the idiocies and anachronisms very quickly became redundant. There were a considerable efforts already made on social media that was was covered on other media outlets. It seemed #BoycottStarWarsVII had been so well spurned, spoofed and spotlighted that I questioned whether I could make a meaningful contribution to further the discourse.
However, it is not a question of timing. It is a question of voice.
For those that don’t already know, I am white, straight, cisgender, male and middle class. These simple facts have two implications. First, the idea of me having any kind of axe to grind is comical on face value. That’s fairly simple. The second implication is the one that presents problems. If you are the member of privileged group then speaking up for an unprivileged group is potentially fraught. It is not that expressing sympathy is bad. Far from it. Our personal humanity consists in the ability to recognise the humanity of others. More than that, any socio-cultural-political gain main by a historically persecuted group has (at least in part) been the result of support from persons within privileged groups. However, if you are speak up for someone you are still speaking for them. It may sound trivial, but systematic oppression has operated by denying the oppressed a voice, which is especially relevant when in comes to issues of race. Casual bigotry often includes derisive comments concerning a racial group’s speech patterns, real or alleged. Also, the song often referred to as the “Black American National Anthem” is called ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’. As a sidebar, voice is also pertinent for the fact that #BoycottStarWarsVII presume to speak for all white people, including me.
Being a person of five-fold privilege then puts me in something of a quandary. If I see examples of a prejudice toward a specific group my common humanity tells me to call it out. On the other hand, how do I ensure that my voice (as a result of its being privileged) won’t drown out those whom I seek to support? It’s not enough to protest. You have to call attention to the underlying assumptions and prejudices that allow that enabled the thing you are protesting. In this case, the idea that people like me are more worth listening to by dint of their skin pigmentation has to be challenged.
Therefore, before adding to the protest, I am obliged to call attention to other voices. Obliged because the prejudice being protested is enabled by the culturally ingrained assumption that my voice has greater currency – an assumption that cannot be left unchecked. For start I would direct anyone reading this to Tendai Muzwidzwa, my colleague at The Arcade. Biases not with standing, her comments are reliably incisive. In addition to her, I can suggest the voices of Latifah Muhammad on HipHopWired, of Yesha Callahan on The Root and of Justin Carissimo on The Independent.
#BoycottStarWarsVII has been so well spurned, spoofed and spotlighted that at this point I have to ask whether I can make a meaningful contribution to further the discourse. I don’t know that being white allow me some insight as to the initial use of #BoycottStarWarsVII. The hashtag was an attempt by white supremacist to gain publicity by extension followers. Anyone could work that out irrespective of their skin tone. The same number of people have doubtless worked out that some used the hashtag was used by attention seekers more generally.
In all honesty, if there is a particular white experience attached to the furore, it is one of embarrassment. Some may refute the idea that they are or should be embarrassed about race matters in the present day owing to the fact that they were not alive to partake in X, Y or Z atrocity but that misses the point. Racial discrimination exists at an institutional level. Living with the knowledge that it affords you preferential treatment is enough to make a vaguely self-aware person blush. It is worth being embarrassed about. How the series handled issues of cultural exchange, cultural appropriation and racial representation in the past remains an open question, one that there isn’t time to tackle here. Even so, having a franchise like Starr Wars, a centre-piece of modern popular culture, cast a black actor in a leading role is encouraging because it has the potential to broaden representation across racial lines with great impact. With this realisation, the trolls took to the web. With this hashtag, white embarrassment consisted not only in the past’s intrusion of the present. It was the being reminded that there are still those who will use any sordid means to return us to primitive times.
However, the discovery that #BoycottStarWarsVII was the result of trolls the embarrassment is not confined to white. Motherboard‘s Fruzsina Eördögh writes “The narrative on Monday was that this was a movement of racists, not that a large number of people were speaking out against a small handful of racists. It was in this way that the media became victim of its own sensationalism, and fabricated a story that didn’t actually exist.” The embarrassment is that internet users (myself included) are yet to get wise to the tricks of trolls and that those tasked with keeping use informed are ill-equipped to do so. Still, having been so flatly quashed by the weight of public opinion, there is reason to be hopeful.
Still, the real embarrassment, white or otherwise, falls on the hashtag users. Having been so flatly quashed by the weight of public opinion, there is reason to be hopeful after.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released December 16.
What do you make of the hashtag? What do you make of the response to the hashtag? What do you make of the casting the hashtag was responding to? Should we abolish/abandon hashtags at this point with a view to avoiding such malarkey in the future? Let us know in the comments section!