Diversity in Star Wars
I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi a few weeks ago in theatres and ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT OH MY GOODNESS PEOPLE THAT WAS AMAZING. I fangirled pretty hard on the ride home with my two siblings, it was way too much for my poor nerves to handle.
Instead of sharing a film review (because I wouldn't be able to get anything out other than dying flamingo noises of happiness), I thought I'd write about something that's been on my mind recently. Namely, diversity in the Star Wars franchise.
(Full disclosure, I'm as white as white can get so obviously I don't have any real-life experience with being a person of colour (PoC) beyond what I've read. If you're a PoC I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! (And I will mostly be talking about racial diversity, because otherwise we'll be here all day.) Also please note I know this post is only skin-deep but this is a topic that deserves an essay, so I tried to keep it short.)
When researching the representation of PoC for this post, I became aware of how much cultural coding I've accepted without noticing. Alien races in Star Wars aren't so alien when you consider races such as the Neimodians, who speak with an East-Asian accent and wear clothing very similar to Chinese and Japanese traditional clothing. Plus they’re the bad guys. Cultural coding. Not great.
In terms of human (or human-looking) PoC, both the original trilogy and the prequels majorly sucked. There were only two black characters in six movies with any speaking time, said characters being Mace Windu and Lando Calorissian.
(Personally, they’re two of my favourite Star Wars characters (how freaking cool is Mace Windu? He took on Darth Sidious alone and totally would have beat him if Anakin hadn’t stabbed him in the back (metaphorically (he more slice his arm off (not metaphorically))).
That being said, they were still minor characters. And two black characters for six movies? Really? How many Latino characters were there? Asian? Biracial? The list goes on forever and none of them are in Star Wars. Racial diversity in the first six Star Wars movies sucks, the end.
Enter The Force Awakens. Oh my goodness. Someone catch me, I’m going to faint from happiness. There was a female lead and a black lead. WHAT. They were both fully fleshed-out characters with autonomy and kick-butt skills and epic hilariousness and oh my, my heart is way too happy. Rey, Finn, Poe? There were female Asian pilots (the originals had only white men) and tonnes of extras were PoC and it was just beautiful.
The following movies followed in The Force Awakens’ footsteps. Rogue One had a Mexican character with his accent (yay!), Asian characters, black characters, and Middle Eastern characters (who wasn’t a terrorist!). The one gripe I had with this movie was that the engineers who worked on the Death Star were all old white men. (In case you didn’t know, I’m a young white female engineering student.) A bit annoying, but I can swallow it.
We had the addition of Rose in The Last Jedi, an Asian-American character who was decidedly fantastic (although I like Poe better, sorry Rose). (There are people out there who think The Last Jedi treated its PoC characters poorly (take a read of this article). I personally think that’s people looking into having non-white characters too much and scrutinising every move, but as I said I am white and I did grow up with PoC being erased from or poorly represented in my media.)
I know diversity has been talked to death. I know a lot of people are sick of hearing that we need more diversity because it shouldn’t be a big deal to have a black man as the lead character in a major franchise. It shouldn’t. It should be normal, but it isn’t. We still need to talk about it, still need to champion for more PoC to be well-represented in our media.
It’s been a pleasure to see the franchise grow up alongside me, and I pray the future Star Wars movies will continue down this path. The last three movies have been a step in the right direction, something I am so thankful for.
The world I live in is varied and diverse and beautiful. I want the worlds I immerse myself in to reflect that, and for people to finally see themselves on adventures, no matter who they are.
Are you sick of talking about diversity yet? What did you think of the latest Star Wars?