Last week, Kelly Marie Tran, the Asian-American actor who played Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, shut down her Instagram account after being bombarded with racist and misogynist insults for months. Daisy Ridley (Rey) was harassed into leaving Instagram in 2016. John Boyega (Finn) has received similar negative attention for his Star Wars appearances.
There were many things wrong with The Last Jedi, but Kelly Marie Tran, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were among the bright spots in a badly conceived story. Rian Johnson wrote and directed a film with a diverse cast that put the women and some of the people of color in prominent positions. Then he tore them down.
This is a classic example of a film that pretends to be a step in the right direction for the portrayal of diversity, but when you look below the surface, it’s projecting the opposite. General Organa waits for Luke to rescue her, just as she did when she was a captured teenager. Vice Admiral Holdo’s leadership is undermined by the handsome young male pilot, Poe, then she fails at her mission and is fridged. Poe is a person of color, so, unlike his predecessor Han Solo, his independence and bravado are punished rather than rewarded. The other two main people of color, Finn and Rose, are basically ineffectual sidekicks and comic relief, one of the tropiest of tropes. Their mission also fails and threatens the continuation of the rebellion.
Despite the complaints by racist, misogynist fans that their heretofore white supremacist entertainment has been taken over by immigrants and “feminazis”, in fact, in The Last Jedi it’s the white people, mostly men, who teach the lessons, retain leadership and save the day in the Last Jedi, just as they always have in Star Wars, aside from minor, token roles and actions.
Misogyny and racism start at the top. Blame the rich white guy who wrote and directed The Last Jedi if you don’t like what happened in the film, not the actors who were hired to follow the script. Star Wars was always theoretically about diversity, and its universe has evolved along with the times. But it’s never been at the forefront of change, and it still isn’t. The Star Wars version of diversity mainly involves the use of puppets and computer graphics.
Of course racist and misogynist fanwanks are on the attack. The film itself reinforces their opinions and gives them tacit permission. We just weren’t supposed to notice on a conscious level, or say it out loud if we did. And, of course it’s the woman of color who’s getting attacked the hardest. That’s a no brainer. In these hateful people’s minds, she has more strikes against her than a man who’s not white, or a woman who is.
I felt sick when I finished watching this stereotype-filled, overused-trope ridden film. It was sad for Luke to die, but Jedi masters are never truly gone. Neither are the dominant white male attitudes that have fueled Star Wars from the beginning.
It’s not enough to simply insert women and people of color into media, but still treat them/us as second class citizens, as we’ve been treated since forever. When someone like General Leia (😭😭😭😭😭) or Vice Admiral Holdo (😭😭) stands up and becomes the definitive, charismatic leader of the Resistance and not only lives, but thrives, and is shown, on camera, giving orders, developing strategy and being shown respect equal to the male leaders, without ever being expected to sacrifice herself or needing to turn to her male relatives or mentors to save her, then we will have made progress. When the majority of people of color are shown as characters who are equal to their white counterparts at all levels of society, in all kinds of situations, and as characters who don’t give in to temptations easily, who don’t frighten or panic easily, who don’t automatically joke their way through every situation or use their sexuality as their chief coping and survival tool, and who aren’t written into the trope of overly rigid thinking, then we will have made progress.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not progress. If you still don’t understand why, I invite you to read our Guidelines for Spotting Equality vs Misogyny.
Images courtesy of Disney.