New reports suggest there is now a mandate that all future Star Wars projects will need to have a woman or person of color as the leading character. Despite not being all that surprising, the news doesn’t fail to spark controversy among fans of the franchise. The news comes from insider Daniel Richtman, who shared what he’d learned with his Patreon.
There has been a lot of movement towards more diversity in film in recent years. In Star Wars in particular, the changes have been gradual and met with vocal fan reactions. When J.J. Abrams launched the sequel trilogy, he told fans that were angry at the female-driven story that if they were threatened by women they should probably not watch the movies. Kathleen Kennedy, the current president of Lucasfilm, has said that the more diverse casts in movies like Rogue One and The Force Awakens weren’t accidents.
Currently, we have The Mandalorian with Chilean-born Pedro Pascal. In upcoming projects for Star Wars, we have several titles with diverse leads, including The Book of Boba Fett, Ahsoka, and The Acolyte.
The issue many fans claim to have with the issue of a ruling that all new titles must have a woman or person of color in the leading role is the idea of “forced diversity.” They claim that if the story justifies having a diverse lead, then everything is fine. However, if they’re just there to be there, or to “pander to SJWs” (social justice warriors), then something is terribly amiss. There seems to be a worry that white men are being written out of Hollywood or Star Wars at least.
If a Star Wars character falls flat and reads as a bid for “forced diversity,” doesn’t this speak more to the idea that the writers aren’t doing so great? When most movies we’ve seen are led by white men, it makes sense that the writer’s room is full of people who only know how to write those stories. If the diverse lead character just plain sucks, maybe the writer’s room could use some “forced diversity”.
A running example of the diversity debate among Star Wars fans will always come around to Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran. The actress famously left Instagram after facing fan harassment. Her character was often referred to as pointless and a token to diversity. Again, these arguments are proposed as one against hiring an Asian actress, and the idea of pandering to crowds wanting to see more diversity, not against the idea of terrible writing.
More recently, John Boyega has been vocal about his character (and other POC) shoved aside in the Star Wars storyline. The story’s central characters soon became the ones played by Driver and Ridley, while Kelly Marie Tran, Naomi Ackie, and Oscar Isaac were somewhat forgotten. Boyega has been very vocal about his feelings on this matter, to the point of warning other actors before signing on for a Star Wars project.
Marvel Studios (owned by Disney, as is Star Wars) has also seen a move toward more diversity in recent years, also with backlash. Anthony Mackie spoke about this, saying “I’ll say this: I don’t think what’s happening is a racism problem. I think it’s an unawareness problem.”
As studios commit to making their movies more diverse, they’re going to mess stuff up. They just don’t know what they’re doing. What does a diverse cast look like? They aren’t really sure, since we haven’t seen enough of them. What does a well-rounded Asian character look like? The examples are sparse. They’re going to fail to write rich characters. They’re going to fail to properly capture experiences. And they’re going to divide fandoms.
But with so many Star Wars projects announced for the coming years, this is a franchise that may have the room to figure some of it out.