April 29, 2014

Dear Star Wars: Episode VII, You Forgot Something - The Women

I'd like to think we've come a long way since 1977. Our clothes are more fashionable, our cars are smaller, and we've made progress with equality for all. It's no longer a world where people can brush off something like only having a single female character in a cast of males as being a product of the time - that's often the reasoning about Princess Leia being the only leading woman in the original Star Wars trilogy. But over 35 years later, are we really back in the same boat? From the Star Wars: Episode VII casting announcement today, it looks like we may be.


The line-up, according to StarWars.com is as follows: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow will join the original stars of the saga, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Kenny Baker.

I'm not the sort to complain all the time. I love the Star Wars universe and defend parts of it that others like to pick on. And, yes, I'm still excited about Episode VII and the cast members they have in place and the remainder of the sequel trilogy. However, my second reaction after exclaiming over the fact that there was finally news about Episode VII, was a mix of frustration, anger, and sadness. Of all the new cast members, there was one woman. One.

What. the...

Now, Daisy Ridley could be the star of the movie. That would help, but the problem remains that in this group of seven new cast members who are presumably the leads of Episode VII that will carry on the Star Wars torch, only one of them is a female. I keep getting hung up on that number. One out of seven. Yes, more women may appear in the supporting cast - dear goodness, I hope so - but why aren't there more at the helm of the movie? I'm confused for a few reasons.

Firstly, Star Wars seemed to be handling diversity across not only gender but race better. They were making slow progress, but it was progress. You can see evidence in the Expanded Universe, in Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Ahsoka Tano, Asajj Ventress, Barriss Offee), and in the upcoming series Star Wars Rebels (Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren). Though the original and prequel trilogies and Clone Wars may have followed a formula where only one woman was really a lead character, Star Wars Rebels set a different example. It gave me hope for the sequel trilogy.

Secondly, well written female characters make money. No one in Hollywood can fail to see the success of movies like Catching Fire and Frozen. And Disney has no freaking excuse after the way Frozen busted box office records. One small but meaningful example is a comparison of wait times at Disneyland to meet Thor or Captain America vs. the wait time to meet Anna and Elsa. As of earlier today, the Thor and Cap lines were at 70 minutes. The line for Anna and Elsa was at 160. Go ahead, check a wait time app at multiple times during the day. Children - boys and girls - are waiting hours in line to meet two female characters.

Finally, they can do better. Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams are smart people. They wouldn't be where they are otherwise. They have to be aware of the notes I just listed and of the fact that many Star Wars fans are concerned about diversity. We're not exactly quiet about it. I'm not saying they have to listen to our demands for more female characters or anything else, but I'd be curious to know what sort of conversations were had about creating characters for Episode VII. Could it improve in the rest of the trilogy? Sure, and I'll be happy if that's the case, but it doesn't erase the fact that as of right now, Episode VII has one woman in its lead cast.

And in case you're thinking it, yes, it does matter. Star Wars is more than a just an action movie and bigger than a franchise. It's seeped into our culture in a way that not many other stories have managed to do. If Star Wars isn't considering greater diversity and equality in casts, it's bad news for everyone.

13 comments:

  1. I came home after a long day and I saw this news. And yes, I consider it news. When a legendary franchise announces cast for a trilogy that was never supposed to happen, it is big. And then after getting through the list, 'disappointed' does not even begin to express my feelings. I teach second grade and many of my students are Star Wars fans - yes there have been epic lightsaber battles at recess (I am usually a bounty hunter). I know my students and as their group have both boys and girls, there will be questions regarding why there is only one female lead. And how will I respond to them? How and why do I need to explain that in this day and age, women are still overlooked. I am sad that those making the decisions have limited their vision.

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  2. What's the problem with the cast? Sex gender? That's ridiculous. Feminist people want equality but they just complain about if a person is a boy or a girl. You should start seeing other people as individuals, regardless the sex.

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    1. If you think 1 in 7 is equality then you need a wake-up call.

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    3. If the people casting movies saw actors as people regardless of gender then about half of all casts would be female. But sadly the 1 to 7 ratio of this movie is far to common and the fact the people like you don't see a problem is exactly what is the problem.

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    4. Good point, Ryan. It's not as if males have cornered the market on good acting (or bad acting for that matter). I'm thinking it's about 50/50. ;)

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    5. No, just no. These aren't complaints that a given actor who has been selected for the movie is male. Let me repeat that: we aren't upset that Andy Serkis is a man. We aren't upset that John Boyega is a man. The complaint is that females are underrepresented. We're 50% of the population, as KEJ references. So where are the female sci-fi protagonists? Where are the female superheroes?
      Do you know what it's like to grow up looking like someone that only gets a supporting role in the kind of movies and television shows you like? Maybe you should try to understand instead of just being dismissive. Maybe you should follow your own advice and start listening to us as individuals, rather than just telling yourself that we're complaining about nothing.

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    6. It's sexist to judge a group of people by the amount of people of the same sex in it.

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    7. Ah, so I see you won't take your advice, so why would it even be worth my consideration.

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  3. Sorry but just because you, as a male, don't think it is a big deal for 50% of the population to be underrepresented, doesn't make it so. And, since 80% of protagonists are male, not sure if you have a leg to stand on. The next time you go to see a movie that stars 90% female characters and you feel that the movie was truly marketed to your wants and needs, you let me know. Keeping in mind, that those of us females passionate about this issue will still go to see the movie. Could you say the same?

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  4. The same fans who fly into a frothing rage about "who shot first", or about how much they hate/love the Prequels/The EU/etc, are now acting as if those of us bringing this issue up are raining on *their* Star Wars parade, while they just want to celebrate...it's pretty rich. One person on TFN responded to a poster bringing up the lack of gender/ethnic diversity in the cast by huffing, "and THIS is why we can't have nice, apolitical things." Well, that's what happens when there's not fair representation--things get "political", which has become a dumb buzzword for people too cowardly to simply stand up for the right thing.

    Anyway, great essay, Amy, and let's hope that the remaining cast announcements do a better job reflecting reality outside of some histrionic Men's Rights Advocate meeting.

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  5. So the first thing I noticed was no Lando. Then I noticed the lack of women. Both disappointed me.

    Then I had to decide how to frame this for my 10 year old daughter. I want her to be knowledgeable and aware of her world. I want her to hold her head up high as a girl and as a science fiction fan. But I also know that she can latch onto news and focus on it so much that it can make or break something for her. Which is exactly what happened when I told her that the new cast had one woman who was rumored to possibly be the star. Thankfully it was the news that the new Star Wars movie might have a woman as its star. So for that I'm thankful, but there still needs to be more representation in this movie.

    And Lando.

    There really needs to be Lando.

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    1. No Lando, no Asian characters anywhere. I can't even recall a single Asian character in the entire Star Wars universe (and no, cheesy Alien Chinese characters don't count).

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