The insane link between racism and Star Wars has continued to build as we edge closer to the theatrical release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It’s during this period that I’m reminded of how much I love Star Wars and of how much I hate racism.
Three new character-orientated movie posters have now been released in China for The Force Awakens. However, instead of getting us excited about the film, our attention is drawn to one poster in particular, notable because of the inclusion of Finn, played by the British actor John Boyega.
Introduction: I Love Star Wars; I Hate Racism.
There’s a part of me that thinks that I should stay away from the topic of racism. After all, AtThaMovies is a website that’s about movies, comic-books and all things ‘geeky’. We use these mediums as a way to escape the difficulties we face in our day to day lives; we look up to fictitious characters, aspiring to have their strength and courage when we face our own hardships.
But there’s also a part of me that just can’t let go of this persistent debate over racism and Star Wars. There’s bile inducing idiots who share their irrational hatred of ethnic groups, under the guise of equal rights, whilst simultaneously showing bitter resentment towards George Lucas.
I hate racism and as well as being a white, middle-class, Scottish male, I’m also a Catholic. My religion is meaningless to 99.9% of the world’s population, yet there’s a small sub-culture in Western Scotland (and to a lesser degree, throughout Scotland and Northern Ireland) that Catholics are an inferior sub-species to Protestants.
While Scotland is one of the few places in the world where nobody cares about your skin color, sexuality or if you’re Jewish, Muslim, Jedi or any form of non-Christian religion, being a Catholic can, in my experience, mean you’re openly hated, ridiculed and protested against.
This may be foreign to you, but try imagining for a moment that where you live, a minority is allowed to march in celebration of a Protestant victory over the Irish Catholics in a battle that happened hundreds of years ago. Imagine for a moment that those marching were, until recently, allowed to march through Catholic neighbourhoods.
Weird, odd, Medieval right? Yet each year, entire cities are shut down and thrown into chaos so that this is allowed to happen – most notably in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
This is the equivalent to Turkish Muslims being allowed to march in the Deep South so that they can celebrate an ancient victory over the Christians during the Crusades of 1101. It’s absurd to say the least, and while in recent years America has been on High Terror Alert, bombs were sent in the mail to a former manager of Celtic F.C. All because the Glasgow football club is associated with Catholics.
The heated situation reached the absurd when on August 11th, 2011, a Hearts F.C. fan who appeared to assault the manager during a live broadcast of a soccer match was found not guilty of assault, breach of the peace or a pitch invasion fuelled by religious prejudice.
What does Catholicism or Sectarian violence have to do with Star Wars?… Nothing, yet everything. (I sound like mystical Yoda.)
Sectarian abuse has meant that I have had to deal with a substantial amount of hatred towards me and my family. While I agree that it isn’t as prominent as it once was, it’s still there. More often than not it tends to be kept to a slip of the tongue, a moment of road rage, a drunken slur. One of my most recent and favourite examples is when I was told:
“All Catholics are lazy pigs.”
My opinion of racism isn’t based on what I’ve read in a book, watched in a film or in any other non-invasive material. It’s based on real events in the Western World, some of which I’ve had to contend with in my own life.
George Lucas Is A Sexist Racist?
May 19th, 1999. Six months prior to The Millennium, all anyone wanted to think about or to talk about was the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
It had been sixteen years since Return of the Jedi and despite Lucas anticipating that sales of the Expanded Universe of comic-books, novels and merchandise would dwindle, the opposite happened, and encouraged by climbing sales, he decided to create a new trilogy of Star Wars films.
In a bold move, Lucas spent $18 million updating the original films as a way to to celebrate the 20th Anniversary release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. However, it was also a clever pre-marketing tactic used to raise awareness of the films and attract a new audience. This kept the Star Wars brand fresh and at the forefront of the public’s mind whilst anticipating the release of the prequel films.
Lucas felt that by updating the original trilogy’s special effects, film transfer and audio tracks, they would merge seamlessly with the new films in preproduction. Some years later, Dennis Murrin, who was the Special Effects Supervisor on The Special Editions, commented:
“You know, I was fine with doing it, I didn’t feel at all that we were hurting anything. My feeling always was that the original version was always gonna be there, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily happened… But at the time my feeling was that we could finally make these shots better, you know. He went through and picked a bunch of shots, and I picked a bunch of shots and we redid them so they just looked a lot better. I was fine with it, and I think it’s gone overboard, I think it’s been done too many times and too many shots, but I just feel as long as the original version is always there that it’s fine to be able to work on it later on, and sort of like ‘so what’, you know?“
In 1997, Lucas’ gamble paid off. The theatrical release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Special Edition grossed $138 million domestically and $118 million worldwide.
It’s hard to remember the mania that surrounded the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It was everywhere and while we all attempted to ‘keep our cool’, there was incredible excitement surrounding its release. The film went on to gross over $924 million worldwide and what we tend to forget is that it was very well received by both the public and the critics.
Shortly after The Phantom Menace’s release, numerous ethnic and feminist groups voiced their concerns over the design and use of characters in the film. The American civil rights activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr, accused Lucas of designing Jar Jar Binks to be a Jamaican stereotype. Jackson stated:
“Pretending a brother is an amphibian by making him orange is an even greater insult,”
Reverend Al Sharpton agreed with Jackson’s opinion and added:
“All you have to do is listen to the jive-ass fool. I mean, the dude speaks ebonics, man.”
Professor Michael Eric Dyson of African-American studies at Georgetown University felt compelled to add:
“The leader of Jar Jar’s tribe is a fat, bumbling buffoon with a rumbling voice, and he seems to be a caricature of a stereotypical African tribal chieftain.”
George Lucas continues to deny that racism played any part in the creation or design of Jar Jar Binks or the Gungans. In an effort to make light of the accusations made against him, Lucas retorted:
“How in the world you could take an orange amphibian and say that he’s a Jamaican? It’s completely absurd. Believe me, Jar Jar was not drawn from a Jamaican, from any stretch of the imagination.”
“Those criticisms are made by people who’ve obviously never met a Jamaican, because it’s definitely not Jamaican and if you were to say those lines in Jamaican they wouldn’t be anything like the way Jar Jar Binks says them. They’re basing a whole issue of racism on an accent, an accent that they don’t understand. Therefore if they don’t understand it, it must be bad.”
In the wake of the publicity surrounding The Phantom Menace and the debate over Jar Jar Binks, other groups looked to gain media exposure for their own civil right protests. Growth hacking this increasing trend, Jewish and Italian-American groups criticised the character Watto, feeling that he was reminiscent of Sir Alec Guinness’ apparently stereotypical portrayal of the character Fagin in the cinematic adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
This claim was refuted by Lucasfilm. However, Rob Coleman, the lead animator of Watto in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, disclosed that Sir Alec Guinness’ portrayal of Fagin was used as a point of reference as he worked on Watto.
Some Asian-American groups declared that the villain, Vice Nute Gunray, was a modernised, racist caricature as it mimicked their appearance and voice. The radical feminist group, N.O.W., also claimed that George Lucas was a “misogynistic woman basher”, adding:
“In Lucas’ films, women are schizophrenic, multiple personalities, playing either the sexy seductress, who tempts the pure-hearted hero to commit a wrong, as Leia does by kissing her brother Luke as Leia was as the Princess of Dantooine. Women can be more than temptresses. whores, or princesses; they can just as well be Monica Lewinsky or Hillary Clinton.”
Despite this negative press, Lucas looked relatively calm and somewhat amused as he looked to diffuse the situation. However, in his interview with BBC News as part of an article entitled Lucas Strikes Back (1999), he declared:
“There is a group of fans for the films that doesn’t like comic sidekicks. They want the films to be tough like Terminator, and they get very upset and opinionated about anything that has anything to do with being childlike.”
“The movies are for children but they don’t want to admit that. In the first film they absolutely hated R2 and C3-PO. In the second film they didn’t like Yoda and in the third one they hated the Ewoks… and now Jar Jar is getting accused of the same thing.”
“The American press uses the internet as their source for everything, so when people were creating Websites saying, ‘Let’s get rid of Jar Jar Binks, he’s terrible’ and some of the critics were describing him as a comic sidekick, they came in and they started calling the film racist.”
Prior to the release of The Phantom Menace, George Lucas held an open press conference to announce that there would be a Prequel trilogy. He noted that the films would mirror the original trilogy by Episode I being a ‘fun adventure film’ while the second and third acts would be have a more sinister tone.
In 1994, EW published a brief article about the announcement:
Best of all, Lucas reportedly may direct, something he hasn’t done since the 1977 original. That alone should send the studios scurrying. As one studio chief says, ”Somebody else doing Star Wars means nothing; George Lucas doing it means everything.”
It wasn’t until after the theatrical release of the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Editions that Lucas confirmed that he would direct Episode I. However, Ron Howard later noted that he was approached to direct the film:
“[Lucas] didn’t necessarily want to direct them. He told me he had talked to Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, and me. I was the third one he spoke to. They all said the same thing: ‘George, you should do it!’ I don’t think anybody wanted to follow-up that act at the time. It was an honor, but it would’ve been too daunting.”
At the time, Steven Spielberg was hotly tipped to take over as director for Episode II. In behind-the-scenes footage of The Phantom Menace, he’s shown to be a regular visitor to Pinewood Studios, England. While we can only speculate, this would suggest that they were both looking to ensure a smooth transition from Lucas to Spielberg.
Yet, in the months that followed the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, George Lucas changed his mind.
As the film was well received, he clearly had nothing to prove. After all, The Phantom Menace continues to be one of the highest grossing films of all time. We also know that he had no intention of directing the following two films.
However, amid negative press and constant questioning about the accusations made that he is a racist and a sexist, he suddenly changed his mind.
It takes tremendous grit and determination to jettison these accusations: Lucas did not want to leave behind a legacy that may label him as something that he clearly feels that he is not, and so he directed the sequels.
World War Finn
Earlier this week, the western world nearly declared World War 3 on China. While we could have picked a few holes in Chinese foreign diplomacy or have had a slight grumble over their human rights violations, we instead chose to voice our frustrations over how the character Finn has been a miniaturized in their version of the theatrical movie poster. But of all the things to focus on, is this really important? And as Star Wars lovers, can we not just admire the beautiful artwork and use the poster to get excited about the film?
While I can fully understand why people reacted in the way that they did, to me it’s a welcome relief that the issue of racism in Star Wars wasn’t shortly followed by John Boyega, Billy Dee Williams, George Lucas or Jar Jar Binks having to defend themselves in public or deflect questions on social media. Because after all, this poster should only be about love of the film.
While most of the Western World has moved on from the 1950s, parts of Asia and the US feel that it’s ‘okay’ to be afraid of a person’s skin color. But let’s be honest: Star Wars is set in a multicultural society. George Lucas’ wife isn’t white. And the central theme of the original trilogy is to rebel against an oppressive dictatorship and to fight for equal rights. So how on earth, or in a galaxy far far away, can some Star Wars fans, those I could refer to as ‘fuckwits’, appear to have a problem with a ‘black Stormtrooper’ ?! (John Boyega who plays the character, Finn in The Force Awakens).
After the first trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was released, the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII began to trend on Twitter. The Hashtag originated from a user in the United Kingdom (at 9pm Eastern Time to be exact) because he was angered that one of the main characters, Finn, was being played by John Boyega.
The original Tweet commented: “The new Star Wars movie (#StarWarsVII) barely has any whites in it.”. The Hashtag spread around the world and trailed a number of racist Tweets that called for like-minded filmgoers to avoid seeing the film as a protest against “genocide the white genome on the planet Earth”.
By Monday afternoon, #BoycottStarWarsVII was the number one trending Hashtag on Twitter. Yet the social media listening and analytics firm Fizziology found that only 6% of those that used the Hashtag were: “racist trolls trying to get people mad,” and that users often used their Tweet to voice their support for Donald Trump’s Presidential Campaign.
Speaking to Metro News, John Boyega spoke about the racist comments that originated on Twitter:
“‘I’m happy that we’re able to mesh together in this ensemble cast and create a wonderful story. ‘It’s Hollywood’s fault, for letting this get so far, that when a black person or a female, or someone from a different cultural group is cast in a movie, we have to have debates as to whether they’re placed there just to meet a [quota].
‘I also understand, on the flip side, where these other mentalities will arise. “He’s just placed there for political correctness”. I don’t hear you guys saying that when Brad Pitt is there. When Tom Cruise is there. Hell, when Shia LaBeouf is there, you guys ain’t saying that. That is just blatant racism.’
‘They are merely victims of a disease in their mind. To get into a serious dialogue with people who judge a person based on the melanin in their skin? They’re stupid, and I’m not going to lose sleep over people.
‘The presale tickets have gone through the roof – their agenda has failed. Miserably… You guys got every single alien in this movie imaginable to man. With tentacles, five eyes. Aliens that, if they existed, we’d definitely have an issue.
‘We’d have to get them to the government and be, like, ‘What are you?’ Yet what you want to do is fixate on another human being’s colour. You need to go back to school and unlearn what you have learned. I think Yoda said that, or Obi-Wan.’”
The Hashtag has since been seen by over 110,000 Twitter users and a significant number of people who have visited webpages and reported the trend on Twitter. This has given rise to a number of new activists, who are under the pretence that being “black” is against the Star Wars canon because The Empire is viewed as an intergalactic Third Reich.
While I freely admit that in the now defunct Expanded Universe, The Empire did have a tiny insecurity over racism, being black, white or any other human race was irrelevant. The skin color of human was never an issue for them, as their only genocidal tendencies were towards other alien races in the Galaxy (excluding Alderaan – a world cohabited by numerous ‘alien species’). This is highlighted by the extermination of the Wookiees in Revenge of the Sith. Furthermore, the original Stormtroopers, The Clones, are considered by most to be ‘black stormtroopers’.
Yet one of the most enjoyable Imperial characters from The Expanded Universe is a blue skinned Chiss called Grand Admiral Thrawn. Therefore, it’s only logical to presume that any self-respecting Star Wars fan would be fully aware of this diversity. It’s equally likely that any mention of ‘black’ is only because of their own insecurities about the actor’s race and inclusion in the film.
Harrison Ford and Donald Trump
As we get closer to the release of The Force Awakens, media coverage is building. However, recent world events have led to racism and Star Wars being indirectly tied together.
In his bid for The White House, the Republican Leader Donald Trump has only managed to spend $3 million. This is in contrast to his rivals: Hillary Clinton has spent a whopping $19 million, while Jeb Bush has spent a staggering $35 million, both on equally forgettable campaigns.
As a digital marketer, and someone who deals with growth hacking on a daily basis, I fully acknowledge that Trump’s thriftiness is a considerable achievement. However, Trump’s use of political incorrectness and piggybacking current trends has been the driving force of his success to date.
This isn’t anything new. His opinionated views can evoke awe, empathy, laughter, amusement, surprise or sadness. In research conducted by OkDork, this equates to 71% of the emotions needed to create viral content. When this is combined with the media’s existing number of Followers, it is of little surprise that Trump’s campaign has been so successful.
Furthermore, he’s managed to make $4 million, a 25% profit, which is as foreign to American politics as ISIS, ISIL or the Middle East. However, the primary reason why his campaign’s finances have been bolstered is because of his stance on immigration, radicalised Muslims and ISIS.
During an interview with Bill O’Reilly (Monday, 8th December, 2015), Trump stated that he would call for a blanket ban over Muslims entering The United States: “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”.
“I want to at least know where it’s coming from. Why is it happening? And it’s from a group of people. It’s from a specific group of people. OK? Why is there such total hatred?“
Prior to this revelation, Trump openly called for consistent surveillance on mosques and revealed that he’s open to the idea of there being a central database that holds private information about Muslims in the U.S. However, this is a form of growth hacking, feeding on the fears of American citizens that as of late have been heightened.
On December 2nd, 2015, fourteen people were killed and twenty two injured during an Islamic Extremist inspired mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. However, the husband and wife shooters where both Pakistani born immigrants who were legally allowed to live in the U.S.
The shooting was later associated with Muslims and ISIS, after the FBI launched a counter-terrorism investigation to uncover where their weapons and equipment originated from. The FBI discovered that the couple recently flew to Saudi Arabia and that the couple voiced their support for the leader of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Facebook.
In an interview with The New York Times, Donald Trump was asked what kind of movies that he enjoys watching. Trump responded:
“My favorite was Harrison Ford on the plane. I love Harrison Ford — and not just because he rents my properties. He stood up for America.”
Trump was making reference to the 1997 film, Air Force One, which was an enormous success and became one the decade’s most profitable action films, grossing $315 million worldwide.
In the film, Harrison Ford plays the leading role as the President of the United States; in it he is trapped on Air Force One during a hijacking by Russian terrorists. As the film progresses, Ford’s character defeats the Russians and retakes the Presidential plane.
However, during the Australian press tour for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Ford was posed a question about Trump being a fan of his work. Ford responded:
“It’s a movie, Donald, it was a movie. It’s not like this in real life, but how would you know?”
Ironically, Bill Clinton, who at the point of the film’s release was the President of The United States, revealed that he had watched Air Force One on a number of occasions and went as far as to praise it. While Clinton’s opinion of the film may be genuine, it wouldn’t be the first time that a politician has looked to hitch a ride on the back of a popular film.
While Donald Trump’s enjoyment of Air Force One may also be genuine, his strong opinions on Muslims and terrorism suggest that this “love” is attributed to more than just escapism or a fun night at the movies.
Regardless, it’s frustrating that racism and Star Wars have once again been thrust together. It would be regrettable if moviegoers felt uncomfortable celebrating an exciting victory by Resistance fighters (aka rebel terrorists) over the global superpower, The First Order.
Conclusion: The Insane History of Racism and Star Wars
I suspect that there are a great many more instances of racism in Star Wars. However, I would much rather forget the whole debacle and move on (I suspect that you would too).
While I agree that China has it’s moments of complete and utter lunacy, it would perhaps be better if we sorted out our own issues of racism, sectarianism, sexism and any other form of ‘ism’ first. Then, and only then, will we be a more ‘evolved culture’ that can look to help and educate others who we deem as being ‘fuck wits’.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is scheduled to be released in the UK on December 17th, 2015 and has a December 18th, 2015 release in the US. The film is directed by J.J. Abrams from a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Abrams.
In short, I love Star Wars; I hate racism.