Even a galaxy far, far away can feel the effects of racism and White paranoia. Over the weekend, a group of our less enlightened brethren got the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII to trend. Why would anyone want to boycott one of cinema’s most venerable franchises? Well, according to some, the new Star Wars film (to be released on December 18 and helmed by geek-favorite J.J. Abrams) promotes “White genocide.”
Yes, you read that correctly.
They believe a science fiction film advocates White genocide. And what led them to this conclusion? Black folks, Latin folks, and a woman are all prominently featured in the film and promotional materials. That’s it.
Let me provide you with some context.
When the first trailer dropped for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many people were shocked that the first face we see is that of Black British actor John Boyega dressed as a Stormtrooper. The next person we see is a woman on a speeder bike (a kind of flying motorcycle). The third person we see is Oscar Isaac, a Guatemalan American piloting the iconic X-Wing fighter. In the 1:30 teaser trailer, not one White person was given face time.
We see Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren’s back, but that’s about it. Immediately, the interwebs exploded. The very thought of a Black Stormtrooper, let alone a Black person in the Star Wars franchise—who wasn’t Billy Dee Williams or Samuel L. Jackson—or a woman who wasn’t Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, caused many folks to clutch their Boba Fett plushies tightly to their chests. The sight of Boyega in Stormtrooper armor gave rise to #BlackStormtrooper. I don’t suggest any of you search the comments that use this hashtag. Trust me.
Then it got ugly. On the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens poster, John Boyega is holding a lightsaber. Boyega just might be a Jedi. Drawn in the style of artist Drew Struzan (of Star Wars and Indiana Jones fame), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (Boyega’s character) are positioned in primary positions. The beloved characters from the original series—Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO—are given much less space. Luke Skywalker isn’t depicted at all. Thus #BoycottStarWarsVII was born.
This poster is one of the very few times I can remember that a woman and a Black person have been so pronounced on a science fiction movie poster. I am a science fiction fan and a scholar, and this poster was an absolute welcome shock. Rarely do cinematic science fiction properties include people of color or women in lead roles; this rarity made The Matrix refreshing. To have Ridley and Boyega as the new faces of the Star Wars franchise is stunning.
My love/hate relationship with Star Wars has been detailed elsewhere. But the direction it’s moving has me excited enough that I’ll be buying advance tickets for my family the day they go on sale.
But let’s get back to White genocide.
You’d figure science-fiction fans would be more accepting of diversity. If you can suspend disbelief enough to feel emotional about a green puppet with a subject-object-verb speech pattern, or believe that spaceships make sounds in space, or that being a Jedi is such a noble pursuit that you try and get it recognized as an official religion, why can’t you accept a multicultural Star Wars?
If you google “diversity in science fiction,” you’ll get a better grasp on just how paranoid and hateful many White science fiction fans are. Whether it is the sad puppies of the Hugo Awards (one of the highest honors a science-fiction book can earn) or the backlash that Captain America is now a Black man over at Marvel Comics, science fiction and its attendant genres as White male heterosexual space is ingrained in the culture.
If you look at the top 20 highest grossing films of all time, all but one (Furious 7) have White males as their primary leads. This could lead anyone to believe that we don’t belong in “those” types of films. Sorry, but we’ve always been here.
Boyega’s first film (2011’s must-see Attack the Block), Vin Diesel’s Riddick franchise, the M.A.N.T.I.S. television program, Avery Brooks on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli, Will Smith in all kinds of stuff, Angela Bassett in Strange Days—this is just film and television. In literature, many of the heavyweights of science fiction are Black: the late Octavia E. Butler, Samuel R. Delaney, Tananarive Due, George Schuyler, Nalo Hopkinson, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Steven Barnes… and the list goes on.
Science fiction and speculative fiction are perfectly suited for people of color, especially Black folks. The act of creating new futures and alternative worlds is what we’ve been doing since the beginning of our time on this earth. We still do it. So if these folks want to interpret a film that reflects the racial reality of the world as some kind of genocidal plot to eradicate the White race, Tripping, they are. Meds, and hugs, they need.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.