Will Lupita's rumored role in Star Wars have an effect on how science fiction handles race?
It’d be great news if the buzz about 12 Years a Slave’s Lupita Nyong'o being cast in the upcoming Star Wars sequel is true. That’s because Lupita Nyong’o is great, and it would be wonderful to see her get high-profile roles. Casting someone whose breakout role explicitly and thoughtfully engaged with the African-American experience may also, hopefully, kick off a discussion about race in Star Wars and in sci-fi more generally.
The franchise has often been criticized for its clueless, tone-deaf use of caricature, especially the nods to Blackface minstrelsy in Jar Jar Binks. More importantly, Star Wars encapsulates a pop-culture tradition of space operas that can easily invent spaceships and robots and aliens, but that helplessly acquiesce to old, stereotypical treatments of gender and race. Why does that matter? Sci-fi is at least in part a dream of a different world and a different future. When that future unthinkingly reproduces current inequities, it seems like both a missed opportunity and a failure of imagination.