Open Letter to Kathleen Kennedy
Dear Kathleen Kennedy:
You cannot be serious with this representation for women of color. Or, the lack thereof.
I’m speaking from the perspective of a nerd of color, who has loved Star Wars even before it got more female and non-white. But that non-whiteness seems to only be in your male characters. And while Finn, Poe, Chirrut, Baze, Cassian, and Bodhi are great… wouldn’t it have been great to have at least one woman of color on the team?
Why do you feel as if every female character has to be a Caucasian, brunette, British woman? Why can’t you cast any Black women? We heard that you were looking for a Black female lead in the Han Solo movie – but then you went with Emilia Clarke, yet another British brunette. There’s Kelly Marie Tran in The Last Jedi, but who knows how big her role will be? You cast an amazing actress like Lupita Nyong’o, and then you put her behind CGI dots. You created a great female character in Jyn Erso, but then cast a white woman.
Imagine the impact on young girls of color if Jyn Erso had been played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who could have carried out the role brilliantly. Or maybe even Aja Naomi King, who is sitting there, tailor-made and perfect for a Star Wars movie. She looks like she walked right out of Jakku with Rey.
Now: this isn’t to say I dislike your female characters thus far. Rey is awesome, and I love playing with her action figure (yes, I own one). As said earlier, I even liked Jyn Erso, who a lot of people detested when they saw the trailers for Rogue One. And I’ll probably like Emilia Clarke’s character in the Han Solo film. But… this minuscule representation for women of color in Star Wars has got to stop. It’s 2017.
If this is some box-office reason you’ve fabricated to justify your misogynoir – look at the way Hidden Figures is currently performing at the box office. That movie stars three Black women who aren’t particularly huge stars – Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae – yet it has crossed $100m worldwide and is one of the most favorably reviewed films of the year. People had no issue forking up the cash to see women of color then. Why do you think it will be an issue in your movies?
You literally own frickin’ Star Wars. It’s STAR WARS. It’s impenetrable to box office failure at this point. No matter what anyone says on social media, people love Star Wars – and regardless of how much people dislike your casting choices, they will go to see your movies. And so what if you lose a few dollars here and there? The Force Awakens made $2 billion, nearly $3 billion dollars worldwide. Rogue One, which wasn’t projected to do nearly as well as The Force Awakens as it was a spin-off, just passed $1 billion.
And that’s not my only issue with you.
There is NO representation for LGBT+ characters in your current universe. Sure, a few women who aren’t white have been cast, shown, and walked by a frame. But no character in Star Wars is canonically gay. Now, according to JJ Abrams, you have plans to change that. But I’ll believe it when I see it. Star Wars has a huge LGBT+ fanbase who is clamoring for representation. They’ve decided to “headcanon” (if you’re not familiar with the term, it basically means imagining something to be true) several characters in the universe, including Luke Skywalker. Your cast has queerbaited the hell out of the fans. Mark Hamill has given vague, off-kilter hints about possible possibilities in the universe.
Give us a gay character, Ms. Kennedy. Please. That’s all I’m asking.
So, in summary – I think you’re doing a fine job with representation and you’ve certainly taken a lot of risks. But you need to take more, especially in today’s political climate. You cannot afford to pull your punches. Certain groups are feeling downtrodden; they’re feeling low; they want to see themselves represented in their favorite franchise. It isn’t too much to ask. Include these characters, develop them well and treat them the same way you would treat your straight, white, male characters. And then we’ll be happy.
UPDATE: The news just broke that Thandie Newton is playing someone in the Han Solo standalone. Progress, but… let’s hope she isn’t a CGI character – and is in the movie for more than five minutes.