For the uninitiated EYEusually write about a phenomenon called the Glass Blind Spot but for the next few weeks I thought I’d write about the related but relatively niche subject that is: sexism, social justice and science fiction.
May the Fourth seems like an appropriate day to share some thoughts about the spectacularly successful Star Wars the Force Awakens, so I thought I’d start with it.
By now (most of us) have recovered from the excitement and sheer sense of joy to be had for watching it for the first time. For many of us of a certain age, the closing credits also brought a sense of relief that Disney didn’t completely mess it up.
Ok so it was essentially a remake of the 1977 original but, crucially it was also easily at least 12 para secs ahead of anything the CGI heavy prequels had to offer, it managed the impressive feat of keeping most of an extremely diverse audience happy and set up a (ahem) new hope that there may even be better to come.
When I say that Disney managed to make most people happy there were obviously a few notable exceptions and this is the thing I’d like to take a moment to reflect on.
Social Justice Wars
Possibly the most high profile objections came from the Return of the King Website who, according to various reports, encouraged it’s readers to boycott the movie because they felt that it had a hidden ‘Social Justice Warrior’ agenda given the casting of a woman and a black man in lead roles.
Last year I wrote about how similar ‘boycott‘ claims were grossly exaggerated by the media in the run up to the triumphant of return of Mad Max but seemingly (and remarkably) this time around the claims turned out to be pretty accurate (even though most sources still insist on describing Return of the Kings contributors as “Men’s Right’s Activists”).
Not only did Return of the Kings urge their readers not to watch the film but hilariously they also claimed that their ‘boycott’ hit Disney were it hurts to the tune of 4.2 million.
The Force Awakens is spectacularly replete with the handiwork of the avowed Social Justice Warrior JJ Abrams. So where can I possibly start in my criticisms? From the casting, which puts minorities and women incessantly and ridiculously in your face to make a political point (not tell a story), to the laziest of all space battles, the problems with the Episode 7 are more than numerous. ROTK
Personally EYEhate political correctness in art for political correctness sake and accept that on occasions ‘PC pandering’ can unnecessarily take something away from the drama (in my galaxy Han will always shoot first). Likewise the conscious decision to pander to any particular audiences doesn’t always work out as an especially satisfactory experience for anyone (Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks spring to mind).
That said, unless the very act of casting a woman and / or a black man in the lead roles of a film is to be considered offensive or pandering then, having had the opportunity to watch the final product several times, in my humble subjective opinion, Return of the King are talking out of their super massive holes.
Aren’t You a Little Black for a Stormtrooper?
Even if douchebags really do exist in this incredibly diverse galaxy we all live in EYEstill suspect that there are infinitely fewer total and utter douchebags than the media often like to make us think.
For example initial reactions to Boyaga’s appearance led to headlines like ‘twitter trolls boycott star wars black character’ and the actor, understandably enough, felt that the reaction to his appearance as a black stormtrooper seemed a bit “prejudiced”.
However any self respecting nerd will tell you that most of the initial gasps probably had less to do with the fact that he wasn’t white than it had to with the fact he wasn’t Maori.
And anyone who understands the concept of ‘cannon’ might consequently get why the very first scene in the teaser trailer of this much anticipated movie raised a few nerd level concerns about whether JJ Abrahams was going to pay the blindest bit of attention to anything that had come before.
Inevitably enough it later transpired that 96% of people who contributed to the #BoycottStarWarsVII twitter hashtag were expressing outrage over its existence and even the people who started it were simply trying to get a rise (successfully) out of a generation of easily baited social justice warriors.
Ultimately FN-2187’s recruitment to the ranks of the previously exclusively clone army was fully explained in the film and even turned out to be a relatively integral plot point.
Let Toys be Toys and Rey be Rey
Personally EYEalso thought that Daisy Ridley’s character is an excellent addition to the star wars saga also and her performance was one of the highlights in a thoroughly entertaining cinema experience.
Sure the teenage scavenger from Jakku did get ridiculously good with a light saber at the end of the movie but I’m prepared to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and assume that this will be explained further down the line. Besides is it really that different from the ‘million to one shot’ that a certain farm boy from Tattoine managed to make the very first time he took controls of a star fighter back in 1977….?
That being said I suspect that the #wheresrey toy controversy was another kerfuffle largely whipped by the media and in the main may very well have been mostly championed by column inch filling opinionaters that have no actual interest in playing with or purchasing Hasbro products for their children.
Besides surely the BB8 toy is the responsibly gender natural choice for any self respecting social justice savvy modern parent.
I was also entirely unconvinced with various column inch filling opinionaters like the Guardian’s Patricia Karvelas who reckon that Rey’s appearance is the ‘game changing feminist punch-the-air moment we’ve all been desperately waiting for’ or Bridie Jabour: who reckon’s her story is almost an allegory for women in the modern workplace:
The “strong woman” is almost becoming a trope but Rey is original while speaking to women on a deep, deep level – battling through galaxies with a less-competent but well-meaning man, constantly underestimated, maintaining the rage and the good humour. It’s almost an allegory for women in the modern workplace. Bridie Jabour
For one, this sort of over objectification tends to project an unnecessary and unhelpful expectation on a character which somewhere down the line will almost inevitably result in the very same column inch filling opinionaters exclaiming that she’s somehow betrayed the unwritten and constantly shifting code of sisterhood.
Secondly, (and with apologies to Natalie Portman) such a perspective comes across as more than a little dismissive of Princess Leia’s General Organa’s extremely spunky efforts in the original trilogy, not to mention any number of lead female protagonists that have saved the day over the decades.
Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, who first graced our screens two years after the original Star Wars springs immediately to mind. Fourth wave feminists may be too young to remember but by her return in the 1986 she was essentially out Ramboing Rambo with her grenade launcher / flamethrower combo and by the end of Alien3 in 1992, not only had she fought a valiant fight to save the exclusively male population of Fiorina 161, but she also sacrifices herself to save the entire universe.
In truth, not only has sci-fi got a long distinguished history of strong well rounded female characters but you’d have to have a seriously short attention span (or absolutely no interest in the sci-fi genre) to suggest that Rey’s star billing is a serious gamechanger (Hunger Games, Divergent, The 5th Wave, The Host anyone?).
A very brief screen history of heroine highlights might include the last half decade of Katnisss Everdeen adventures, Kate Beckinsdale’s Selene or Milla Jovovich’s Alice from the nougties, or even more impressively what about any number of complex, imperfect and brilliant female characters in TV shows like Firefly and Battlestar Gallactica?
The nineties gave us Starship Captain Kathryn Janeway, Buffy and Terminator 2’s Sarah Conner, or what about Honey and Isabel from 1983’s Patriarchal Dystopia Born in Flames? And the list goes on… Sarah Jane Smith and the Bionic Women in the 1970’s, Emma Peel and Barbarella in the 60’s all the way back to the time of silent cinema and Metroplolis’ Maria in 1927.
EYEis not remotely trying to suggest that for every lead female role over the decades there haven’t been multitudes of male protagonists but I am suggesting that if the outcome of the brilliant and often groundbreaking work that women have been bringing to science fiction for decades is ultimately going to lead to one thing, hopefully some day soon it might mean that a female character can grace our screens and be celebrated simply on the merits of being a brilliant character driving a thrilling story.
Not just by some dicks on a relatively obscure website but anyone else who remotely gives a shit.