Twitter has been very lively this morning with discussions about the ethnicities of the actors up for lead roles in the new film. I cannot help but chime in. Twitter with its 140 character limit is not always the best place to have an intellectual discussion about the construction of race and the representation of ethnicities in film.
First, I have to give my two cents on the issue of acting, performance, and “best man for the job.” Sometimes as fans we lose sight of what Star Wars really is. A tour de force in acting it is not. In fact, the ceiling for delivering a solid performance in a Star Wars film really isn’t that high. Both Mark Hamill and Hayden Christensen fit their roles, or perhaps their roles fit them. Hayden Christensen has given solid performances in film, worthy of the term “acting,” whereas Mark Hamill has not. Mark Hamill has successfully pulled off characters and contributed to work. I love both actors in their Star Wars roles. But lets not pretend like the roles were incredibly deep. They were not. They’re very 2D operatic, if not melodramatic depictions of a boy becoming a man.
My two favorite people for the role are John Boyega and Jesse Plemons. If history repeats itself, both of these actors won’t be able to deliver the performance of a lifetime via a Star Wars film. Like I said, the ceiling on the range of a performance in a Star Wars film is fairly limited. The serialized nature of Star Wars doesn’t allow for sweeping subtle performance. The truth is the actor that’s chosen will probably define the character more from his own personality than the depth of what is on the written page.
So at the end of the day, the pool of actors that can play the Luke/Anakin role in the new Star Wars series is rather large. Yes, there are other attributes which will make the actor connect with a mainstream audience. But both Boyega and Plemons are competent enough actors who could pull off the role.
I could be wrong. But I think the question the Star Wars production might be asking itself is if it can go through with casting the first black “Luke Skywalker,” if you will.
I wish we lived in a world where we were beyond ethnicity. But the reality is we haven’t even overcome our unequal representation of gender in mainstream film, let alone allowed for unregulated ethnicities in mainstream film. The very idea of “race” is a social construct which is still in debate and still as contentious as ever. Hell, the Twitter conversations our community had today exemplify that on the micro-level.
I say get the best man for the job. But at the end of the day, lets not forget that job isn’t that difficult. Star Wars needs to decide how daring and groundbreaking it wants to be or how safe and by the numbers it wants to be. Maybe now it is time for Star Wars to say black people aren’t just sidekicks and ancillary characters.
The only downside to this debate is I fear if Plemons is cast, it will seem like a defeat. It won’t be. It might not be good enough, but the fact this possibility exists at this time and moment for the first black “Luke Skywalker” so to speak is exciting and hopeful.