The Diversity Ratio: Another Point of View

Ever since the cast list for Star Wars VII was announced last Tuesday, a wave of emotions has been sweeping across Twitter and the rest of the internet faster than you can say, “Han shot first!” (because he did, I’m just sayin’) The main issue seems to stem from the fact that, out of the cast of thirteen people, only two people are females, and only two people are of ethnic heritage (African American John Boyega and Hispanic Oscar Isaac). That makes eleven actors who are white, and eleven actors who are male. For some, these numbers seem imbalanced, almost offensively so. Granted, five of the white cast members are stars from the original trilogy, but even discounting them, the ratio between white/ethnic actors, and male/female actors seems heavily tilted.

“Why isn’t there more diversity in Star Wars?” That has been the main query coming from the fans; sometimes it is heatedly demanded and other times it is merely asked with sad wondering. My answer, though, is one that I think will help explain why I feel a lack of anger/disappointment concerning all this. My answer is simply this: that the only issue of diversity in Star Wars VII (at the moment) is the imbalance between male and female characters in the main cast, and even this is something that does not have to be taken personal offense from. I will begin my case by explaining why I think the ethnic/white ratio is not really a problem (again, these are MY OWN opinions; no one has to agree, though I hope everyone reading this will keep an open mind):

Let us, for a moment, think of the possible reasons as to why the actors (both ethnics and whites) were selected. Is the greater number of white actors a direct message to ethnic minorities that, as minorities, they do not have a very big place in this fictional world? That they are somehow less important? In my opinion, the answer to that question is an emphatic, “NO.” I think, rather, that the greater number of white actors is due to the fact that they (as individuals, not “superior” white men) were simply the best suited for the roles that they were considered, with all their qualities put together (personality, acting prowess, physical fitness, etc.). It was likely not a question of race (except, perhaps, in a situation like Han and Leia’s child, who, if he/she was a biological descendant of the latter, would be white; the same logic would apply to Luke Skywalker’s child and also Lando Calrissian’s, should either one exist), rather it was a question of what the actor brought to the character, the story, the overall film. All of these elements have to work together in order to bring the desired atmosphere to the film and better communicate the story that JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan are writing for episode VII. Also, I would not discount the fact that some of these actors (Andy Serkis, known for his motion capture work, for example) might be playing non-humans, which would negate the issue of ethnic representation in their case because their characters would no longer be in the same category as those we are concerned about: mainly, ethnic individuals. This is because, it follows that such a character would not be cast just for his skin color, but rather for his personality, his presence, his overall uniqueness both physically and spiritually.

This being the case, if one or two of the five new white male actors (and by “new,” I mean those that are new to the Star Wars universe and did not appear in the OT) will be portraying non humans, simply because those actors best fit the bill for those particular characters, then what we have left is five or six actors in total, two of which are ethnic. So, we’re talking a ratio of 2/3, possibly 2/4, ethnic to white. That, to me, doesn’t seem too bad, especially if, again, we consider the fact that one or two of those white actors might be booked to portray biological descendants of the Big 3 (therefore warranting that white actors would need to be chosen for those roles, that those two or three, at least, are necessary to the story). That would narrow the playing field down even further, leaving us with a group of racially-balanced actors who were likely chosen for their acting skill and unique personalities, rather than the color of their skin. And so, therefore, I do not feel that diversity in Star Wars VII will be an issue, especially when you consider that 1) the supporting cast has not yet been revealed, and 2) there may be more actor/actress announcements for the main cast still impending (there is, in fact, a rumor going around the internet that they are still looking to fill the role of a half-black female, and such an addition would most certainly add balance to the Force of ethnic representation). Not only that, but there are still two more episodes to go in this sequel trilogy; therefore, there will surely be many, many more characters and many, many more opportunities for diversity in casting and characters.

Now I will move on to what has perhaps been the biggest source of debate of the diversity issue, and that is “Where are the women in Star Wars VII?” This is a question that is laced with some bitterness because, in both the prequel and original trilogies, there was only ever one major female character in the main cast. When you think of females in the prequel trilogy, the one  name that comes to mind is: Padme Amidala. When you think of females in the original trilogy, you automatically think: Princess Leia. Whereas, when you think of males present in either trilogy, the list is nearly endless: Anakin Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Mace Windu, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Wilhuff Tarkin, Darth Vader, and on and on and on. The reason for this disparity is that there simply haven’t been many female characters playing major roles in Star Wars films. The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels television series have worked/are working to remedy this lack, and they have been (in my opinion) successful. But that does not change the fact that, when it comes to the actual films, females are strangely absent from the main cast.

As such, it was with great chagrin that many Star Wars fans, upon the release of the Star Wars VII main cast, observed that there were only two females present In the London reading circle: Carrie Fisher and newcomer Daisy Ridley. And it has developed into quite a sore point; why only those two? Why aren’t there more females in the main cast? What’s wrong with giving more females major roles in Star Wars?

The short answer is, I don’t think there IS anything wrong with that. And I don’t think think George Lucas or JJ Abrams thought/think that there’s anything wrong with that, either. Honestly and truly, I do not believe that either one of them tried/are trying to tell women that they have no place in Star Wars, that by not giving them as much screen time as males they are sending the message that, “This is a fandom for guys, not girls.” In fact, I think that the opposite is true. I know that this will be small comfort for some people, but even though they were the only two major female characters in the films, Padme and Leia were pretty awesome characters: well-rounded, independent, spunky, not afraid of a fight, good shots with the blaster (Leia even has some Force sensitivity, though we didn’t see it really put into practice outside of The Empire Strikes Back). As representatives of the fair sex, I think they did quite well. Now, I know that Padme basically lost her will to live, which wasn’t necessarily a good example of female strength, but you know, Star Wars is not always about representation and role models: it’s about a good story. None of the characters are going to be perfect, and the females, few in number as they may be, are no exception. Star Wars is a space opera, a dramatic series of events. And in order for the story to continue beyond the prequels, in order for Leia to become Bail Organa’s daughter and Luke to live with Owen and Beru, Padme had to die. And what better way to reaffirm and tragically end the passionate love story of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala than for Padme to die of grief? Kind of like a Romeo and Juliet thing.

But, I digress. Let me get down to brass tacks. The truth is, the fact that there are currently only two females in the main cast of Star Wars VII does not bother me. Why? First of all, I’m not convinced that they are going to continue to be the only two major females in Star Wars VII, or in the next two episodes, either, for that matter. Second, I don’t feel that the lack of female characters in any of the Star Wars films, past and future, is offensive to my sex. I don’t feel offended, let me put it that way. In fact, I never really noticed the lack of major female characters in the saga, until recently. There was Padme and there was Leia, and that seemed good enough. I never thought, “Hey, why aren’t there more females?” It just never occurred to me to wonder why the story had not been written in such a way as to include more females. My favorite characters were always guys, anyway (Obi Wan has been my biggest Star Wars crush for years now, and incidentally, I always played him whenever my brother and I made up our own Star Wars adventures in the backyard). And the way the stories of the prequel and original trilogies were written, I think it worked out well that there were only two major females to focus on. Again, they were both well-rounded, strong, independent, and they brought a lot of good things to Star Wars (heck, it wouldn’t have been Star Wars without them). Also, I think that their characters may have been better appreciated BECAUSE there weren’t other female characters sharing the spotlight. Having only a limited number of females in major roles allows for more screen time and more focus on the ones present and their development as characters. But, that’s just one possibility.

Personally, I think that the reason why George Lucas didn’t include more major female characters in Star Wars was because of the kind of storyteller he was/is. There are some storytellers who can write a character from literally any perspective, male and female both. There are also some who cannot write this way, or who perhaps don’t feel they’re at their best creatively when getting inside the head of a person of the opposite sex. Take Stephenie Meyer, for example: most of Twilight is, I believe (I’ve never read it, :), told from the point of view of someone of Meyer’s sex, Bella. Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle (Eragon) is told mostly with males as the protagonists. This does not diminish the value of the other characters, some of whom are of the opposite sex of the protagonists; what I’m saying is, it’s possible that the authors simply felt the most comfortable writing characters that were of their own sexes. This analogy can be applied to George Lucas, as well. I believe that he is the kind of storyteller who tells stories best when most of the protagonists are male. There’s nothing wrong or sexist about that, it’s just the way he is. This would kind of explain why there are only two female protagonists in the Star Wars films; Lucas probably wanted to include females somewhere in his story, but since he wasn’t as skilled at writing women as he was writing men, he poured all of his creative juices into creating just two major females (Leia and Padme) who embodied everything a female heroine should be, and more: strength, courage, depth of character. It wasn’t that Lucas didn’t like females or that he thought they didn’t deserve to have a big presence in his films. It was just that he was a certain kind of storyteller. He told stories best when most of the protagonists are male. And Star Wars was his story, after all. He had the right to do with it whatever he wanted. I doubt very much, however, that he was making it with a specific audience in mind; rather, I think his primary goal was just to tell a story, a story that anyone could enjoy. Likely, there was no prejudice or discrimination involved (so, to clarify, I am NOT implying that George Lucas was/is sexist, or racist, for that matter. Quite the opposite, in fact).

But George Lucas is no longer the storyteller for Star Wars films; JJ Abrams is. And because Star Wars has such a large fanbase now, Abrams has somewhat of a responsibility in carrying the torch to carry it well. So, the question remains: where are the females in Star Wars VII? Actually, I’m not too concerned about that, either, because 1) casting might not be complete (again, rumors are going around that a major female character has yet to be cast), 2) there are still two more episodes in the saga, which means more opportunities for major female characters, and 3) I really don’t think that the lack of females equals a lack of equality. I don’t believe that Abrams would be so low as to not include female characters in Star Wars because their presence might not bring in as much money (a ridiculous suggestion), or that he’s trying to target Star Wars at guys more than he is at girls (there are guys who love The Hunger Games, and the main protagonist is a female, so Abrams really has no reason to think that the same thing wouldn’t happen with female protagonists in Star Wars). I don’t think, therefore, that there is much cause to be offended by the apparent lack of females in the main cast of Star Wars VII. Always in motion is the future; there are all kinds of possibilities for Star Wars. And one of them is more female characters.

As to why Abrams has not (AS YET) included more females in his main cast: I think it may come down to what I believe is a fundamental fact of life, which is that males and females are inherently different from one another. Any husband and wife can tell you this; there is just something about each sex that makes them unique and different from each other. This is  not a bad thing, it’s a beautiful thing. As such, it makes for unique perspectives and presences when it comes to males and females in films. Therefore, depending on the plot and overall tone of Star Wars VII, a male presence may work best for one character, or rather several characters, while a female presence wouldn’t quite communicate the feeling the filmmakers are trying to get across to the audience. The opposite, that a female presence may work better than a male presence for one or more characters, is also true. I know, I know, I’m playing the “story is important” card, which some people find irrelevant. But me personally, I sincerely believe that this card is a valid and important one, and it plays into my next point.

I guess what it comes down to for me is: it’s too early for judgement. This is only May of 2014. Star Wars VII doesn’t come out in theaters until December of 2015. I simply think that it is a little too soon to be condemning Star Wars VII for its lack of females in the main cast when: there are still two more films in the works, supporting cast has not yet been revealed,  main casting might not be finished, the plot has not been revealed, the film has not yet been watched, etc. I just don’t feel right judging Abrams’ handling of the Star Wars torch and the film overall just by what people are calling “a lack of diversity” in the main cast. And as I’ve tried to explain, the diversity ratio of the main cast is not necessarily as big of an issue as one might think at first glance. The ethnic presence vs the white presence may be more balanced than we can presently tell; and as for the female presence, there is still time. Casting, the story, and future Star Wars films are the keys. We must be patient. Also, I must add: the process of making a film is a long one, and consequently it requires a lot of thought. With so much pressure and so much riding on his success, Abrams must have put a lot of thought into the story he wanted to tell in that galaxy far, far away. As such, I think we can expect an amazing story, with well-rounded, relate-able characters that everyone, regardless of race or gender, can enjoy.

But no matter what happens, this we can always be certain of: Star Wars is for everyone. Don’t let anybody, not even the filmmakers, tell you differently. And do not lose hope that you will get the Star Wars representation you desire. Because we are all of us equal, and Star Wars, of all things, is not trying to contest that. And you know, perhaps that is another reason why I am not finding/never have found much of a diversity issue in Star Wars. I’ve never had any doubts about whether or not men and women, ethnics and whites are equal (I’m not saying anyone else has, either, I’m just making a point). Therefore, for me, it doesn’t really matter who is cast or what the diversity ratio is. Because, if we all agree on this point, if western society as a whole agrees on this point (which it claims to), then there is no doubt: the story of Star Wars VII was not written to shut anybody out or to ostracize anyone from the Star Wars fandom. Everyone is welcome in Star Wars. Period. Just because the diversity ratios are not balanced, doesn’t mean that they were purposely balanced so as to be in favor of any one particular group of people.

Thank you for reading. Again, these are my opinions, and you can take them or leave them. I just thought I would throw out another point of view.





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