Star Wars and Diversity in Modern Casting

So I will begin this post by admitting that as I represent arguably one of the most privileged class of people in the world i.e male, white, heterosexual, American, middle-class, I am probably pretty tone deaf when it comes to certain complaints about diversity. I will also admit that as an OG Star Wars fanboy I am probably going to be a bit more forgiving in the early stages of PR for Episode 7.

So the other day a photo was released showing the core cast for the next movie in the franchise, directed by J.J.Abrams. I share below:

 

star-wars-epiosde-7-cast-image

 

Nevermind how many of us were geeking out about seeing Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in the same room. Apparently the first thing a lot of people noticed was the lack of ‘diversity’ in the cast. Only two female leads and only one non-white guy. Annalee Newitz, writing for io9, has some major complaints:

Having Ridley is great, but one new female lead in a cast of men? That’s how we launch ourselves into the future of this series, which inspires little girls with pink swords, as well as old girls like myself who graduated to sharper weapons long ago? Are we seriously still pretending that the universe is comprised almost entirely of men (and mostly white men at that)? Mythic tales are supposed to open up possibilities, not shut them down.

I am doing a lot of head-scratching about this. After all, the core cast of the original three movies was white (except for Billy Dee Williams’ Lando). We know that Han Solo and Leia got married and so unless biology works different in the Star Wars universe than it does here on Earth, they are going to have white kids. We also know from the Lucas-approved book series that Luke Skywalker marries a ‘fair-skinned redhead’ named Mara Jade so again, biology seems to dictate white children. The books also indicate a total of three sons and one daughter for the core characters. Abrams has already made it clear that he is not going to follow the plots of the books exactly but it is assumed he is sticking to some of the basic framework.

Given the overall negative impression most people have of Episodes 1-3 and the still-beloved status of Episodes 4-6, it is conceivable that no other movie release has ever received the scrutiny awaiting Episode 7. Prior to its release in 2015 every tiny detail that comes out will be analyzed ad nauseum. This is expected from the core fanbase however it comes as a bit of a surprise to me how much the general public might be interested in what the cast looks like.

Newitz has a good point about the opportunity for Disney (owners of the Star Wars franchise) to create some new role models for young girls. Episodes 1-3 failed to deliver on that front and there wasn’t enough mainstream support for the Clone Wars animated series to get large numbers of young girls onboard with characters like Ahsoka Tano or Asajj Ventress.

These days casting studios seem to not only have a business rationale for a diverse cast (diversity can = bigger box office) but now they seem to be charged with a moral obligation to represent diversity whenever possible. Is this fair? My inclination is to say no, but again, I am the white guy. I think that if a diverse cast makes sense in the context of the story being told, then yeah, this should be a natural byproduct of storytelling. But diversity simply for the sake of diversity? My conservative DNA has a real problem with this.

My hope is that this is much ado about nothing. The character of Mon Mothma could easily play an important role in the new movies and we don’t know how big of a part is awaiting Daisy Ridley as Jaina Solo. It is also likely that Mara Jade will be cast at some point (I’m rooting for Rene Russo). And maybe Lando will be added. Not to mention a host of other ancillary characters who can be female, non-white and hopefully appease the complainers. In the meantime, maybe young girls don’t necessarily need female role models:

Sariah Gallego Joins the Dark Side (Star Wars)

 

Mike Dwyer is a freelance writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture, the outdoors and whatever else strikes his fancy. His personal site can be found at www.mikedwyerwrites.com. He is also active on Facebook and Twitter. Mike is one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky

 

 

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195 thoughts on “Star Wars and Diversity in Modern Casting

  1. I agree its starting to seem forced when I hear reports of the Solo’s kids or even Luke & Obi-wan having children of another race. Most people want diversity but not shoehorned in. Just create a new interesting diverse character.

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    • I don’t have a problem with creating new characters representing “minority” groups in the new movies, but I agree it would be silly to add kids that aren’t believably descended from their parents. The one exception is adoption, but I guarantee that someone will cry foul if a “white” family is depicted adopting a “minority” child.

      I’m more concerned about seeing interesting aliens than making sure that all the identity groups of earth are represented. It’s a fantasy universe, after all, with a lot more than a few flavors of humanity going on.

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      • I’ve heard websites complain that if they cast Lupita Nyong’o in Star Wars she better not be playing an Alien. As if she not representing the face her race. What the heck I thought it was about roles not just racial identity.

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      • I thought so, too, but I don’t know. Personally, I find a lot of the “criticism” of this kind of thing to be knee-jerk and unhelpful. A thoughtful discussion is possible, but you have to get past people being willing to get outraged about anything that doesn’t meet their specific expectations.

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      • Stormin – I think it’s both. Part of the argument is that minority actors are highly disadvantaged in getting roles (especially roles in big blockbusters) because minorities are underrepresented in film and on TV relative to their proportion in the US population (or even more so relative to their proportion in the global population). Casting a non-white person as an alien character who’s green or blue still helps in that regard.

        Another part of the argument is that people like to see themselves represented on television and film. They like to occasionally see characters who look like them. If you’re white (and especially white and male and thin), that’s fairly common; if you’re non-white, it’s a lot more infrequent. In addition, seeing a larger number and range of characters represented by non-white actors may reduce the degree to which we hold subconscious stereotypes of minorities. (For example, not every Asian character in an action role needs to be an expert at kung fu/karate/taekwondo/etc.) Casting non-white actors as aliens doesn’t address this dynamic as much.

        I’m going from the comments that I’ve read on progressive pop-culture blogs by black and Hispanic and Asian people, and doing my best to accurately represent the concerns many of them express.

        Precisely because Star Wars is a fantasy universe with all kinds of humans in it, its human cast shouldn’t be overwhelmingly white.

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    • Why not give them brown kids?

      ’Cause biology works the same?

      Why? Maybe it doesn’t, different galaxy and all.

      Why not have an all black cast?

      (Well, okay, the original actors can be the same. That’s kinda cool. But what about everyone else?)

      Would an all-black cast bother you? Why?

      (It is fun to watch the logical knots people tie themselves in while trying to justify this shit.)

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      • ’Cause biology works the same?

        Why? Maybe it doesn’t, different galaxy and all.

        It’s funny what people will find easy to willingly suspend belief about, and what they won’t, isn’t it? Faster-than-light travel? No problem. Midichlorians? No problem. A controlled energy beam that creates a light sword? No problem. Biology not reproducing kids of the exact same color? What?!

        I’ll admit I was innately inclined to that response until this discussion developed. My first comment, suggesting it would be easy to bring in other characters—non-Luke or Leia children–to get diversity. That comment assumed the biological restriction. Sigh.

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      • People didn’t have an issue with midichlorians? That’s news to me.

        There are levels of suspension of disbelief. I can buy a world where aliens have FTL travel, are coming to colonize and strip mine Earth and even that through wiles, we can hold on for a lil bit (due to home field advantage). I cannot buy being able to hack an alien spaceship with a Mac.

        Think of it as the, “Oh, come on!” line.

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      • Mo, I don’t think most people had an issue with midichlorians. My take was that a lot of the people who didn’t like them just didn’t like the attempt to give a pseudo-scientific explanation to the force, rather than leaving it more mystical. I could be wrong, though.

        But as for Independence Day…I was very bitter that my friend raved about it enough that I actually spent money to see it in the theater. And you’ve hit on the reason why. If the aliens actually had that type of cleverness with technology, that their computers could hack into ours, I could buy it–they’re advanced, after all. But goddamit I know that I have trouble opening up a Word document or excel spreadsheet from a PC on a Mac without something going screwy–I have a general sense of the limits of our technology.

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      • I don’t know if “most” people were fine with midichlorians, but a whole lot of people weren’t. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (that they did it, or that people didn’t like it) but I think the conversations involving a genetic oddity that triggers two white parents having a non-white kid… would be different altogether. And should be avoided.

        If such is the only way that you can add some diversity in casting, then maybe you do what you have to do. But I really think in the context of Star Wars (and in most things) it ought to be something you approach as a last resort and not the thing you wonder why they didn’t do. There are a lot of reasons not to go there. Fewer reasons not to have Luke interracially marry, or have an adopted child, or just add characters.

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      • I would have liked Independence Day better if the aliens had used a crappy SCSI connector and the human race died out ’cause Jeff Goldblum couldn’t get it terminated correctly.

        (Picture him jamming his enter key shouting “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Why won’t it connect!”)

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      • Your right notme, it is entirely beyond belief that a citizens of a super advanced civilization would have the ability to select for dark skin. Or that they would ever want to do such a thing. Let’s forget the fact that it would be eminently reasonable if you lived on a planet with two suns like tatooine.

        I’m not even advocating this, just noting that it is not, in the least, absurd.

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  2. I am doing a lot of head-scratching about this. After all, the core cast of the original three movies was white (except for Billy Dee Williams’ Lando). We know that Han Solo and Leia got married and so unless biology works different in the Star Wars universe than it does here on Earth, they are going to have white kids. We also know from the Lucas-approved book series that Luke Skywalker marries a ‘fair-skinned redhead’ named Mara Jade so again, biology seems to dictate white children. The books also indicate a total of three sons and one daughter for the core characters. Abrams has already made it clear that he is not going to follow the plots of the books exactly but it is assumed he is sticking to some of the basic framework.

    I can’t help but think this is just geeky pedanticism (something I admit to being guilty of now and then). I mean, these are fictional characters, iconic to be sure (though some of them, it seems, come from fan fiction, so they’re not all iconic), but fictional characters. What’s more, they’re fictional characters from an era when Hollywood wasn’t so great about including black actors as leads in blockbusters. So who could possibly feel harmed by including some people of color in a 2014 reboot? And might the benefits of making a major movie that doesn’t just consist of a bunch of white people outweigh the hurt feelings of a few hardcore fans?

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  3. I don’t want to get into a canon v. noncanon argument because I find those to be super-tedious arguments. All I know is that the bulk of stuff has been declared void. I also feel fairly safe to assume that most people who see the new movies will not have read the novels or been hardcore fans wanting to arguing the world about how the new movies deviated from page 63 of book 4 or whatever. Maybe I am wrong on the last point.

    I will answer this as a former theatre director with a Master Fine Arts. Not that I can say I got very far in the arts world though so take everything I say with a heavy grain of salt.

    Casting is really, really difficult. I was in theatre which is generally non-commercial and generally not-for-profit so it gets a bit bolder or color-blind casting but there is still plenty of controversy over how the default seems to be to cast white actors unless a part is specified as Asian, Black, Latino(a), Native American/First Nations, etc. There is also controversy when theatres do not pay attention to minority playwrights and generally produce plays by middle aged white dudes. The Guthrie in Minnesota got a lot of heat about this a year or so ago when they announced a season dedicated to Christopher Hampton plays. There are also regionalisms. There are a lot of Bay Area playwrights who need to self-produce because the big-budgeted theatres tend to import plays from New York or do the same revivals instead of focusing or producing Bay Area playwrights.

    I would generally say that white-washing is very bad and poor form and implies or explicitly states a lot of racism. Avatar: The Last Airbender was a very popular cartoon from what I hear and the cartoon features an explicitly Asian cast of characters. They did not need to be whitewashed in the movie. The live-action Akira also got in trouble for white-washing.

    If there is some sort of tangible and necessary evidence that a character would be white, Asian, Latino(a), etc. The production crew should use said evidence.

    That being said, I am highly sympathetic to minority actors because being an actor is hard enough being a minority actor is triply so and if the script does not mention race or ethnicity explicitly, the default tends to be to make everyone white. Why couldn’t Robin in How I Met Your Mother be Black or Latina? There is nothing explicit (as far as I know, I’ve never seen the show) in her personality traits that would need to make her white. The producers tend to assume that large chunks of the American population will still explode at seeing an interracial romance while everyone will just watch a white-white sitcom without complaint.

    Also some of the notices that actors see in casting notices are dozzies of offensiveness and cluelessness:

    http://castandloose.tumblr.com/

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    • The 9th Doctor’s companion was chosen for “sex appeal” (they had a better actress lined up, but they eventually decided that blonde was more popular — and they really needed Dr. Who to be popular).

      Then again, Martha Jones…

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    • Robin’s the wrong example. Robin, in How I Met Your Mother, got a large part of her backstory from being stereotypical Canadian. Same problem with Marshall. He also needed to be from a specific place, as he also was a rather stereotypical Minnesotan. (Or, rather, a lot of the jokes about them came from being from that place, although they both were complicated characters.)

      I guess you could have had a non-white actor in those roles, though. Would have made things more complicated. (Also, it would have made it clear that Robin wasn’t ‘The Mother’ in the first episode, but, OTOH, considering they explained that at the very end of the first episode, that was not really much of a spoiler. Although they could have kept that surprise simply by not showing the kids until the end.)

      However, that leaves three cast members that could have been a different ethnicity or race. Lily, for example, grew up in New York City. She was a quintessential New Yorker, so could easily be black or Latina.

      Barney was also a New Yorker, and in fact had a black brother. (OTOH, I’m not sure how well Barney would have worked with anyone besides NPH playing him. Or how the implications would have played out if someone as fundamentally creepy and selfish as Barney actually was, was the sole non-white actor.)

      And, perhaps just as importantly, there wasn’t any real reason not to make Ted non-white. Although a non-white lead? Heck no.

      But Lily…as much as I think Alyson Hannigan was completely perfect for that role, there’s no reason that it couldn’t have been played by someone who would make the cast actually represent the makeup of New York City.

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    • The reason they “whitewash” might be money. The population in the the US market is majority white & that could be the reason. I also didn’t like the fact that when they recast Khan in new Star Trek they cast against type. Khan is not from Europe. Roddenberry intended it that way so his Genetic Supermen would not be equated to the Aryan Third Reich racism!

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  4. It’s a galaxy full of intelligent species. The real scandal is that almost all of the main characters are humans with just a few token aliens, and almost all of them are bad guys.

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    • The more problematic aspect to me is the rampant prejudice against droids. They can’t enter “organic” establishments (“We don’t serve their kind here”, though they’ll serve any OTHER type of scum or villain) and they are fitted with restraining bolts and subject to periodic memory wipes, despite appearing to be sentient and acting of independent free will.

      And the “good guys” in the Rebel Alliance are not much better – though they appear to not use the restraining bolts on their droids and let them keep their memory generally, the complete lack of concern that Luke shows at the end of Ep IV for R2 (who got hit during Luke’s X-Wing attack on the Death Star) is kind of hilarious – he just says “he’ll be fine!” in this totally blasé way, then goes straight off to collect his medal. Han and Leia show the same lack of concern for R2 at the end of Jedi, when R2 gets electrocuted and basically blows up (and Luke totally sends C3PO into Jabba’s palace as a pawn without letting him in on the plan, though at least R2 seems like he’s been briefed; Leia also switches C3PO off at least once, though I guess you could argue that’s just the equivalent of knocking out a really wussy B.A. Baracus for a plane ride).

      C3PO cares about R2, but he would.

      Interestingly, Chewie appears to care when C3PO gets blasted apart in Empire – IIRC at some point it’s implied the Empire has used Wookies for slave labor, so maybe he feels some droid kinship there.

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      • Some people found Obi Wan’s statement in Episode 4 (the original 1) that he doesn’t remember owning any droids to conflict with what occurs in the earlier episodes. It could be that he didn’t actually own them, but that’s not sufficient explanation because he doesn’t even seem to recognize them.

        I have a friend who explains this by the ubiquity of droids, and their role as mere tools, just things rather than individuals to be cared for. I think that’s spot on. For the audience R2 and C3P0 are individuals–Rosencrantz and Guildenstern–but to the other characters, they’re just background noise (i.e., Rosencrantz and Guildenstern).

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      • Agreed, Murali.

        My own “point of view” on it is that Obi-wan and Yoda both intended for Luke to kill Vader, and needed him to be both determined enough to do it, and not hateful/angry in a way that would cause him to fall to the Dark Side. So first Obi-wan lets Vader kill him in front of Luke (so that Luke will have a personal reason to be willing to confront Vader), and then later sends him to Yoda for training on how to regulate his emotions. They don’t want Luke to learn Vader’s his father because that might make Luke reluctant to kill him.

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  5. I don’t think they have any responsibility to promote diversity. They have no moral impetus to create a social good. However they are in no way free from being criticized. Casting is one thing. Shoehorning minorities into a cast just for diversity doesn’t usually work well and doesn’t’ typically fit the story. The cast and characters should be true to the story. If you are making Band of Brothers then almost no women or blacks makes complete sense.

    But if you are writing a completely new story in a fantasy universe then it seems odd to have few women since there is no original story to be true to. They can make up whatever they want, so when looking at the choices it does make you go “hmmmmmm.”

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    • I agree, especially when it comes to legacy IPs and period dramas. There’s no reason why a modern show about Medieval England should have to reflect the demographics of the modern UK. That’s a bit of an absurd expectation.

      What worries me more is this idea that artists have some obligation to “proportionally” represent the societies they’re working in. If an author writes a book featuring an all-white cast of characters, there are a large chunk of people who will excoriate the author for his/her choices, but that’s not the reception a book about all black, or Hispanic, or Arab characters would receive.

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      • Stormin,
        from my admittedly small selection of Chinese cinema, I haven’t found that to be the case. Of course, the Chinese definition of diversity involves use of Mongols and other South Eastern Asians (aka people who actually live in China!).

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      • I wonder if there are underrepresented Indian populations in Indian cinema, and I wonder if there are people arguing, in India perhaps, that Indian cinema be more inclusive. And I wonder where we might look for such discussions…

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  6. By the way, it’s going to be bloody awful. Spend the money on a nice meal instead, wait a few months, and catch it pay per view.

    You’re welcome.

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    • I am not sure if I agree about that. We live in a country where culture is big business. Not only here but abroad. Almost everyone goes to sees Hollywood movies and watches American TV shows, listens to American music or music inspired by American genres.

      I think one of the surest signs of acceptance in broader American public is that someone from your ethnic group can be bankable in a broad and popular entertainment without causing rage. When was the last time you saw an Asian-American lead in a large movie that was not Harold and Kumar or some kind of action flick? Especially a guy. The Crimson Kimono featured a romantic relationship between a Japanese-American cop and a white woman and that came out in the 1950s and was a Bish movie.*

      *Though directed by the great Samuel Fuller.

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      • When was the last time you saw an Asian-American lead in a large movie that was not Harold and Kumar or some kind of action flick?

        I get the feeling that this will turn into a Scotsman game, but of the top 10 grossing movies of 2013, three had an unambiguously white American male lead: Oz, The Great and Powerful, Iron Man 3, and Man of Steel. I guess you could make a case for Despicable Me 2.

        You go back to 2012, cut past the hero-effects-driven movies and things that are popular book adaptions, and you’ll notice an interesting tidbit of “Django Unchained” and MIB3 being the top two arguably-original-not-child-animation movies on the list, both quarterbacked by black guys.

        Look, I’m not going to argue that Hollywood doesn’t put white dudes in the driving seats in most movies, because that would be ridiculous.

        But when it comes to Star Wars, you’re talking about middle-class male American escapist fantasy, and middle-class-American male escapist fantasy seeking buyers are pretty white, dude.

        That says something about something, but I wouldn’t call Star Wars a cultural icon any more. It lost that cred in 1994.

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      • Seriously, Patrick? Women like Star Wars too. I’m pretty confident that plenty of non-white people like Star Wars as well. It’s a nigh-universal cultural phenomenon in the United States (and Canada).

        And aside from cast members who are descended from Han and Leia (really, since they’re no longer considering Mara ‘canon’, Luke’s wife and kids could just as easily be non-white), there’s zero reason to exclude non-white people from any of the other roles. And no reason not to have more women. Racial (as opposed to species) conflict in the Star Wars universe is non-existent so far as we can see, and there’s no need to write gender inequality into a sci-fi script – it’s not like historical fantasy where “accuracy to the time period” is going to come up.

        The reason to make an effort is because if people don’t make a deliberate effort, they keep falling into the current pattern of having the ‘default’ for a character being a white male.

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      • Seriously, Patrick? Women like Star Wars too. I’m pretty confident that plenty of non-white people like Star Wars as well. It’s a nigh-universal cultural phenomenon in the United States (and Canada).

        Yes, and lots of non-13-year-old men like Star Wars, too. I wasn’t saying that people who weren’t middle-class adolescent and teenage males wouldn’t like it.

        I said that’s who it was written for.

        Luke, the really whiny and obnoxious kid, that the target consumer can identify with. Leia, the inappropriate crush interest. Han, the older brother. Obi-Wan, the non-parental father figure. Owen, the good-hearted restrictions on Luke, personified. Vader, the inclination to be antisocial. Tarkin and the Emperor, the warning signs of where that leads.

        The whole original trilogy is a coming of age story for the destined one, basically male hero literature from the Greco-Roman times or earlier, dressed up with rayguns, complete with temptation to turn aside from the good destiny… and sword fights.

        Certainly anybody can like this story, just like anybody can like The Aenied or The Odyssey.

        Certainly anybody can identify with the destined one story and how sometimes being destined sorta sucks.

        Certainly the story could be written with a female protagonist, or more females, or more persons of color. And if it was, it would probably be a better, more complex, more nuanced story.

        But Star Wars isn’t really about nuanced stories, is it? It’s “coming of age destined hero” story.

        Like I said elsewhere in this thread, there’s examples of whitewashing/male-centrism in movies that really are egregious, like Star Trek (the JJ version), which really screwed up with its reboot chance, going totally for the 13-year-old-male audience when that’s not what the show was originally targeted for in the first place (for an even better example, and one that ought to be equally offensive to women, see Mission: Impossible, which took a cerebral show which had a smart, central woman character integral to getting the plan done… and rebooted it with action and guns and Tom Cruise looking pretty and a woman who is literally just a plot piece, although at least they had a Barney analog).

        Those are story universes that really tried to present complex, nuanced stories and really should have expanded their roles for women and minorities and tried to be reflective of the real world. Like, if there’s a movie that should have an integrated portrayal of gay or transgendered people, shouldn’t that be Star Trek? The future world where everyone is progressive and everyone is tolerant of the wide range of human experience?

        The fact that those story universes were retracted to pitch to a 13 year old male audience is criminal. If we were arguing those cases I’d be full-throated in line with the “WTF” chorus.

        The fact that Star Wars is pitching to a 13-year old male audience is kinda in line with the original movies.

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  7. http://youtu.be/opM3T2__lZA

    “Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys.” – Katha Pollitt

    Basically this means that men are the default and women get to be sidekicks or sexy decorations.

    And contra the “Anybody who tries to draw some sort of cultural metric out of the Star Wars franchise is lookin’ down the wrong well.” view, I think examining cultural artifacts for what kinds of messages they (both explicitly and implicitly) perpetuate, reinforce, or undermine is pretty important. I wouldn’t focus all the critique on any one individual artwork, but without the scrutiny these institutions are free to carry on without regard to some deeply problematic features of our culture.

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    • I wouldn’t focus all the critique on any one individual artwork, but without the scrutiny these institutions are free to carry on without regard to some deeply problematic features of our culture.

      I think you need to focus a lot on that second bit and not so much on the first.

      Any one cultural artifact is going to be a signal for a lot of things, some of them culturally relevant as a societal mirror, some of them not so much.

      Star Wars has always been about being the whiny-ass adolescent male becoming a man, for better (Luke) or worse (Anakin).

      I find a scathing review of Avengers to be more interesting and probably constructive deconstruction than Star Wars.

      The whole thing is a trope, dressed in a archetype, wrapped in toy marketing.

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      • I think you need to focus a lot on that second bit and not so much on the first.

        But you can’t get to the second bit (problematic wider cultural phenomena) without starting with the first (examining individual artworks for failings). Sort of a how many grains of sand makes a heap question. If one keeps giving individuals films a pass, Smurfette Principle passes and Bechdel test fails, eventually you’ll have a body of work that severely marginalizes women.

        Star Wars has always been about being the whiny-ass adolescent male becoming a man, for better (Luke) or worse (Anakin).

        A bildungsroman could have female characters too. Beyond (episodes 4-6) Princess Leia.

        Circling back to a question in the original post, is it fair to impose “a moral obligation to represent diversity whenever possible”? I’d say we definitely ought to examine whose experiences tend to be excluded or marginalized and consider what steps we might take to promote more inclusion.

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      • Circling back to a question in the original post, is it fair to impose “a moral obligation to represent diversity whenever possible”?

        No.

        Artistic obligation?

        Maybe.

        It’s certainly the case that the Star Wars movies have never gotten any more complex than they were in 1981. The fact that we keep buying them in spite of that says something interesting about American cultural more than what’s in ’em.

        I get your point, Creon, about grains of sand. This particular grain I don’t think is worthy of all that much attention, just because it is what it is.

        Star Trek: Into Darkness should have been more ambitious. Whitewashing Khan was noteworthy, and not in a good way. I don’t expect much from Star Wars to begin with, and putting JJ at the helm lowered my bar to “I hope there are good lightsaber fights”

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      • This particular grain I don’t think is worthy of all that much attention, just because it is what it is.

        This is not an answer permitted by (comment box) sociology. I can’t imagine Adam Smith, Max Weber, Adorno, or Karl Marx writing “Capitalism. It is what it is”. Why is it that way? What does it mean that it is that way? What does it say about us that it is that way? Who (potentially) benefits and who hurts by it being that way? (That’s not meant to be too harsh, these are comment boxes after all, and we aren’t writing Protestant Ethic or Das Kapital right now.)

        This is an archaeological expedition and “it is what it is” says something like, “Yeah, some bones in rocks. Big whoop.”

        You offer something of an explanation above, “But when it comes to Star Wars, you’re talking about middle-class male American escapist fantasy, and middle-class-American male escapist fantasy seeking buyers are pretty white, dude.”

        I tend to wonder if the writers and executives represented a more broad cross section of US society, we wouldn’t end up with a more dynamic range of experiences showing up in our media. I also think, well, aren’t women and minorities also consumers of escapist fantasy too?

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      • Did you know that there are black people who love “geeky” things, such as Star Wars, and who feel poorly served by what is out there. This is a lack in their lives, a small thing that hurts them. Likewise for girls, for queers, on and on. We are out here. We are poorly served. We feel the lack.

        Saying, “But this is for white dudes” is true. Yes. We get that. So is, like, pretty much everything else.

        We’ve noticed.

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      • Saying, “But this is for white dudes” is true. Yes. We get that. So is, like, pretty much everything else.

        Don’t misunderstand me, the idea that “but this is for white dudes” iterated N times should give the movie industry a pass for its casting decisions is not what I’m saying (on the other hand, you can agree that sometimes “but this is for (audience)” is a fair decision for somebody to make, right?)

        This is more along the lines of, “It’s a Thin Man movie. It’s going to show a man who backed into a bunch of money getting him out of his cop job, along with his privileged and delightful wife bantering about, while a crime appears in the background, and then the mystery is untangled with more bantering. Oh, and there will be lots and lots of drinking.”

        And someone can say (legitimately): Dude. The black folk in those movies are horrible stereotypes. Yes, that’s true. And in the case of the Thin Man movies, it actually does say something about race and culture in the context of Hollywood.

        But if you made a Thin Man movie today, and you cleaned it up for modern sensibilities, you might have a black guy and a white woman as the couple, or something of that nature … but you’re probably still going to have a “Nick” and a “Nora” and Nick will be the detective and the primary Doer of Stuff and Nora will be the goad that gets him to go detecting and the secondary Contributor, and there will be banter. Because that’s the mechanism by which you’d still recognize a Thin Man movie as a Thin Man movie.

        Why not a gender-reversed Thin Man, or a gay couple Thin Man? Well, you could do that, but you’d still have a Nick and a Nora.

        Oh, and the dog, don’t forget Asta. And the drinking.

        I tend to wonder if the writers and executives represented a more broad cross section of US society, we wouldn’t end up with a more dynamic range of experiences showing up in our media. I also think, well, aren’t women and minorities also consumers of escapist fantasy too?

        I think those are probably both true, sure. And I think from an artistic integrity standpoint having a more dynamic range of experiences produces better art.

        But I think that’s a discussion that should focus on the body of production, not each instance of it (again, because sometimes a movie is middle-class male wish fulfillment.) To the extent that you look at Star Wars as contributory to the body of production, it’s worthy of being included.

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      • Patrick,
        Let’s break this out a bit:
        1) Films where not having the actors be of a particular color is Bad News. (Tuskegee Airmen, anything involving WWII and Nazis/Japanese).
        2) Films where most people would be okay with “A Black Guy — or 20”
        3) Films that, because of the audience and timeperiod, having a black guy would be out of place. [Oklahoma Tornado Films]

        I think that most “white guy entertainment” falls into category 2. Nobody would really care — white guys aren’t that racist, and most action takes place in diverse enough environs.

        [I’m going to give films with a very tight focus — say on three people, much more of a pass. Because a tight focused film just doesn’t have as much room as an ensemble cast.]

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      • — Are you doubting such people exist? Really?

        Anyway, I don’t feel like doing basic Google-fu much this morning, but these links are at my fingertips, so here are a few:

        This is one of the best essays on the topic, an remininscence of a black girl SciFi/Fantasy nerd. It talks much on Earthsea:

        http://www.infinitematrix.net/faq/essays/noles.html

        I like this essay by Deepa a lot. (Strictly speaking she is South Asian, not “black” per se, but the point stands.)

        http://deepad.dreamwidth.org/29371.html

        Of course you could spend some time with Seeking Avalon:

        http://seeking-avalon.blogspot.com/2009/01/open-letter-to-elizabeth-bear.html

        (But read everything there.)

        I guess if I wanted to Google and click a lot I could find more. But some kinds of doubt don’t deserve a serious response.

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      • Patrick: ” The fact that Star Wars is pitching to a 13-year old male audience is kinda in line with the original movies.”

        If that were true, then it’d have been a tiny flop of a movie which only the true trivia buffs would vaguely recall.

        Now, ‘pitched to the 13-year old in all of us’ is more reasonable.

        (and if the execs even *thought* that Lucas was *actually* trying to limit the audience in that way, he’d be out on his @ss)

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  8. On the other hand, considering that this is Star Wars and Lucas we’re talking about, it’s likely that we would wind up with Planet Nubia where all the inhabitants were black humans :/

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  9. Casting Billy Dee Williams proved that Lucas doesn’t care about the color of a man’s skin; all he asks is that an actor be wooden and unconvincing.

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  10. According to TV tropes, Han Solo was originally intended to be black but Lucas decided that he didn’t want to make Look Whose Coming to Dinner in space. Make of that what you will.

    The default whiteness in Hollywood casting is troubling, especially in our growingly diverse society. African-Americans have a relatively easier time getting starring roles compared to other minorities. At the same time, the effort to make casts more diverse can be done in a heavy-handed manner or in a way that doesn’t make minorities come across that well.

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  11. Oh dear jeebus.

    This is some serious critical issues here!

    Why wasn’t there a transgendered C3PO and a bisexual wookie in the cast? Han and Chewbacca spent a lot of time alone in that ship smuggling. You know Chewie’s tapped Han once or twice. And let’s “reimagine”, aka Battlestar Galatica, that “Han” is actually an AA woman who’s gay. “Leia” is a man, an Asian man, who’s in the galaxy illegally, and Luke is a man of Hispanic descent. .

    Now, does that cover the various populations, all in their appropriate % as they are representative in our society?

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  12. “Abrams has already made it clear that he is not going to follow the plots of the books exactly but it is assumed he is sticking to some of the basic framework.”

    This is the part that sticks in my craw. Why is race essential to the basic framework? In particular, why is the race of the white characters essential? I’ve talked about this before. “The Hunger Games” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” are two egregious cases of movie-makers playing fast-and-loose with race when the character is described as being of color (with the latter spawning the website racebending.com). But god forbid a character who is white (or people thought was white, like a HG character who was explicitly described as black but whom a bunch of white teenagers presumed was white and then got furious when a black actress was cast) be cast as anything other than white.

    If the race matters — and there are many cases where it will — than it matters. If it doesn’t, than it doesn’t and complaints about the diversifying of white casts hold little water, especially if similar complaints aren’t lodged over the white washing of diverse casts.

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      • I didn’t read the novels or see the films, but I understand she wasn’t the only character there was concern about. The descriptions I read for her indicated long, straight black hair, olive skin, and gray eyes. Not necessarily of color, but something other than a paler skinned blonde — which is exactly who they cast, because that is who they always tend to cast.

        I understand Lawrence is a phenomenal actress. And I doubt casting her and dying her hair substantially changed the movie. But I do know that a number of people were upset because they expected to see someone who looked like themselves in the lead role based on what they read. And, again, they were denied this. If there is an issue with casting people who look substantially different than the way they are described in print, than there is an issue every time it happens. Not just when white characters get changed.

        This isn’t really so much about what Katniss was or wasn’t but about the selective outrage that this tends to generate.

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      • Eh, I thought it was all really overblown in that case, although a Latina actress probably would have fit the role well, someone like Michelle Rodriguez, but younger (not that she’s old–it’d be no worse than Olivia Newton John playing a high schooler in Grease). The only characters I remember that were clearly of color were Rue and Thresh, and both of those were played by African-American actors. Well cast, too, although Thresh has a small role, and in a significant way, I think, the characters run against stereotypes.

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      • I’m probably coming across more combative than I mean to. My apologies to both you and Mike. One of those mornings.

        I think Mike’s question of what moral obligation — if any — do creators of art have is a good one. I’m not from or of the art world so I’m not well positioned to answer but I would tend to say that they probably don’t have any. That said, as someone who makes a lot of decisions about art and media for children, the lack of diversity and/or the way in which diversity is often presented is highly problematic. I don’t know if art intended for children can or should carry different obligations (and THG would be an interesting case because the target audience is broad and includes older “children” as well as adults).

        I generally do find it bothersome when white folks poo poo concerns about diversity in art and media and I think I landed in that zone. For the record, I don’t think Mike is poo pooing those concerns (even if I do disagree with him) and I think his willingness to own his privilege in this matter shows that.

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      • Kazzy – If you haven’t read the books, you really aren’t in a place to accurately comment on what race the books present Katniss as being. I’ve read the whole series, and haven’t seen anything to indicate that she’s non-white. She’s roughly southern-European looking, brown-haired, and grey-eyed; brunettes aren’t a minority group.

        And on-screen, with her hair brown, Jennifer Lawrence looks exactly how I imagined Katniss. She’s the perfect actress for the role (heck, she’d already played a character who had a missing father, had to raise her younger sibling when her mother had an emotional breakdown/depression, lived in Appalachia, and had to go to great lengths at a young age to protect her family. All characteristics of Katniss. All characteristic of her Oscar-nominated performance in Winter’s Bone.) I watched Winter’s Bone before I’d even heard that anyone was considering making a Hunger Games movie. Immediately after watching it, I said to myself, “If they ever make a movie of the Hunger Games, that actress needs to play Katniss.”

        The characters who were described as black in the text of the books, were cast as black.

        I’m opposed to “racebending”, as the eponymous website calls it. But that simply didn’t happen in The Hunger Games.

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      • Katharine,
        I’m a good deal happier if the actress is So Awesome, to see them selecting a Random White Girl (Cersei Lannister’s actress seems fabulous, for example. And she’s not a blonde). Or Peter Dinklage, as much as I’d love to have seen Anderson (the small one) in the role.

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      • I’m giving voice to concerns I’ve seen expressed elsewhere by other people. The excerpts I’ve read give credence to their concerns, but they are far from “slam dunk” cases.

        The phenomenon of white girls decrying the casting of black actors for characters who were explicitly described as black was very real. It also received more attention than the concerns of people of color who read Katniss as a person of color (though some of that attention was rightfully mocking).

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      • — I think the complaints about Katniss are really off base, not in their underlying theory, which I agree with, but in the particulars of the case. Nothing in the text indicates that Katniss is a WoC. She isn’t blond. Fine. But so what? It’s not the same as casting Miss Lily-White Redhead to play a WoC.

        Plus, like , I saw Winter’s Bone before I heard that Hunger Games was being made. And my response was much like hers. When I found out Lawrence was playing the role, I was thrilled. She was utterly fucking perfect.

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      • I think the physical description of Katniss is deliberately vague on this score as a choice by the writer.

        You are given enough details to construct an image of Katniss in your head, but enough leeway to construct the one that you want and identify most with, instead of the one that the author is trying to project.

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    • I know that for many reasons there is unlikely that there will be a sequel to Ender’s Game filmed, and if they did, it will be just as unlikely that it will be Speaker for the Dead. (again for lots of reasons) But I for one would love to see them try for the racial shoals they’ll have to negotiate to make it. The majority of the characters are black Brazilians, but would they have the guts to make a blockbuster scifi movie with a mostly black cast, even if the “hero” is white? Which of course would open up all kinds of attack lines over the whole “white savior” for the natives thing. If they white wash the local Lusitanians, (like the SyFy channel did with Earthsea) though, that would be even worse and fans of the book would, or at least should, hate it.

      Call me cruel, but I’d love to see this drama play out in real time and watch it unfold, though I would likely hate the final product.

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      • “Which of course would open up all kinds of attack lines over the whole “white savior” for the natives thing.”

        They didn’t mind doing this with Avatar. Not only was it the white human coming to save the savage blue aliens, but many of the blue aliens were voiced by black actors (though they were relegated to speaking a made-up language that was subtitled). Only one of the main human characters was a person of color (Michelle Rodriguez).

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    • Kazzy – Can you give me a specific line where Katniss is described as being non-white?

      She’s certainly not black (she describes Thresh and Rue in a way that clearly indicates they look different from the people she’s been around before). Her District is described as being a mix of blond people and darker-haired, more European-mediterranean-looking people. Her skin tone is described as “olive”, which is generally used for people from the general Italy-Greece area. (Plus District 12 is in Appalachia, which is overwhelmingly white.) Plus, Suzanne Collins is very closely involved in the filmmaking, so if she wrote Katniss as non-white you’d expect her to have said something to that effect when they were deciding on the casting.

      If you read a specific passage in The Hunger Games as saying that Katniss is non-white, I’d like to see it quoted.

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  13. Where’s Smurfette when you need her? She would just batt her eyes at Abrams, looking coyly over one shoulder with hand on her outthrust hip, and so weaken his resolve that there would be only one woman in the cast.

    We suck this stuff up from the time we’re little babies. Boys do. Girls watch from the sidelines, except for the one or two special girls. . .

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  14. Luke and his wife have children, Han and Leia have children, so bringing in a couple of strong female leads declared to be their daughters would be simple enough.

    They’ll need help–not because they’re female, but because all leads in action stories need help (except for Rambo, maybe)–and it’s a big universe with lots of populated planets, where surely there are plenty of non-whites available.

    It should be easy to get a diverse cast without having to “shoehorn” the diversity in. Does Abrams have any kind of duty to do so? No, but I think the show would be a lot more interesting if he did.

    As a side note, the Percy Jackson movies have some strong females, but their only real non-white character is a black guy who plays a satyr (Grover Underwood). He’s a great character, strong, integral to the story and to the success of the heroes, and certainly not a token. But still, the only non-white is a non-human goat-like being. Is that offensive, or at least worthy of a slow sad shake of the head?

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      • I agree. I should have put in some sort of snark-signifying emoticon. But I just find it hard to believe a franchise that can pull Midi-chlorians out of its ass, can’t figure out a way to work in different color and gendered characters if they really wanted to.

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      • Oh, I gathered as much. I was just turning the snark up to 11.

        The answer is that they obviously could have worked in the race/ethnicity thing. They simply didn’t. They didn’t want to, didn’t care enough, and/or thought it would be bad for their bottom line.

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      • Eh, I think anyone who is going to be upset about two white-ish people having a white-ish kid is probably looking for a reason to get angry. You actually see a lot of that in online fandom.

        George R.R. Martin doesn’t have enough of identity group in his universe, because corresponds to the critic’s identity group, of course. When is represented, it’s never positive or affirming enough. When bad things happen to characters, it’s exploitation, of course. It gets pretty ridiculous.

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      • and I agree that they could have done things that they did not to enhance the diversity of the cast. Especially since they decanonized the books.

        However, this is seriously tricky territory. While I can come up with some ideas for why two white characters have a non-white (biological child), all of which run the risk of being offensive to a real extreme. At the very least, lending themselves to “non-white children aren’t natural” narrative, which is problematic even if presented with “they’re magical!” tacked on and the non-white children are presented as special.

        It seems to almost always come back to adoption in one form or another. Or making the non-familial characters non-white, which is the direction I would move towards.

        My view is that, ultimately speaking, creators dealing with legacy white casts, should basically have to (internally) justify any new character being white. Familial connection is one justification, obviously. And it’s not like any and all new characters should be non-white, but starting with the presumption of non-white would probably be a good idea if you want to avoid this sort of thing.

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      • Oops, it cut out my brackets in the last paragraph. Let’s try different ones:

        George R.R. Martin doesn’t have enough of [X] identity group in his universe, because [X] corresponds to the critic’s identity group, of course. When [X] is represented, it’s never positive or affirming enough. When bad things happen to [X] characters, it’s exploitation, of course. It gets pretty ridiculous.

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      • Brooke,
        I suggest you stay out of GRRM’s “White Savior” arc when trying to make points about discredited tropes. For one thing, GRRM isn’t done writing yet, and he’s pretty damn notorious for twisting tropes.

        (The people I heard upset about the TV show were concerned that GRRM was “othering” the black folks, and that the only black dudes were barbarians. First Episode, ya know?)

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      • Kim,

        I’m not trying to start a discussion about any specific trope or criticism of Martin. I generally think that critics of these types of things go too far and have unrealistic expectations of what he’s obligated to depict with his characters. My main point was that, no matter what you do, it seems like you will always be a target for identity group “activists” who spend a lot of time looking for people and works to attack.

        I don’t care if the cast of a book or movie is all white or all black or all anything else, if it’s a good story and the characters are realistic. There are some things that bother me about Denna in Rothfuss’s series, but I think it’s result of bad characterization, not misogyny on the author’s part.

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    • You won’t have to look hard to find discussions of racism in the Percy Jackson movies. I haven’t seen them, so I can’t really speak to them, but it sounds like the “black sidekick” trope is probably more of an issue than the satyr bit.

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      • Well, I’ll admit I didn’t look at all. Sometimes you just want someone else to do the work, no? ;)

        I hadn’t thought about it as a black sidekick, but I can see that. He at least has his own independent story arc, so he’s not just a 2-dimensional side-kick figure, but, yeah, it might just be a somewhat less-worse way of doing the same old schtick.

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      • I haven’t seen Percy Jackson, so I don’t know the specifics, but it seems like these days, even trying to depict a minority character is going to open you up to someone crying that you’re using this-and-such trope or another one. Seems like one hell of an artistic minefield to me. Just what “standards” does an artist have to abide by to produce an acceptable portrayal of a character from a “minority” group?

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      • That is largely a function of a character of color being the ONLY one. If you had a multitude of characters of color representing the diversity within those groups — ya know, like real life — you’d be on pretty solid footing.

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      • Kazzy,

        It does seem strange if you have only one character of a different race in the world, but if they’re the only character of that race of note in the story, it shouldn’t be a huge problem unless they’re two-dimensional walking stereotype. My concern is that these criticisms often come across as a veiled desire for a quota of characters from specific groups, which is unacceptable for art.

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      • I think Brooke is right that the writers and producers can be in a no-win situation. I remember the criticism surrounding Outsourced, which I think was determined to be racist no matter what it did… but that’s the price to be paid for having the sort of influence involved in producing, casting, and writing major productions. Which is a small price, considering the prestige of the positions involved.

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      • There are pretty straightforward ways to avoid having your work seen as racist, most of which involve not making them racist. That sounds a bit snarky, I know, but I’m mostly serious. There are tons of movies and TV shows out there that aren’t seen as racist with black characters. How do they pull it off? By paying attention, and not being racist. Look for stereotypes and avoid them. It’s not as difficult as it seems, unless, as Kazzy notes, you only have one black character, and especially if that one black character is subordinate to white characters.

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      • Brooke,
        I think the default ought to be less white than it is. That said, if you’ve got a damn good reason for the folks to be white, let us hear it (Stasheff’s books, debatably, had reasons to be white — A Mote in God’s Eye might actually be a lot more fun with an all-black human cast).

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      • I agree, modern dramas set in diverse parts of America probably should be “less white” but I’m uncomfortable with dictating things to writers, producers, and anyone making casting decisions. Like I said above, the only place where it specifically bothers me is in period dramas, where you shouldn’t have to invent reasons to include minority characters that probably wouldn’t have been common or had positions that are deemed more acceptable to modern audiences.

        Anytime the issue of “there’s not enough [X] in ” comes up, I don’t think it’s a productive way of framing the conversation because it inevitably leads to the followup of “how much is enough?” and who judges?

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      • Brooke- Who judges? Everybody does, we’re the consumers of art/entertainment. We judge what we think sucks and what is good. Where we plonk our dollar down is our descion. What is enough? See the first answer. Nobody is “dictating” anything.

        I made the point about period dramas up thread so we agree on that. But very little of forcing a minority character into a anachronistic place seems to happen which is good. Where it does happen it usually sticks out and works poorly. But fantasy universes have unlimited possibilities. Well only limited by the director/writers imaginations, which seems to be the issue here. In SW race doesn’t’ have to be an actual issue that is addressed since it doesn’t seem to be one in the SW universe. But in casting, the question is still, why? when there are no constraints given the SW universe.

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      • greginak,

        Yeah, people will consume what they want to consume, and right now the outrage seems to stem from the idea that a lot of people don’t particularly care. I don’t think it’s productive for the conversation to tend toward shrillness the way that a lot of internet-based activisms do. Yes, more diversity is a good thing and it will happen naturally, but nobody likes to be yelled at or have overblown accusations thrown at them every time a particular person’s or group’s desires aren’t satisfied by a particular work.

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      • , given that humans are humans not being racist is a lot harder than it seems. Lets say Hollywood decides to make a teenage superhero movie but they decide to take a risk and make the main character African-American. However, they want to avoid certain stereotypes so while our hero is from an upper-middle class background with professional parents in a well to-do suburb or city neighborhood rather than a poverty stricken and violent inner city neighborhood. Most of the rest of the cast are similarly of color and upper middle class. You’ll get a good number of people supporting this decision and another group of people at their throats for ignoring certain “realities” of African-American life in America as they see it.

        One reason why so many Hollywood movies are much more white than the American demographic landscape is that Hollywood producers and executives often do find themselves in these particular damned if you and damned if you don’t situations. For many its not just about wanting more characters of color, who are women or girls, or who are LGBT but to have everything as didactic statement of sorts. Not only do you have to present X but you must do present X this way or else.

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      • , there is such a thing as color blind casting. The New Doctor Who series as cast several people of color in roles that are technically inappropriate like French nobles at Louis XV’s Versailles or as Renaissance Venetian nobles. The writers apparently trust the audience to overlook the skin color of the actors and suspend their disbelief about these things. The BBC is kind of inconsistent about this though, more realistic, in the sense of no fantasy or science fiction elements, period pieces tend to have less demographically diverse casts. They aren’t probably going to cast an Indian-British actor to play Darcy in straight version of Pride and Prejudice anytime soon.

        Color blind casting can work if its done right and it gives actors of color access to more roles than they would normally have. At the same time, it can get rather silly if done wrong. The Murdoch Mysteries, a Canadian TV show that takes place during the late 19th and early 20th century, is a good example of this. The writers of the show have taken great pains to make most of the characters have an appropriate world view for the time but at the same time still be likable to an early 20th century audience. At the same time, for some reason they have guest stars of color like an Indian man playing an expert chemist, in certain areas. This isn’t an Indian actor pretending to be a white Canadian, the character has an Indian name. People are a lot more respectful to him than they would normally be in early 20th century Canada.

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      • Also, PoC were a lot more common in EU history than we usually assume, and evidence is easy enough to find if you look for it. (Ami Angelwings blogs on this topic a lot. Google her stuff if you’re curious.)

        Anyway, so if anyone is talking about “realism,” chances are what they are really talking about is their shitty, poorly researched preconceptions.

        Which, lets face it, pretty much sums up 90% of what any nerdbro says about most anything.

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      • As a Dr. Who fan i safely say most of what happens in the show doesn’t have or does make a lot of sense. They just ignore all sorts of the things in the show when its convenient or they use technobabble explanations. It a fantasy show.

        Color blind casting can work but its a stretch very often since it risks hard to over look anachronisms and taking viewers out of the story.

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      • , at the same time white people were more present in non-white areas than most people assume. Nobody is asking the Japanese to put in some Spanish and Portuguese Jesuits and Franciscans in their Warning States period dramas or Dutch merchants in their Tokugawa period dramas because it makes sense.

        There were more Jews in Europe than people of color until recently. There is still a dearth of Jewish characters in period pieces.

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      • — I don’t live in Japan and have no idea how these things play out there. I’m pretty sure of this: my ignorance of race in Japan is so nearly total that my best option, on this topic, is to say nothing.

        (How I wish that my reticence to speak when I do not know was shared.)

        Perhaps minorities in Japan have something to complain about; I don’t know. Likewise in India (someone brought up that example elsewhere in this thread). Likewise really anywhere. Sure. Fine.

        But when (in this case) white Americans want to shift this conversation that way, away from the media in America, to the media elsewhere, I must wonder, why the sudden interest in minorities elsewhere? Could it be to distract from the situation here? To try to steer a conversation away from an uncomfortable place, where it might have results?

        But why? We cannot affect Japan very much. If they are doing it wrong, I hope they get better. If minorities in Japan seek solidarity with me, I’ll give it freely. But I can’t do very much. In fact, what I can do most is lead by example, by showing them how we fight the battle here, our theoretical models, our activists tools.

        But for me to wag my finger at Japanese people is utterly and entirely useless.

        I know how minorities (both racial minorities, and gender/sexuality minorities) are treated here in the USA. I know how much the media fails us. (It is particularly acute for trans folks, and I wish I could really express how much this has cost me. But seriously, I wish I could explain.) I understand the calls for representation here, and the resistance to representation, and the rationalizations, and so on.

        Perhaps no one is asking the Japanese for better representation. I don’t know. People are certainly asking the western mass-culture media for better representation.

        (For example, this, https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=minority+representation+in+western+media&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8, gives 13 million hits.)

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      • greg,
        Dr. Who does a passable job of the science when they have competent writers (or at least a science editor). When they don’t, I tend to have problems with my suspense of disbelief.

        v,
        Thanks for the link!

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      • Lee and V,
        The Japanese are pretty abominable in their discrimination against the Ainu, their native (bearded!) population. I can cite some popular media where they’re treated like barbarians, even (not super super perjorative, but definitely more uncultured).

        That said, they actually do put Missionaries into their Meiji Reformation storylines. (this is aside from the satan-smiting nun trope).

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      • — I’m familiar with the Ainu, and I watch enough anime to know that the Japanese don’t always do multiculturalism all that well. (But speaking for myself, I kinda enjoy their clumsy efforts to present the West. And Noir is the best show ever.)

        But my point is this: in a conversation among westerners, it is a distraction to shift the lens to Japan or India (or wherever). In fact, it’s just another lame version of “they do it too,” and even if that’s true, so what?

        If cultural representation is correct, and I believe it is, it remains correct regardless of how poorly some other culture does it.

        We should lead by example.

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    • “It should be easy to get a diverse cast without having to “shoehorn” the diversity in. Does Abrams have any kind of duty to do so? No, but I think the show would be a lot more interesting if he did.”

      What is this ‘shoehorn’ that people keeping talking about?

      Abrams is starting with the original movies (four of them – for some reason, there were never any episodes I and II, and anybody who says so is a liar!!!), the Clone Wars materials, and then a bunch of books. From that, he’s going to distill things down, and there are a lot of options. For example, some of the original characters might not be there, or might have cameos (say, appearing in video recordings), depending on the actor, and how the script runs.

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  15. Speaking of Lando, where *is* Billy Dee Williams? Why isn’t he on the cast list of the movie?

    Last I read he was willing, and, hell, technically of all the cast he’s played his role most recently. (In The Lego Movie, that was him doing Lando’s voice.)

    I mean, I know the movie is probably going to be centered around the kids, but surely they can throw in a visit from Uncle Lando, Han’s disreputable friend. Hell, have Han lose the Millennium Falcon back to him, have the cast run off with his ship.

    Or, since we’re not following book continuity ‘exactly’, apparently, whatever that means, give him a wife and kid. (If only so that the entire young cast doesn’t have force powers. You’re not really supposed to have a Star Wars movie where *everyone* is a Jedi.)

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    • So Lando should be in there for Fan Service? A what point do you stop with the Fan Service? I’d rather him have a decent role than Fan Service. Maybe he pops up in Episode 8. They are making 7-9 plus even more.

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      • Uh, no, I want Lando there for *diversity*, considering there are no other legacy black characters. And considering he’s a fairly good friend of Hans, it really wouldn’t seem that odd for any hypothetical kids of his to be running around with the Solo kids.

        Or at the very least promote Lando to same amount of screen time as the three original characters. (Which I assume is not going to be that much.)

        He’s an actual *existing* non-white character, played by an actor who, now that I’ve looked him up, is providing the voice of Lando in ‘Star Wars Rebels’ (a cartoon set before A New Hope) *right now*, so he clearly is willing to play the role.

        Throw him in there right next to Hans and Chewy, tada. Or put him and Chewie flying around in the Falcon while Han is staying at home with Leia. And if there’s room for another young character besides the four kids of three original characters, make it his kid. (Checking, it turns out he’s actually married with a kid in the books, although that happened a lot later than everyone else, so obviously a change would be required there. And it’s worth pointing out that the four kids are all related to each other, so, uh, a love interest would not go amiss.)

        It’s an incredibly obvious way to get diversity, right there, requiring no real work at all.

        If I was arguing for fan service, I’d be demanding Wedge or Ackbar or whoever. And demanding fan service in a Star Wars movie is rather like demanding there be water in a swimming pool…I’m pretty sure the entire movie is going to be constant fan service. Hell, the prequels had it all over the place even when it made very little sense….we’re lucky we didn’t get a five year old Han Solo showing up in the last prequel for no reason.

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      • considering he’s a fairly good friend of Han

        I dunno, maybe it’s just because I recently rewatched the original trilogy (well, as “original” as I could easily/cheaply obtain…damn Lucas’ constant messing around with the things!) but Lando seems like he got off pretty easy for such a Judas.

        Sure, he “had a change of heart” after his sudden-but-inevitable betrayal and got Leia and Chewie and Luke out of Cloud City, but you could just as easily read that as simply realizing the bad bargain he’d made in allowing the Empire to take over, and saving his own rear-end (and attempting to steal Han’s ship and erstwhile girlfriend, while he’s at it).

        All of a sudden he’s a trusted part of the plot to rescue Han, and then a key pilot in the Alliance’s secret attack on Death Star II? He’s an even smoother politician than I thought. Lando ‘Teflon’ Calrissian.

        I still don’t trust him. Chewie maybe shoulda finished strangling him.

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      • DavidTC, I agree Lando is an easy fix. BTW it was just reported today that Denis Lawson aka Wedge Antilles Turned Down Disney’s Offer to Return in Star Wars: Episode 7. My feeling is does he really need to be in it? No in my opinion. If they are going that far then where is Lando.

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  16. You know, I have noticed a certain very unhealthy fixation in threads like these. It goes like this: people read about a call for diversity; suddenly they want to talk about if this is required, if there is an obligation.

    It happens a lot in this thread. Scroll up. Read.

    Let me ask you this: will you only provide diversity if it is required, if there is an obligation.

    Do white people have to be somehow forced?

    Is it not enough that black people are asking? That women and queers are saying, “What about us?”

    Isn’t that enough?

    Really-seriously, why is that not enough?

    Or is JJ-Fucking-Abrams’ “artistic vision” (she says with a smirk) so fucking precious, so perfectly dudely and lily-white, that nothing must impede — as the nerdbros line up and whinge?

    Good-grief.

    Some questions are on their own inherently broken, that only get asked to wiggle out of obvious things.

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    • I think the answer is that people should write the stories they want to write, film, or record, and people should be accepting of the characters if the characterization is good. Not every work needs to have a certain number of ethnicities or identity groups represented to be accepted. I’m equally willing to read a book about all black characters or all Latino characters as I am to read one about all white characters. What matters is whether the work is good or not.

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      • How many books about all black characters have you read?
        How many books about all Muslim characters have you read?
        I tell you what — I look around on the bus, and the only people reading
        all black books are black folks (everyone’s reading Martin. Tis Popular).

        How many books about all white folks have you read?

        There was one book i read for school that had a preponderance of black characters. One Book, out of 50, easily. There’s something wrong with that, ain’t there?

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      • Lazy work is not good writerly craft, and people are right to call out “all white, all male sci fi” as being lazy.
        Can it have redeeming value? Sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. And even if it is good (as Tolkien is), we can acknowledge that it’s good despite being markedly racist and sexist.

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      • Kim,

        Just off the top of my head, A Wizard of Earthsea, and about 2/3 of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I have read a number of historical fiction and history books about Muslim characters too.

        I don’t think a work is automatically deficient if its cast doesn’t meet some arbitrary “diversity” bar.

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      • Brooke,
        I’m not saying it’s deficient if it doesn’t meet a diversity bar. I’m saying that the author needs to work that into the worldbuilding. You want an all white cast (or an all black cast) — you gotta explain why. That’s all.

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      • But can we ask why so many people want to write stories that are so thin in their representation of the range of humanity?

        A desire to write what you know and what you’re comfortable with. The former being why white characters are the easiest for white people to write, the latter being why it’s easier to write about humanoids from far off dimensions (since you created them, you’re in “control” of them), and both being a reason that the underlying problem here is, to me, the sheer number of writers and people with influence over writers being white.

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      • But can we ask why so many people want to write stories that are so thin in their representation of the range of humanity?

        I would contend that good art is generally thin in its representation of the range of humanity. That is, good art generally encompasses a deep dive on one character or a small group of characters. It is the mining of the particular to tap into the universal.

        Art that tries to directly capture the universal often turns out very bad. It is not impossible to do, but it is very difficult.

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      • Will,
        That doesn’t wash. It’s not the race of the writer, but their lack of dedication to their craft. I’ll give someone a first book, or a few stories. But after that — if you aren’t out and experiencing the World, you’re not doing a good job of being a writer.

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      • Will Truman illustrates the Catch-22 that many white authors or artists find themselves in. New writers are perpetually encouraged to write what they know, and what they know is their life experience or the life experience of someone close to them.

        It then seems unfair to excoriate these same people for doing that without a desire to insult or harm anyone else, only to find out that there is now an expectation to become an expert in someone else’s experience and write that to avoid this particular criticism.

        Another problem is that members of activist identity groups seem to interpret an author’s decision to write from personal experience to be an assault because of the absence of characters that interest that particular identity group.

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      • Brooke,
        All due respect, but that’s very easy for you to say. You don’t know writers who have avoided putting women in their stories, deliberately, out of fear of “writing them wrong.”

        Let everyone have a first work, or even a few. I think it continues to be solid advice to write what you know. We can ask our writers to experience the world once we’re actually paying them royalties.

        Or, um, we could suggest to folks places where they might be able to find more diverse experiences (noting, as usual, that writers are not made of money — and saying move to NYC is probably a bad plan).

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      • good art is generally thin in its representation of the range of humanity.

        But I thought we were talking about Star Wars. Hey-o!

        Anyway, and aren’t wrong, but again, since this is Star Wars (or most fantasy/sci-fi etc.), we don’t have to get into the writing. It really is, as the OP notes, mainly a casting thing (and movies and TV, unlike novels and music and painting and sculpture, are the definition of “art by committee”). There’s no reason (other than financial, if we presume white kids will be the majority ticket-buyers and want to see themselves on screen) that Luke had to be white. Or Han. They could have been black, or Asian, or female, etc. without really altering the story.

        In fact, casting minorities here could have given the plucky Rebellion even more oomph – as it is, we see that the power structure of the Empire is ALL white males (in the original trilogy, anyway) with uniforms that look more than a teeny bit Nazi-like; whereas the Rebels have an alien (Ackbar) in charge of their fleet, Wookies and Ewoks and Yodas on their side, and whatever that mouse-lookin’-guy is who flies the Millenium Falcon with the black guy (Lando) in Jedi.

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      • Kim, it depends on the writer and the project. There’s nothing wrong with a particular writer focusing on what he knows. When it becomes a problem is when too many of the projects become cases of writers doing that and the writers come from a narrowish sliver of humanity. That said…

        Brooke, I do think writers should try to move out of their comfort zones, or that more important there should be more things written by people for whom writing about non-white, non-straight characters are within their comfort zones. This sort of thing is especially important in productions like Star Wars, which at this point goes above and beyond a personal project. It’s a group project, and the question (as far as I am concerned) is why nobody in the group is either (a) a white guy who notices the narrow base and wants to improve one it or (b) someone from clear outside the narrow base.

        Or put more simply, it’s not a problem if male comic book writers feel most comfortable writing male comic book characters. It is a problem, though, if an overwhelming number of comic book writers are male. Or white. Or whatever. If you can’t seem to find women writers (after asking yourself why this is) you do need to start looking for male writers who want to go beyond their comfort zone.

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      • Kim,

        I think if you know you’re going to be working in a real world culture or setting that is different than your own, you should obviously do your research before putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard.

        As a woman working in an entertainment industry, I’m always asking myself if my representations of men and members of other intelligent species are believable. I’m pretty confident in my ability to create a female character because I have a lifetime of experience as a woman, even as a woman in a traditionally-male field.

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      • nails it. These are mass-culture artifacts produced by committee, and as such discussions about the lone, iconoclastic creator are a bit out of place. Women can be hired. Blacks can be hired. Queers can be hired. And if the talent pool is lacking (which I do not believe), then apprenticeships can be formed.

        There are solutions to these issues, and none are super complex. What is missing is commitment and desire.

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      • Brooke,
        yeah, it continues to be a good idea to have someone look over your shoulder if you’re concerned about a particular characterization/scene. [which is part of the reason why I’m inclined to go really easy on new writers! they may not know anyone else who writes!]

        What corner of the entertainment business are you in?

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    • v,
      No, most writers don’t need to be forced. Reminding folks that “hey, we’re people too. just write us like people, please!” — it helps, at least with fledgling writers (“too young to feel confident with characterization in the first place — let alone ohmigod a woman!”).

      The more one takes these to conventions, to writers’ workshops, to plenty of places, the more you get Better Shows (or Books). Because it’s often a better show when you show more diversity — more realistic.

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    • people read about a call for diversity; suddenly they want to talk about if this is required, if there is an obligation…. Let me ask you this: will you only provide diversity if it is required, if there is an obligation.

      Good question.

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      • I think most people want to have a good range of characters, but I also think people should be less sensitive, less primed to look for reasons to get outraged, and more willing to give artists the benefit of the doubt. I usually don’t care what ethnicity or religion the characters in a story belong to, if the story is good. Having more members of one group or less of another usually isn’t what makes or breaks a work for me.

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      • I think the complaints are generally out of proportion to the severity of the problem. As I said above, the shrillness of some activists hurts their case more than it helps. I think it would work better if people remained positive and spent less time attacking the majority of producers and consumers who aren’t hostile to diversity, but who do get sick of hearing about the lack of a particular group in every work.

        Take time to praise those people you think handle diversity well rather than complaining about those you don’t personally find satisfying, and understand that you shouldn’t have to “see yourself” in every work to find value in it.

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  17. Here is my problem with all of this: there is nothing worse than art by committee.

    We would be better served to let people tell their stories and then critique outcome, so that discourse can inform future artistic endeavors. I did not find the original Star Wars universe to be particularly whitewashed, mostly because it was telling a fairly narrow story. The prequels were just downright odd and a sort of case of an attempt at diversity gone horribly wrong.

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    • There is a pretty explanation on why so many non-white cisgender male authors and creators are being excluded from this series or science fiction in general. A plurality of the white male fan base for science fiction and fantasy have libertarian or conservative political leanings. Many women and of color science fiction writers tend to explore themes regarding gender, sexuality, and race that aren’t exactly comfortable with the conservative or libertarian worldview.

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      • What of hers would you recommend? I think all I’ve read was Bloodchild in a Hugo anthology.

        Anyway, if we’re taking written SF, women include Bujold, Moon, Tiptree, LeGuin, Joanna Russ, Katherine Wilhelm, etc., back to Leigh Brackett and C L Moore. (Brackett wrote the best of the Star Wars films, of course.) And among black writers, Glen Cook and Samuel Delany (who is bisexual, to boot.) It’s movie and TV “SF” (e.g. special effects and explosion-fests) that are a white-het-boy’s club.

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      • Read Parable of the Sower.

        Literally blew my mind when I read it; I was sooooooooo that girl, like every bone in my body. (’Cept the race stuff, obviously. I could spend a lot of time trying to unpack how I responded to the race stuff in that book — but the gender stuff was laser light.)

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      • I have no idea what Parable of the Sower is about but if it confronts issues of gender and race, it makes my point exactly. Lots of science fiction and fantasy fans aren’t exactly comfortable with anything political or otherwise didactic in their science fiction. They view that type of stuff as being for literary fiction and they hate literary fiction. Science fiction is supposed to be anti-literary for these people, pure escapism and adventure. Many also have libertarian and conservative politics and many explorations of gender and race get mighty uncomfortable for these people because they have to confront issues that point to certain weaknesses in their belief systems.

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      • Well, to be fair, Octavia Butler was notably popular and recognized for a WoC SciFi writer. She is hardly typical.

        (Which perhaps should be considered as an example of Ta-Nehisi’s “twice as good” theory.)

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      • C J Cherry (don’t know how I left her off the above list) too: woman, lesbian, writer of complex, often very dark, books full of politics, sociology, and even philosophy. Also very successful and a winner of multiple Hugos.

        Lee, when it comes to written SF you really don’t know the field.

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      • Right. The idea that SciFi writers steer clear of politics is actually kinda preposterous.

        Like saying romance writers don’t like misty forests and broad chested men with strong grips.

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      • I really wish I had more time for fiction these days.

        I used to write a lot, but more or less stopped cold after I transitioned. And I miss it sometimes, but I guess I’m starting to think my writing was a coping mechanism for being in the closet. Like, it was the one way I got to be a girl.

        But maybe someday. I was actually kinda good.

        These days I’m pretty much doing all math all the time, and if I’m not implementing some tricky algorithm, then I’m reading about how to implement some tricky algorithm. Which is great for my job prospects, but maybe not so good for the soul.

        I never can quite set it aside, to write something deeply moving about being a girl-like-me.

        (Strange story, hung out w/ a friend this weekend, in a faraway city on a random visit. I didn’t even know he lived there. But he tracked me down and said, “Hey, in town? Let’s hook up.”

        Had dinner. Turns out he’s dating a girl-like-me, but cannot talk about it to anyone because she’s in the closet. And while he can talk to her and her friends, he needs someone on his side, to hear his hopes and fears.

        It’s been eating him up. And then he saw on Facebook that I was in town.

        Still early in the relationship, those rocky stages that are hard even for two cis-hets. But he seems to seriously adore the girl. I met her that evening, again by chance; she was in the neighborhood and texted.

        She was out in girl-mode, pretty like starlight. She has a smile that could stop you in your tracks.

        Some girls have all the luck. Poor boy is up to his neck in this.

        He and I talked for a while. I hope I helped.)

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      • Lee,
        Oh, and It has NOTHING to do with having to provide Photographic Verification that you are Actually A Girl?
        (no, this actually happened. Apparently a lot of Men thought pretending to be a woman would improve their odds of being published).

        v,
        Nothing like working the math into your next story… (and, for the record? “pretty like starlight” is an absolutely fantastic phrase. It doesn’t read to me like “pretty as in girly”… it reads to me like… glorious. which is absolutely wonderful. I think sometimes we have these conceptions… and it’s really nice to find a turn of phrase that expands them dramatically).

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  18. DavidTC: “Uh, no, I want Lando there for *diversity*, considering there are no other legacy black characters. And considering he’s a fairly good friend of Hans, it really wouldn’t seem that odd for any hypothetical kids of his to be running around with the Solo kids.”

    And after the fight on the (cloud station?) he was probably on the run from Imperial forces, and hooking up with the Rebels would be reasonable.

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  19. So, another datapoint:
    I just watched a show in which the script pretty clearly called for an ethnic Russian (he had a russian accent, easily noticed by the lack of articles). They cast an Algerian for the role (sunblack and non-Caucasian).
    Weirdly enough it actually worked.

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