There has been a great disturbance in the Star Wars fandom over the lack of diversity in the recent Episode VII casting announcement. Of the many that were voiced, Meg and I briefly spoke about our opinions on Episode 8 of Far Far Away Radio but were unable to discuss our points of view with each other. Because this is such an important issue, and two new cast members were recently announced, we both wanted to further develop our ideas and share them with all of you. These thoughts are all my own—so make sure you take a look at Meg’s post, too!
I want to start out by saying that I am a female scientist, so the difficulties that follow from the under-representation and mistreatment of a female minority are not foreign to me. Ignorance, sexism, and arrogance still run rampant and turn many away from both amazing careers and interests. Any sort of bigotry or hostility is unacceptable and rightfully spoken against.
With that said, I personally don’t see the number of female characters initially announced in the cast as sexist or offensive. Sexism, in my eyes, is the development (or lack thereof) of the women as weak characters or including an objectifying scene of them in the film without the intention of making social commentary. These things, as of now, remain to be seen. Additionally, my connection with a character from any franchise has much more to do with their personality as opposed to their gender. I connect with the story and the struggle, and I have found that many of the struggles explored in Star Wars—the movies, TV shows and novels alike—are universally relatable.
After the initial casting announcement I asked myself, “Would the inclusion of more female characters have made the Original and Prequel Trilogies more enjoyable for us all, as fans, to watch?” After much thought, I really don’t think it would have made a difference. We all fell in love with Star Wars, because the story and the characters are relatable on a fundamental level. I also think it’s crucial to note that the Star Wars universe as a whole, including all levels of canonicity, incorporates all types of characters, and there is no shortage of strong women playing the lead or crucial roles in each story. The movies may be male dominated by number, but the Star Wars universe as a whole is incredibly well balanced.
My opinion on this in no way reflects how I feel about those that do see an issue or are unhappy with the casting announcement. I simply do not see this as sexism though, whether it is conscious or unconscious. I can’t emphasize this enough—I don’t know the story of Episode VII, and it’s most likely the case that no one reading this knows the story either. With that said, I do think that it’s important to consider the importance of the role each character will play. If Daisy Ridley were cast as the main focus of the film, would the issue be resolved? It doesn’t seem like it, because it seems like many simply want the quantity of women and other underrepresented groups to increase instead of the considering the quality of their roles. If I were to take issue with the casting announcement, I would be more concerned about the quality of the role the female characters will play as opposed to the quantity. Perhaps we'll be able to make it through a whole movie without our ladies' shirts conveniently tearing at the midriff or seeing them in a metal bikini.
The main issue I have with this situation as a whole is not with the casting but with the reception of the casting. I saw so much negativity on both sides of the issue that I actually felt uncomfortable reading through several of the responses. I think it’s truly essential that everyone feels welcome as a Star Wars fan, and yet I saw both sides of the casting discussion alienating the other. Dismissing legitimate concerns is never the right approach to solving a problem. And yes, this is a completely legitimate—not to mention undeniably observable—concern that many more white men were cast in Episode VII than were women and minorities. I also find, though, that referring to Star Wars as a “sausage fest” (or anything to do with meat, really) alienates both genders and demeans the story and universe we all love.
It’s important to remember through all this that everyone is welcome in the Star Wars fandom, and everyone is entitled to have an opinion. While I hope all do voice their opinions (it’s essential to do so!), I hope we can all to do it with dignity and compassion in the future.