Kanye West photobombs Star Wars
Star Wars (1977) Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford)...and Kanye West?

Hey J.J. Abrams stop busing black people in! Star Wars Episode 7 needs to have more minorities and the key is through integration!

While planning the March "Geek Madness" tournament I tried to add some diversity to the bracket and made a shocking realization: There are only three black people in Star Wars. That's right. In six movies there are green people, red people and blue people. But there are only three noticeable black people in Star Wars. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and Captain Panaka (Hugh Quarshie). Only one noticeable Hispanic character (Bail Organa), one Native character (Jango Fett) and one Asian Jedi who said nothing. This has got to change and here's how to do it the right way.

Don't get me wrong. I love Star Wars and it's popular with all races and people around the world. Plus, the black people we do see are pretty cool. Who can argue that Mace Windu is the baddest Jedi ever? But who did he talk to? Did he talk about soul food with Yoda? Did he complain to Obi Wan about getting pulled over in Coruscant for "driving while black?" Did he fly down to Naboo to talk to Panaka about the latest R&B album?

So, what's the solution? Well, J.J. Abrams is reportedly working hard to add diversity to Star Wars Episode 7. According to Variety he wants "someone of a different ethnicity from the previous Caucasian leads." There are rumors that he's been looking to cast minority actors like Lupita Nyong'o, John Boyega and David Oyewolo. That's admirable. But it's wrong.

The key isn't to use desegregation on Star Wars but integration. What's desegregation? It's a political process that tries to end the separation between two races by forcing them together. It worked well in the 1960s and made some very important changes to the school systems and military. The best example was when they bused minority children to predominantly white schools. But compare that with racial integration. Integration takes down barriers to association and builds a culture of diverse traditions. It's not just about adding black people. It's about creating a culture that embraces different races on all levels. Star Wars isn't like that.

Here's an example. Casting calls for Star Wars have been big news lately. Recently, the website opencastingcall2013.com was looking to cast two characters named Rachel and Thomas. For Rachel the description was,
"Young woman to play 17-18 Years old. Must be beautiful, smart and athletic. Open to all ethnicities (including bi- and multi-racial). Must be 16 or over."

Pretty cool. Compare that with Thomas' description,
"Young man to play 19-23 years old. Must be handsome, smart and athletic. Must be 18 or over."

What's missing? A mention of race. So, here's the question: Why was it necessary to specify the race of Rachel and not Thomas? Does that assume Thomas is white? Does Rachel's ethnicity play a part in her character? What about all the other casting calls for Star Wars? Should minorities assume they can only audition for roles that are open to being "open to all ethnicities"? This is ridiculous. It should be assumed that ALL the casting calls are open to all ethnicities. There should be Black, Hispanic and Asian people everywhere. There should be so many minorities it looks like a Jay-Z concert.

This is why people got so mad about Michael B. Jordan's casting in Fantastic Four. It's awesome, but conspicuous. It feels arbitrary. Why couldn't the Thing be black? True, he'd be covered in orange rock, but does it matter? What about making Mr. Fantastic black? It would make a lot more sense than casting a brother and sister as different races. This is obviously a case of casting a black man by committee instead of making it natural.  Often in these situations the film-makers sit over a list of characters and pick characters at random and make them black.

Star Wars could set a new standard for films. Instead of setting out to make some characters black and white why not just open the casting of all the characters to all ethnicities? Maybe Lupita would make a great main heroine, but maybe not. Maybe she'd be better as the main villain or the funny sidekick. Who knows, but we'll never know if they keep trying to bus black people into Star Wars. And, for crying out loud, it wouldn't hurt to have a Japanese guy in there somewhere.

What do you think is the best way to integrate Star Wars? Who's your favorite minority in the Star Wars film?

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Roderick T Faulkner said...

Great point. Making the conscious choice to defy ingrained societal ethnic stereotypes when casting roles is barrier Hollywood has yet to hurdle. As fans, we can help be the catalyst for change by voting with our dollars, and being vocal with the kinds of changes we want to see in our entertainment.

Pat Dilloway said...

It's a thorny issue and in the end someone will end up unhappy. Remember the outcry over casting a black girl for the District 11 girl in The Hunger Games? And she was black in the book!

What worries me is they only have about 21 months until this thing is supposed to premiere (which was after pushing the release date back like 7 months) and they're still having casting calls. Like Superman/Batman it feels really half-baked, like they didn't have a plan when they made the announcement.


I love that Kanye West picture up top!
Do you count Ahmed Best as Jar Jar? Meesa thinks not.

M Pax said...

I really liked Lando. :)

Yes, why do they have to mention race? I'd like to see more races in TV and film. More women in better roles too.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Agreed Roderick. We've come a long way, but it's still conspicuous. Making smart choices can send a message. I'm seeing Star Wars VII though, even if there are no black people. :)

Maurice Mitchell said...

Yeah that was a thorny one too Pat. You can't please everyone, but there are ways to make it work. The biggest problem with these two movies is they set the release date before they even had a script. It's a business decision but it could bite them.

Maurice Mitchell said...

LOL thanks David. After I made it I couldn't stop laughing. As for Jar Jar...no thanks. I'm not counting voice actors so James Earl Jones doesn't count either.


So if we were all blind would we hate each other by the sound of our voices?

Tony Laplume said...

Michael B. Jordan's Johnny Storm could have a different kind of family relationship with sister Sue than is normally depicted. Who knows? Other than their being siblings, I never saw much definition in that family dynamic anyway. I don't see any problem there.

As for the Star Wars casting parameters, you can't assume anything about "Thomas" anymore than you can "Rachel." All we know are these names, and chances are good that they aren't even the names that the characters will actually be known by. "Thomas" could be Luke Skywalker's son. Making him arbitrarily black would make about as much sense as if Anakin had been cast that way for the prequels. This is a different situation from Johnny Storm.

I'm not arguing against color blind casting. Battlestar Galactica is this generation's poster child for that. (Color AND gender blind, actually.) If this were one of my projects, there would be plenty of prominent black characters, and as often as not in the lead role.

I applaud the new Star Wars films for making a continuing effort to correct a previous oversight. (The prequels made some effort already.) How they do it I would not personally quibble about, for the above-mentioned reason and because they are no longer taking the insert-Lando-Calrissian-here approach or waiting to see if some prominent actor begs to be included. Now it's going to be just another feature of the regular casting process. Progress I can applaud.

John Garrett said...

The scene: Han is about to be dropped into carbonite...
Leia: "I love you!"
Han: "I kn--"
Kanye: "Imma let you finish, Imma let you finish, but I just need to blah blah blah..."

But yeah, throwing a token minority in just makes things even more conspicuous. If there's suddenly a rainbow coalition of human Jedi or other characters it may look forced.

In my opinion, just let it finish out the way it's played out for decades now. If there are no minorities around in the Star Wars universe, then so be it. I wasn't watching it for that anyway.

Mace was cool as hell, though. If they can repeat something like that it would be awesome, but with Abrahams at the helm I'm not holding out much hope for these movies anyway.

disqus_JsfC7s7QFS said...

Actually, there was another Asian in the Star Wars films...the random A-wing pilot in Return of the Jedi who shouted "there's..too many of them AAHHHHHGGHHH!!!" as he got shout down during the battle of Endor.


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