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Rogue One smacks of Star Wars‘ obsession with aggressive appropriation

As you might have read from my Rogue One review, I enjoyed it very much. But with the good comes the bad, and I had some gripes with it. One gripe I forgot to mention in my review was the uber-aggressive Arab world coding they were doing in it. It had gotten so aggressive on Jedha that I was literally taken out of the movie at points and was like, “Where’d they film this?!”

I was reminded of my distaste for these films when I saw Twitter user Dina’s thread on the subject. Key takeaways:

So key questions to ask here are 1) Why did the film get this aggressive with its coding, 2) How hurtful is it to the average American’s international knowledge, and 3) How can Hollywood wean themselves away from projecting the same stereotypes on foreign places?

1: Why did the film get this aggressive with its coding?

Star Wars has a history of being slightly aggressive with coding planets with real world analogs. Tatooine is basically the Sahara Desert, but was actually filmed in Tunisia and America’s Death Valley. Yavin 4 is a lush jungle planet, which was represented by Guatemala’s Tikal ruins and the forests the ruins reside in. For every planet, there’s a real world place. But beyond just the filming locations, other parts of the planets crib from real life as well. For instance, George Lucas got the name “Tatooine” from the real Tunisian city Tataouine. Similarly, as Dina points out, The planet Jedha gets its name from Jeddah, a city in Saudi Arabia.

Of course, seeing how this film is made by terrestrial humans who have never been to space, much less to other galaxies and off-world terrains, it’s understandable why the planets (which, if we’re being honest, act more like moons than actual planets with different continents and climates) feel familiar to us. It’s because they, in many ways, are familiar. They’re a collection of earth’s coolest/most awe-inspiring places, launched into a space opera.

However, using a desert for a desert planet is benign. When you start cribbing parts of cultures while layering stereotypical imagery onto planet’s people, then we have a problem.

Let’s get into what makes Jedha troublesome.

Jedha as Mecca: The official description of Jedha is that it’s a holy city for those who are disciples of the Force. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards has described it, quite literally, as Mecca. To quote him (via MTV News):

“If A New Hope is kind of like the story of Jesus, there must be a whole religion beyond that,” he said. “We felt like, for 1,000 generations, the Jedi were kind of these leaders of the spiritual belief system. It’s got to be like a Mecca or a Jerusalem, but in the Star Wars world.”

In the story of Star Wars, it makes sense that there should be a holy city. But does it have to be quite literally a city that takes all of the stereotypes of the Arab world and mash them together? Take a look at these pictures, culled from various press junkets and collections of official Star Wars images and screenshots:

Do these images seem familiar? Well, you might have seen some of their other brothers in Raiders of the Lost Ark:

and The Phantom Menace.

There are other tropes like this found throughout film and television. Dina notes Homeland, which is a great example, as well as Season 4 of Sherlock:

And Lawrence of Arabia:

And many more.

Hollywood’s fascination with what I’m calling “the bazaar aesthetic” is something that’s throughout film, and sure, bazaars exist throughout the Middle East and India, as shown below. But even then, there’s varying difference between bazaars; they don’t all look the same.

Hyderabad bazaar
near Charminar, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India. (Ryan/Flickr Creative Commons)


Grand Bazaar in Kapali Carsi, Istanbul, Istanbul (Antti T. Nissinen/Flickr Creative Commons)

But that’s not all to the Middle East. Take for instance Jordan, where some of the Jedha desert scenes were filmed. What Rogue One used were Jordan’s deserts for the outskirts of Jedha. That’s cool. But let’s also look at what else Jordan has to offer in the real world aside from its deserts:

Jordan Trip (Christian Heilmann/Flickr Creative Commons)


Amman, Jordan (Alicia Bramlett/Flickr Creative Commons)


Jordan Trip (Christian Heilmann/Flickr Creative Commons)


Aqaba Street, Jordan
The main street along the sea front in the centre of Aqaba, Jordan. (Rob/Flickr Creative Commons/

Of course, the main Jedha scenes were shot at Pinewood Studios in London, but I’m using these images of modern Jordan because the tropes of Jedha reflect on the Middle East as a whole. Hollywood would have you believe that the Middle East is all desert and open-air markets, but surprise! The Middle East is just like the rest of the world; full of paved roads, cars, and buildings.

Seriously aggressive sartorial references to the Middle East: It’s worth pointing out that the headscarves and ceremonial robes found in Jedha reference today’s headscarves, hijabs, niqabs, and burkas worn in various parts of the Middle East. Not that there wouldn’t be an outer space city that might have a cultural tie to head coverings, but it’s especially noteworthy that a place designed to be Space Mecca also has clothing with such overt references to Islam. Did the allegory have to be taken this far in Star Wars, to the point that we forget a little that we’re watching a film about distant planets?

Also, the act of using Islamic sartorial choices goes along with Star Wars‘ other practice of cribbing cultural and ethnic styles and arranging them in a mish-mash to “create” something otherworldly. This practice goes all the way back to Princess Leia’s “cinnamon buns,” the style stemming from Lucas supposedly using Revolutionary-era Mexican women freedom fighters, or soldaderas, as inspiration. However, there’s been contention with that statement, and some now link Leia’s hairstyle to the hairstyles worn by the women of the Hopi tribe. But the appropriation-as-inspiration practice was at its height during the years of the Star Wars prequels, in which Padme/Queen Amidala had styles ranging from Japanese geisha to ancient Mongolian elite, to African updo to actual Hopi hair buns.

Inspiration: Geisha

Inspiration: Mongolian headdress

Inspiration: Geisha

Inspiration: Hopi hairstyle

Inspiration: The hairstyles of the Mangbetu women of the Congo

I get that these styles are “cool,” but they aren’t just cool for cool’s sake; there’s are complete cultures these styles are attached to, and to rob them of their actual context by putting them in a “cultureless” space opera whitewashes these styles to a certain degree.

2: How hurtful is it to the average American’s international knowledge?

The answer is simple: Americans already believe in too many stereotypes as it is. Due to what the media tells us about foreign locales, we believe that cities that aren’t in the Western world are behind the times or haven’t been affected (for better or worse) by westernization and capitalism.

Another example of a modern movie casting a “noble savage” light on a foreign place: Doctor Strange. As I wrote in my review of the film, the film posits Nepal as a place that still hasn’t been touched by the effects of the 21st century.

The film portrayed Nepal as some mystical place without roads or modern transportation. Everyone looked like they were mere seconds away from getting on their knees to pray. Religion might be a huge part of a country, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the country have to look like devotees. The film shows a side of Nepal that looks like this:

Kathmandu, Nepal--Asan Tole Market by Juan Antonio F. Segal (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu, Nepal–Asan Tole Market by Juan Antonio F. Segal (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This picture looks similar to the types of crowds Stephen Strange came upon as he was looking for The Ancient One. But Nepal also looks like this:

Shiddha Pokhari by Dhilung Kirat "This centuries old pond is situated at Dudhpati-17 the entrance of the ancient city Bhaktapur. This 275m×92m pond was built in the early fifteenth century during the reign of King Yakshya Malla. It is considered as the most ancient pond in Bhaktapur which is known to have many myths associated to it. Nowadays, the pond of both religious and archeological importance has been one of the popular hangout and dating destinations in Kathmandu valley." (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Shiddha Pokhari by Dhilung Kirat
“This centuries old pond is situated at Dudhpati-17 the entrance of the ancient city Bhaktapur. This 275m×92m pond was built in the early fifteenth century during the reign of King Yakshya Malla. It is considered as the most ancient pond in Bhaktapur which is known to have many myths associated to it. Nowadays, the pond of both religious and archeological importance has been one of the popular hangout and dating destinations in Kathmandu valley.”
(Flickr/Creative Commons)


Kathmandu Valley Sunset by Mike Behnken (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu Valley Sunset by Mike Behnken (Flickr/Creative Commons)


Kathmandu , Nepal,Himalayas,Everest by ilkerender (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu , Nepal,Himalayas,Everest by ilkerender (Flickr/Creative Commons)


Boats at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, Nepal by Mario Micklisch (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Boats at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, Nepal by Mario Micklisch (Flickr/Creative Commons)


Nepal, Kathmandu, Boudhanath by SCILLA KIM (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Nepal, Kathmandu, Boudhanath by SCILLA KIM (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The point is there’s a lot more to Nepal, to just Kathmandu, than the film suggests. Is there time to visit every locale in Nepal? Of course not. But there was enough time to not give Nepal the “noble savage” treatment, which means, according to Wikipedia:

A noble savage is a literary stock character who embodies the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore symbolizes humanity’s innate goodness. In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden‘s heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672), wherein it was used in reference to newly created man. “Savage” at that time could mean “wild beast” as well as “wild man”.[2] The phrase later became identified with the idealized picture of “nature’s gentleman”, which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism. The noble savage achieved prominence as an oxymoronic rhetorical device after 1851, when used sarcastically as the title for a satirical essay by English novelist Charles Dickens, whom some believe may have wished to disassociate himself from what he viewed as the “feminine” sentimentality of 18th and early 19th-century romantic primitivism.[a] 

Even though the film didn’t have any of the extras speak, it clearly showcased Kathmandu as an idealistically mystical, Othered space, with closeups on holy men and temples. The extras also weren’t wearing Western clothes, something that further separated them from actual depictions of 21st century Nepalese people. Western exports have made their way all around the globe, including Nepal, and as you can see in the above pictures, folks are wearing leather jackets, hoodies, polo shirts, slacks and jeans. Even the woman with the shawl on in the first picture is wearing Westernized sandals, a long-sleeved red shirt and some green pants, and one of the men buying her wares, the guy with the leather jacket, has an iPod. If you took a shot of the extras in the Kathmandu sequence and put it in black and white, it could act as a shot from a film about Nepal in the 1800s, not the 21st century. This is not to say that portraying Nepalese people wearing traditional clothing is anachronistic; what I am saying is that painting a picture of the Nepalese as a people who haven’t been affected by world commerce and capitalism is a false picture.

The “noble savage” idea wasn’t explicit, but it was very subtly implied in order to make Kathmandu seem like a perfect place for The Ancient One and to act as further contrast to Stephen’s New York sensibilities and, indeed, his whiteness.

When movies decide to portray places in a stereotypical fashion, it’s too easy for the stereotype to be accepted as the truth. It’s even more dangerous to use stereotypes in science fiction; when a place can look like anything and be anything, why rely on stereotypes? But when stereotypes get used in science fiction or fantasy, they’re usually couched in the excuse of “Well, it’s not real anyway! It can look however the creator wants it to look.” But when we’re limiting what’s possible in the imagination, we’re also dulling our senses to what actually exists in reality.

3: How can Hollywood wean themselves away from projecting the same stereotypes on foreign places?

The quickest answer is for Hollywood to start using a bit more imagination when coming up with a look for a futuristic place. Too often, science fiction relies on stereotypes or cultures-as-backdrop to do much of the heavy lifting in a scene. For instance, Blade Runner, in which an aggressive Japanese undercurrent can be seen in futuristic San Francisco.

Actress Alexis Rhee portrays the geisha depicted in Blade Runner. (Warner Bros.)

Of course, it can be explained away that San Francisco has a high Japanese population, so perhaps San Francisco would embrace more of Japan the more futuristic it gets. However, there’s hardly an Asian person in Blade Runner–Alexis Rhee, who is the billboard geisha, and James Hong as Hannibal Chew, round out the film’s Asian population. So the whole effect comes off as a cynical costume for a huge audience payoff.

Currently, we have Ghost in the Shell coming in where the original Blade Runner left off, using Japan itself as a costume for a film lacking in Japanese characters.

It literally uses the same billboard idea from Blade Runner. (Paramount Pictures)

Hollywood has got to stop relying on tired tropes like these. It only helps keep America in the dark about its neighbors, and it keeps movies themselves from having an even greater impact than they could have.

Star Wars images: Lucasfilm/Disney

“Rogue One:” A satisfying, sad chapter in the “Star Wars” franchise [SPOILERS]



Synopsis (Lucasfilm): From Lucasfilm comes the first of the Star Wars standalone films, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” an all-new epic adventure. In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

Monique’s review: What a film.

Maybe it’s that time of the month and I’m being hormonal, or maybe the film was just that sad. But it’s about 48 hours after having seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and I’m still reeling from the ending. AUGH! MY HEART!

The opening crawl to Episode 4: A New Hope states that rebel spies steal the Death Star plans, but it doesn’t say that they die! I haven’t gotten over it yet.

It also doesn’t help that the princess of all space, Carrie Fisher has died. Can 2016 give us a break yet?!

The good:

What I loved about the film is that we got to see what Star Wars is like outside of the confines of the traditional crawl, so to speak. I, for one, liked that the film decided to forgo the crawl and throw us right into the movie. It makes sense, since this is the first story that that kickstarts the entire franchise, but it’s also a bold move that takes the franchise further into the future. We’re in the 21st century with Star Wars now; it needs to go beyond what the older fans expect. Now that we’ve got younger fans, the franchise has to use the 21st century modernization to enthrall and keep them. Also, the lack of a crawl added a freshness that a new fan like me appreciated. It made me feel like I was watching a sci-fi action film that didn’t chastise me for not having grown up with the Star Wars franchise.

Let’s talk about the cast. Overall, the cast is 8/15 POC (or should I say MOC), which is hefty for a blockbuster film, especially since they are all main characters. This number, I should say, is if you count the voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader (the actual figure of Darth Vader, as usual, is played by another actor, this time Spencer Wilding) There are only five main characters who are women, and one of them, Jyn’s mother Lyra (Valene Kane), gets killed early in the film and the other, young Princess Leia, is portrayed by a body double (Ingvild Deila) with a CGI’d face. Aside from Jyn, the most prominent woman in the film is Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), a senator from A New Hope who is mostly used in this film to give gravitas with her face and clothes, but not much more. If anything, she seemed to act as a loose replacement for Leia in the majority of this film, almost as if she were a preliminary sketch for the actual Leia character, down to her white robes.

(Interesting fashion note: It appears that this film is setting up the idea that style trends are a thing in the Star Wars universe–White is a color that seems to have been popular up until the construction and usage of the Death Star. Perhaps the lack of white after A New Hope suggests that the innocence of the galaxy before the Death Star had been lost.)

Why is counting the amount of non-white people and women important? Because in Star Wars films of the past, the cast has been mostly white, with only a few POC actors as minor rebel pilots who quickly get killed. Having people of all racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds gives Star Wars the legitimacy it needs as both a contemporary film in a multicultural world and as a space opera itself; why does science fiction/fantasy just have be a place for white people, when we all would like to live in a galaxy far, far away?


The character portrayals themselves are great despite being a little truncated. Was it because the screenwriter knew we’d only be seeing these characters in one film? At any rate, the characters’ collective fates make their performances even more riveting and haunting. Felicity Jones held down the movie as Jyn Erso, further establishing the notion that women can successfully helm “boys’ movies” and bring in the big bucks. I also thought Diego Luna played Cassian Andor convincingly, but I must point out that like Mon Mothma, his character seemed like a sketch of an early Han Solo, what with his own “who shot first” moment early in the movie (although they don’t show a close-up on Cassian’s hand pulling the trigger, we know he’s the guy who shot his informant in cold blood).

Cassian, though, provides one of the most satisfying character arguments I’ve seen in film in a long time. Surprisingly, the film delves into privilege when discussing Jyn’s sudden turn to the resistance after years of not caring about who’s in power. Jyn’s turn comes after her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) dies. Even though Galen dies due to his involvement with the Empire—he was the chief architect of the Death Star, who defected, then later came back to work on the project in order to place a well-hidden weak spot—Jyn blames Cassian, who was ordered by the resistance to kill Galen. It’s when Jyn offends Cassian’s honor as it relates to fighting for the resistance that Cassian decides to tell her the ugly truth about herself. Jyn, he said, was picking and choosing when she wanted to fight for the resistance, whereas he had been fighting for it since he was a small child. While Jyn found it easy to take up the resistance mantle after years of running, Cassian and others like him had devoted their entire lives to the cause. Jyn had no right to assert she automatically knew more about fighting the good fight than someone like him, who had sacrificed everything to get to that point.

On the surface, it reads like a standard argument about who has more to lose and who has the most to learn. But when it’s played out, the optics—a white woman “Damonsplaining” resistance fighting to a Latino man whose been in the trenches long before she had no choice but to care—took the scene up a level to near discomfort for some in the audience, I’m sure. If put in today’s context, the scene was basically a man of color telling a “well meaning,” but insensitive and selfish white woman that she can’t co-opt the fight for social justice and chastise someone else’s part in the fight just because she realized she should have been fighting long ago. The distillation of Cassian’s message was that Jyn should be reckoning with herself as to why she found it so easy not to fight the good fight, considering all she had at stake. It shouldn’t have taken Galen’s death to spur her into action. Similarly, a lot of Jyn Ersos in the audience should ask themselves why it’s taken them so long to join the social justice fight a lot of marginalized people have already been a part of and, indeed, have sacrificed a lot for.

Other standouts include Donnie Yen as the blind devotee to the Force, Chirrut Îmwe, and his friend? life partner? Baze Malbus, played by Wen Jiang.

I went into the film aware of the strong reaction these two had garnered online, with many believing that these two could be Star Wars‘ first gay couple. I say that’s great if it’s true, but if it is, then it’d be nice for Lucasfilm and Disney to actually confirm that. 

Rogue One director Gareth Edwards told Yahoo! Movies that he doesn’t mind people reading a relationship into the characters. “I think that’s all good” he said. “Who knows? You’d have to speak to them.”

“Them” being the characters. Come on now, Edwards. Quit being coy.

The coyness is what kills me, honestly. I’ll get to this in “the bad” section of this review, but seriously, the cutesy answers like this from directors need to stop. People don’t like having their emotions played with, and LGBT viewers are a demographic who have had their hopes dangled in front of them like carrots by the entertainment industry for far too long. Queerbaiting isn’t a good business practice for any entertainment studio, especially not in today’s time.

With that said, the evidence for Chirrut and Baze being that couple that’s been together so long that you can’t understand what they still see in each other (no pun intended) is strong from the beginning. They’re a package deal from the first time we meet them, with Baze hovering protectively over Chirrut, who is very much capable of being on his own. But even though we come to know that Baze is entirely aware of Chirrut’s independence (I mean, Chirrut can beat up hordes of stormtroopers in minutes), he still watches over him, and Chirrut lets him. Perhaps a better word to use is that Chirrut allows it.

Second, we have when the gang is on some rainy planet (the same planet Galen and Jyn have their sad reunion) and Chirrut decides to go trudging after Jyn, Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) and Cassian. If memory serves, Baze taunts him a bit, saying Chirrut would have to be lucky out on his own to survive. Chirrut says, “I don’t need luck; I have you.” At the very extreme, this could be excused away as just banter between really good friends. Sure, Chirrut and Baze are best friends, but movies don’t usually portray friendship in this fashion. This moment was basically the “You complete me” line from Jerry Maguire. Except that in movies, men and women are instantly coded as being in a relationship, while same-sex couples are nearly almost instantly coded as being “just friends.” If one of these characters was a woman, you’d have people vehemently arguing against any idea that their relationship was merely platonic friendship.

Also, this moment, as explained by Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan, is something that seals the deal, if you were in doubt after the “I have you” statement:

“He spends his final moments in Baze’s lap, and as his friend stares down at him, devastated, Chirrut raises his hand as if to caress Baze’s cheek. It’s the simplest gesture, but it packs a potent, more-than-platonic current, and as Chirrut expires, it’s clear that Baze does not want to live in a world without this man. He charges almost suicidally into battle, firing at Stormtroopers while repeating Chirrut’s mantra over and over–finally, at the end of his life, paying tribute to his partner’s guiding philosophy–until he, too, is felled. And while there are still plenty of big moments yet to come as Rogue One completes its story and links up with the familiar opening minutes of A New Hope, I couldn’t stop thiking about that near caress and what it might mean. After the movie was over, I asked other audience members if they thought Baze and Chirrut could have been in a relationship, and I was surprised by how many people had been picking up on the same signal.”

I must also add that as Baze faces his death, he looks back at Chirrut’s body, as if he was mentally telling himself and Chirrut that he’d be reunited with him soon. Comfortable friendship is one thing, but showing an all-encompassing love to where you don’t want to live without the other is a completely different kettle of fish, and Rogue One toys with that kettle a lot. If you read their relationship another way, you’re basically sticking your head in the sand.

Another point: Yen did an interview with GT, formerly known as Gay Times Magazine. Movie stars who are playing gay characters do interviews with gay outlets, for instance, Moonlight‘s Trevante Rhodes doing an interview with OUT Magazine. So that kinda cements it as far as I’m concerned.

Chirrut and Baze as two people in a same-sex relationship remind me of what John Cho said about the invisibility of gay Asian men in movies. Cho said that for Star Trek Beyond, he took his character Sulu’s sexuality as a way to pay homage to some of his friends:

“…I always felt the Asian gay men that I knew had much heavier cultural-shame issues…I felt like those guys didn’t date Asian men because of that cultural shame,” he said. “So I wanted it to seem really normal in the future…that there was zero shame in the future.”

In this vein, Chirrut and Baze are even more important; not only are they providing a much-needed outlet for LGBT viewers, but they are also providing an outlet for gay Asian men, who are marginalized along racial lines and within the mainstream LGBT community as a whole.


I mentioned Riz Ahmed above; his character Bodhi is super important because it finally breaks with Hollywood tradition of casting brown actors as “the terrorist” or “the taxi driver.” Finally, an actor like Ahmed, of Pakistani heritage, can be the hero of a film.

Silicon Valley‘s Kumail Nanjiani explained it best with his Twitter thread:

It was also cool to see Tyrant‘s Fares Fares in a role as well. The racial and ethnic diversity abounds in this film, and I’m glad for it.

The bad

I liked Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera. The trailers make you think you’re going to spend the majority of the movie with him, but we don’t. I wish we had more time with him.

Saw raised Jyn after was forced to separate from her parents, so you’d think we would have gotten to see more of their relationship after their reunion. It seemed like a waste to just have Whitaker around for a couple of scenes, only for him to die nobly minutes later. Whitaker gave his scenes his all, though; you can’t say he didn’t chew scenery.

K2SO, played by Alan Tudyk, was…interesting. This might be the first droid I’m lukewarm on. I get that he’s supposed to have a personality—all of the droids do—but maybe the personality went a little overboard with this one. He (since the droid is coded as such) sounded a little too human to be a realistic, more crudely made droid, and it took me out of the film a little bit each time he spoke. He did grow on me, but it took a while.

I wish there were more women of color in this film. I address this at length in this article, but just to reiterate, it’d be nice for me, as a black woman, to see more black women and women of color in general do things in this franchise.

Also, it kinda seems like Jyn still co-opts the resistance and becomes a de facto leader, even though she hasn’t done much to earn the role. Meanwhile everyone else who has given much has to follow her, as if they’ve never come up with a bright idea before. That bugged me. Again, the optics—white savior leading POC soldiers towards victory—painted the picture.

Chirrut is awesome, but does his characterization bleed into the “Hero” stereotype of disabled characters? It definitely could.

Much emphasis is on how accomplished and independent he is in spite of his disability, as if his disability is something that would make him weak otherwise. What’s actually true is that he’s strong because of his disability; it’s because of his adversity that he’s found the strength to channel the Force. On the other hand, though, the fact that he uses the Force to see has its roots in the ableism of the script, which posits that with “sight,” Chirrut is closer to being an able-bodied person. However, Chirrut doesn’t struggle against his disability, which is something that is seemingly inherent in the “Hero” stereotype. He seems to embrace it as a part of himself, which is encouraging. In short, Chirrut’s characterization teeters on both edges of the disability stereotype spectrum.


I already mentioned it above, but just to reiterate: It’s not cool when franchises bait the audience. If Chirrut and Baze are together, everyone in the film should be of one accord and say that to the press. Edwards’ maddeningly cutesy answer flies in the face of those who don’t feel Chirrut and Baze’s relationship is a joke to piddle around with. Of course, I’m sure Edwards is a fine person; he, like most of the people under the Bad Robot helm, is all about diversity. I also don’t think he means to turn Chirrut and Baze into a joke. But to say that we should ask the characters takes all of the onus off of him as the director, who has the unique ability of deciding who gets to be what in the movie. He made it a point to have a diverse cast, right? Why not make it a point to say definitively if Chirrut and Baze are in love? What’s the difference? (I know, “money,” but seriously, though, what’s the difference?)

Finally, I didn’t like the idea of reviving characters with CGI at all.

I understand the minds behind the film feeling that Tarkin and Leia were crucial to tying this film into A New Hope. But I just didn’t care for it at all. It was way too creepy and jarring to me. However, Leia looked a lot more convincing than Governor Tarkin (who we know as Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope). Like Leia, Tarkin had a body double (Guy Henry), but whereas Leia’s transplanted face looked like it could be sustained relatively easily throughout a film (because of Leia’s Disney Princess like features, which are probably easier to animate), Tarkin’s wasn’t realistic enough. To me, this was a case of the animation needing to be as close to the uncanny valley as possible, if not all the way in it.

For me, Tarkin’s face had too many Pixarisms to make me believe it was a real person. Yes, I know the CGI was by Industrial Light and Magic, but I’m sure there was some crossover at some point since this is a Disney movie after all. The eyes seemed too big, the nose seemed to long, and he ended up coming off as a more realistic version of the old man from Pixar short Geri’s Game.

This video explains what I’m talking about (after much fanboy-ing):

If O’Reilly could play Mon Mothma, who looks just like the original Mon Mothma, Caroline Blakiston, how come Guy Henry, who looks and sounds similar to Peter Cushing, couldn’t play Tarkin without the CGI?

Final verdict

I liked the film a lot. It’s a bit of a mood-killer, since all of our heroes die. But I don’t think we were ever promised they’d survive. The subversive aspect of a genre film like this one injecting some realism is quite jarring; we’re used to the heroes surviving no matter what. Even when Han Solo was supposedly dead from carbonite, he still survived. The fact that everyone dies and not just one singular character ups the stakes for the entire fight for the galaxy. It’s no longer child’s play; it’s hardcore. We’re not just following fun characters on an adventure; we’re following people who will give up their lives for a cause. Things are serious, and it’s fascinating that such a serious tone would inject itself in these films at this point in time. As many have said, this film has a serious social message embedded within it (again, something the film’s team coyly deny). If anything, the film warns us to jealously guard our own freedoms; don’t wait until it’s too late to stand up for what’s right.

Olympic-sized “Rogue One,” “Luke Cage,” “Hidden Figures” trailers promise awesomeness

The Olympics is like the Super Bowl in that lots of big properties reveal their big trailers. Three such trailers were released during the Rio Olympics: Luke CageRogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Hidden Figures. Let’s take a look at each.

Luke Cage

First of all, it looks incredible. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve never tuned into a Marvel Netflix production, either because I didn’t know the lore or, quite frankly, I just didn’t care. But the updated ’70s blaxploitation take on Luke Cage is both reminiscent of past awesome crime fighters like Shaft and extremely timely to what’s going on today.

Everyone has mentioned the imagery of the unkillable black man in a shot-up hoodie providing both commentary and relief from the constant deluge of black men and boys being killed by police or overzealous, racist men. But seeing that imagery in motion, just in the trailer, says so much without Luke Cage every saying a word. Also, the story itself seems to be told in such a way that someone like me, who has a hot-cold relationship with keeping up with all comics except for Archie Comics, can come into it fresh. It engages the audience whether you know about Luke Cage from the comics or not. That kind of treatment of comic book lore is gold, since you can’t always assume your audience knows everything about every character, especially if that character hasn’t become part of the collective consciousness in the same way Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man have.

Overall, this is a WIN for me. I’ll check out the series once it drops, despite my own squeamishness of hearing/seeing broken bones.

Rogue One

As Marv Albert would say, “Yes!”—this is ticking all of the boxes for me. I think from now on, I’ll lessen my usage of “diversity” and starting using the word “inclusion” more, because the rebooted Star Wars series (yes, rebooted—let’s just admit that the prequels are out of canon now) is showing other movie franchises how inclusion is done. You don’t just hire actors of color to be sidekicks, MARVEL MOVIES. You hire actors of color for substantial roles and treat them just like any white actor. You create characters that actually represent and empower your audience, not just appease them with some paltry offerings. Somehow, Marvel seems to do better at inclusion with their television shows and Netflix series than they do with the actual movies. Even stranger is that Marvel and Lucasfilm are now under the same Disney umbrella, so you’d think some cross-pollination with casting tactics would have happened already. Marvel needs to take some notes from J. J. Abrams, stat.

Anyways, we’ve got talented actors doing talented things in this film. Even cooler is that the central character is a woman. Also cool is that Darth Vader finally looks cool again (once again, proof that this is a completely rebooted series). We also have some disability representation with Donnie Yen’s blind Jedi or Jedi-adjacent character. But will Yen’s character dip too far into the “mystical Asian kung-fu master” trope? Because if there’s one potential issue I see, it’s that. We just have to wait until the movie comes out. The other potential issue: Forrest Whitaker’s odd accent. But on the whole, Rogue One looks like it’ll proudly carry on the awesome legacy that began with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Hidden Figures

The film looks like it’s going to be one along the lines of 42 and Race in the sense that it’s going to be a feel-good film that also manages to teach the audience a historical lesson about overcoming discrimination to achieve excellence. But this film is also a reversal in practice for Hollywood, an industry that has ignored a story like this until now.

This role is something Taraji P. Henson should have played long before now, and its these types of roles Hollywood should have cast her in. What I’m saying is that usually, this type of “feel-good” role featuring a female character from the 1960s usually goes to a white woman, because in the ’60s as in today’s time, whiteness allows a certain privilege, meaning the character won’t have to deal with any sticky issues like race.

However, turning attention away from the history makers and achievers of the time only keeps black movie narratives stuck to the Civil Rights Movement. While that part of the ’60s is wildly important, there is more to the black experience than just misery. We didn’t exist just in the south; we existed all over the country, doing all kinds of things, including sending a man to the moon. Stories like this should have been lauded decades before now, not just now that Hollywood is slowly waking up to what many call in jaded tones the “diversity trend.”

On a much more shallower note: much like Whitaker, I’m unsure of Janelle Monaé’s accent in this film. I’m assuming she’s portraying a southerner; as a southerner, I’m always…disturbed by bad southern accents in films. There is an art to the southern accent not many non-southern actors have mastered. They always want to take it to that Scarlett O’Hara level, and not all southern accents are remotely like that. (I hated writing this paragraph, because I’m a loyal member of Electro Phi Beta…but I can’t lie about the accent.)

What do you think of these trailers? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

How “Black Panther” honors the feminine through Pantone and kente cloth

We’re still hyped from the new Black Panther trailer, aren’t we? I know I am! In case you haven’t seen it yet, here you go:

Instead of writing about the trailer from the perspective everyone else has been using, I’ve been trying to think of another way to address the trailer and some of the themes present. I definitely knew I wanted to address the magical panther walkabout sequence.

Then, I saw this tweet from The Color of Cinema.

I thought it was a perfect way to start off this post, which will show how Black Panther plays into the Pantone Spring 2018 color scheme. I’ve featured Pantone before in my Annihilation post, and I’ve featured color patterns and trends in my 2018 film trends article. Black Panther, like Annihilation, follows the Pantone New York and London spring trends to a T.

But the colors found in Black Panther also reference the color meanings in kente cloth. Black Panther is a film based on pan-African cultures, and T’Challa himself wears kente–the fabric of royalty in the Ashanti Kingdom (between 1701-1957) and the traditional fabric of the Ewe people, both of Ghana.

The different patterns of kente, along with the different colors used, all have specific meanings and are used for particular occasions, so I thought it would be cool to see how the color theories of kente cloth are also interwoven into Black Panther‘s color stories.

The panther walkabout

In part of the trailer, we see T’Challa on some type of sojourn into what has to be the land of the ancestors. There,  in a very specific Lion King callback, he meets the mysterious panthers that mean so much to his people.

Using some of next year’s Pantone colors, we can see that the blues, purples, and lavenders present speak to what’s going to resonate fashion-wise around the time the film’s released.

The colors are described as “soft,” “romantic,” “energy,” “expressive,” and suggestive of “brighter…days ahead” and the “promise of a new day.” That references what these colors represent in kente cloth.

Pink is associated with “the female essence of life” and purple is connected to the “feminine aspects of life.” Purple in particular is also a color that is usually worn by women. Blue represents “peacefulness, harmony and love.” These colors perfectly represent this moment in the trailer, since we see T’Challa awed by what is a very spiritual, peaceful, reverent and nurturing sight.

It’s also important to remember that the panthers in this scene must be aspects of the panther goddess Bast, one of the Ennead (in real Egyptology, nine Egyptian dieties who were worshipped at Heliopolis; in Marvel lore, a group of interdimensional beings who were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians and lived in Heliopolis, forming the basis of Egyptian culture). It’s as if T’Challa is being welcomed into a spiritual, womb-like space. Yes, I said “womb-like,” because what else would meeting the mother goddess of your people be like?

The feminine is a highly important part of Wakandan society and in this film–it’s a groundbreaking move for a Marvel movie (or any movie, to be frank) to actually show how important the feminine is to the world, not to mention life itself.

It’s even more poignant that this focus on feminine power is happening a film directed by a black filmmaker and centered around African characters. This might be fodder for a separate article, but it would do Americans good to see fully understand the power of black women. As a black woman myself, this power isn’t greatly understood or valued by America, and sometimes not even by us black women–we ourselves can forget. It’s nice to see the black woman being celebrated.

Kente cloth picture credit: Wikipedia (1, 2)

The Dora Milaje

The Dora Milaje are the jewels of the Wakandan Empire, and it makes sense–not only do they protect the Black Panther, but they also act as the guardians of Wakanda’s sovereignty and the keepers of Wakandan values. If the Black Panther is the heart of the nation, the Dora Milaje are the blood.

As the blood, it makes sense that they’d be wearing red. But the shades of red and gold present in their wardrobes also reflects what their jobs signify to the country. In kente cloth, red is tied to the spiritual and the political, as well as “bloodshed[,] sacrificial rites and death.” Indeed, the Dora Milaje defend their country with their lives, and will kill to keep it safe. Silver, which is worn by most of the Dora Milaje except for Okoye, can mean “serenity, purity [and] joy.” Silver is also tied to the moon, which, in many cultures, is also associated with the feminine. Gold (which is worn by Okoye) signifies “royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity,” and yellow signifies “preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility, beauty.” These qualities are also present in the Dora Milaje, who are chosen to be ceremonial (or potential) wives for the Black Panther and must uphold queenly qualities, even though they are also the Black Panther’s bodyguards.

T’Challa doesn’t ever call on the Dora Milaje to serve him as a harem; for him, they serve their purpose as bodyguards and trusted companions. I think that’s great, and I’m glad that wasn’t changed for the movie, because it allows the film to strengthen its thesis on the power of black women–in this case, the Dora Milaje are how the film illustrates the maternal strength of black women. While Ramonda is the Queen and mother of T’Challa and Shuri, its the Dora Milaje who are, to me, the mothers of the country. They shield T’Challa with that same type of fierce motherly protection. T’Challa’s surrounded by the maternal constantly, and it’s this force that I feel keeps him the safest, not his powers as Black Panther.

Kente cloth pictures: Wikipedia, Eden Pictures (Flickr Creative Commons)

The colors of the Dora Milaje are also in vogue for Spring 2018, and the descriptions of the colors also invoke the majesty of this elite group of women.

“Bold,” “confident,” “courageous,” “earthy,” and “strength” are all words that can apply to the Dora Milaje just as easily as they have been applied to these four colors.

Ramonda and Shuri

In the trailer, we see Ramonda and Shuri dressed in white. More specifically, Shuri is dressed in all white, while Ramonda is dressed in shades of white and various creams and taupes.

White is associated with happiness; when used in kente cloth, it is associated with “purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions.” With white being a festive color, it makes sense that these two characters are wearing white when reuniting with T’Challa.

Kente cloth picture credit: Wikipedia

Shades of white, taupe and off-white are also big fashion colors for next spring. Pantone has described these colors as “gentle,” “delicate,” “ephemeral,” “comforting,” and “classic.” Fitting words for a color that is steeped in spiritual positivity and the festive mood.

I end this post with a question.

What’s with Nakia’s green wardrobe?

I’ve done some thinking on this. First of all, Nakia’s shades of forest green aren’t in season for next spring, so connecting them to Pantone’s seasonal predictions doesn’t make sense right now. Neither does the traditional meaning of green when used in kente cloth. Green is supposed to be associated with “vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth [and] spiritual renewal,” and that would make sense if, in the comic book lore, Nakia was a spiritually fertile character. However, in the comics, Nakia turns into a villain due to her obsession over becoming T’Challa’s wife (in the comics, he already had a fiancée, American-born Monica Lynne). So that doesn’t make sense either.

The only thing that makes sense to me is that Nakia’s character must have been rewritten for the film. With so much going for the film in the way of strong, well-rounded women, a character who’s defining characteristic is that her life’s choices hinge on whether or not T’Challa loves her wouldn’t fit. My guess is that Nakia has been remade into T’Challa’s actual fiancée, therefore writing out Monica (at least for now). If Nakia has to go bad, I’m assuming she’s given some reason with more substance other than “T’Challa broke up with me.”

I’m on the fence if she will actually turn into a villain at some point, but seeing how Marvel likes to telegraph their bad guys and gals in green (as ComicVine points out), it seems like there’s a strong possibility Nakia could go rogue and turn into her villain alter ego, Malice.

What do you think about Black Panther‘s color narrative? Give your opinions below!

(*All images except for kente cloth images are screencaps from Black Panther trailer. All kente cloth color meanings are from Wikipedia.)

Canonically non-canonical same-sex pairings in “Star Wars,” ranked

The Last Jedi is testing the patience of some Stormpilot uberfans, who are debating if this new chapter in the new Star Wars saga advances or hinders the fandom-supported Stormpilot romance. I’ve got my opinions on it, which I’ll divulge later on once we’re out of spoiler fever.

But discussing Stormpilot brings up the very insurmountable fact that Star Wars has yet to truly bring LGBT representation to the forefront in a meaningful way. Rian Johnson, who co-wrote and directed The Last Jedi, has been intensely aware of Stormpilot, so much so that he’s actually retweeted fanart and fandom conversation about Finn and Poe’s speculated relationship. He’s also made sure to say he’s in support of LGBT characters in Star Wars. In fact, both Johnson and J.J. Abrams, the producer behind the new Star Wars films as well as the directors of both The Force Awakens and the upcoming Episode 9, have championed introducing LGBT characters into the films. But will that happen in the current Star Wars storyline or will it be more apparent in the next trilogy Johnson’s supposed to helm?

Until we know the absolute answer, one thing’s for sure–same-sex pairings and fandom-made representation have been a huge part of Star Wars since the beginning. With fans getting more and more restless, it’s only a matter of time before pairings move out of the realm of fandom and into the realm of canon. In fact, the pairings featured below are so well known by many that they might as well have their own movies devoted to them.

Here’s how I’m ranking them in terms of how canonical they are in the Star Wars franchise (with their rank affected by cast and crew interviews, actors’ intentions behind the characters, and fandom acceptance). Some issues to discuss first–it would have been fun to be able to include some female same-sex pairings in this list, but Star Wars is still a male-dominated story, unfortunately. There still isn’t enough focus on women, even though that’s growing thanks to this new crop of movies. Second, this list is only focusing on pairings that are in the movies. I’ve heard about Vice-Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) possibility being a queer character in the Star Wars books. But we don’t see that in The Last Jedi. I’m only going by what I’ve seen in the films.

4. Han Solo and Lando Calrissian

I haven’t seen much chatter about this slash pairing ever, but I know it exists. How can it not? Han and Lando are frenemies who go way back, have had tons of adventures together, and definitely have a past we don’t know about at all. Also, as this Dreamwidth user wrote in 2003, Lando trusts Han enough to give him his Millennium Falcon.

Personally, I don’t see it, but that doesn’t mean others can’t. And it also doesn’t mean I can’t be swayed–with Solo: A Star Wars Story coming out next year, I’m sure there’s going to be enough slashable content for those who love this pairing. In any event, the film will allow Lando’s characterization to get fleshed out beyond “that cool black guy who sold Han and Leia out to Darth Vader.” He can still be cool, but I hope he gets more of a solid backstory this go-round.

3. Finn and Poe Dameron

It might seem ludicrous that I’m ranking Stormpilot at number three, when big chunks of both this website and my Twitter account have been devoted to Finn and Poe’s relationship. Here’s my reasoning; it’s not that I don’t think Stormpilot can’t happen. It’s also not even that I think the cast doesn’t support it; with the way Oscar Isaac is always talking up Stormpilot in interviews, I think he’d be down. Even John Boyega, who hasn’t really drunken the Stormpilot Kool-Aid, seems to have at least partially come around to the idea of anything being possible, conceding to Radio Times in 2016 “you never know what they [the writers] are going to pull.” The reason I’m ranking Stormpilot so low is that it’s tough to see which way the wind is blowing on Stormpilot in relation to what the Lucasfilm brass think.

Regardless of what writers and directors might want to do with Stormpilot’s potential, the buck stops with Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy. As of last year, Kennedy gave a longwinded answer to Ecartelera that simply amounts to “I’m undecided.”

We’ve talked about it, but I think you’re not going to see it in The Last Jedi,” she said. “In the next six or eight months we will have some meetings about the stories that we will develop next… After 40 years of adventures, people have a lot of information and a lot of theories about the path these stories can take, and sometimes those theories that come up are new ideas for us to listen to, read and pay attention to.

What can be gleaned is that right now, folks at Lucasfilm and Disney are hashing out whether they want to invest in the Stormpilot idea. With fan pressure mounting, plus directors already giving their blessing to LGBT characters and, in a way, forcing Disney’s hand on the matter of LGBT representation, the answer as to whether to include queer characters in Star Wars has already been decided for the joint company; it’s just a matter of deciding if Finn and Poe are who they want to spearhead that initiative.

From my perspective, there’s one moment in The Last Jedi that shows that Johnson did give a small nod to Stormpilot, despite romance not featuring heavily in this installment. Will other fans pick up on that moment? I don’t know. But regardless, Stormpilot is still firmly in fanon territory right now.

2. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker

The fandom for the Han Solo and Luke Skywalker pairing is only comparable to the other OG slash pairing in the stars, Star Trek‘s Spock and Kirk.

Fanlore is a great resource for learning about the history of the Han/Luke (or “Skysolo”) pairing, but just to quickly sum it up, Skysolo has been around since the 1970s and 1980s, even though the majority of the fan projects were published in the 1990s (due to Lucasfilm classifying slash pairing fanworks as “adult” and prohibited the adult content in their official fanzines). Whether passed around privately or published publicly, the allure of Skysolo has been a part of the Star Wars culture, and, like the Kirk/Spock slash pairing, it’s also been a part of fan skirmishes.

One fan in the 1980s complained about Skysolo slash fiction being “a sub-genre without a home.”

“Is the influence of the infamous Lucasfilm brouhaha still so widespread? It certainly suppressed “straight” sexually-explicit SW fanfic; only now are we beginning to see that come out of the closet (“‘groan! ‘” bad pun!). I’m not saying I want to see SW fandom go through the kind of schism and upheaval that K/S [Kirk/Spock fanfiction] wrought on ST fandom; but I’m curious why SW slash, even though it’s being written–and written by some extremely good writers–isn’t finding a publisher. Are we still looking over our shoulder for The Men From Lucasfilm? Or do we think no one out there will buy and read it…heh – heh- heh- you know they they’ll buy and read it!”

Nowadays, it’s found its place in the open world of slash fandom, and speculation over Luke’s sexuality prompted Hamill himself to speak out in favor of Luke being gay or bisexual.

“…[F]ans are writing and ask all these questions, ‘I’m bullied in school… I’m afraid to come out’. They say to me, ‘Could Luke be gay?'” said Hamill to The Sun in 2016, according to Vanity Fair. I’d say it is meant to be interpreted by the viewer… If you think Luke is gay, of course he is. You should not be ashamed of it. Judge Luke by his character, not by who he loves.”

So, in one way, Luke’s queerness could be considered canon. But frustratingly, it still keeps characters in a gray area; they are whatever the fans want them to be. This strategy has been employed with Poe as well, with Oscar Isaac saying how he’s happy Poe can act as representation to so many different people and different sexual spectrums. Even so, Hamill allowing Luke to be representative of LGBT fans gives more credence to the theory that Luke developed a crush on Han during their time together. Han might be a scoundrel, but who wouldn’t develop a crush on him?

1. Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus

Chirrut and Baze get the top spot because their relationship is, to me, the one that was the most apparently “married” in the canon of Rogue One. Yes, if you’re so inclined, you can choose to see their relationship as that of brothers, but from where I’m sitting, their level of comfort with each other was that of two people who are friends and also happen to be more than friends. I mean, a good romantic relationship does start from friendship, does it not?

Their comfort with each other has been supported by fans, who deem them the old married couple of Star Wars. And once again, the people behind the characters chimed in to say that the fans’ theories aren’t necessarily wrong.

As Rogue One director Gareth Edwards told Buzzfeed, while the Chirrut and Baze being a couple wasn’t the original intention, if fans want to see that as canon, they’re more than welcome to. Much of Edwards’ opinion comes from Donnie Yen’s own perception of Chirrut and Baze’s relationship.

Yen, who portrayed Chirrut in Rogue One, reportedly felt like there was more to his and Baze’s relationship than the script initially let on. As Edwards said:

“After a while, it was something that became interesting. Donnie asked, ‘What do you think these guys are? What do you think their relationship really is?’ And he asked if that was the case. I felt like, ‘You know what? If these were real people and I was filming them, I wouldn’t know. It’s not something we would see; they would keep it to themselves.’ For all I know, a little bit of that might be going on under the surface…Genuinely, if the audience wants to take that away from it, I’m very happy. I’d be very proud to have brought something like that to Star Wars.”

For me, this makes Chirrut and Baze the most canonical same-sex pairing Star Wars has right now. Their relationship is one that wasn’t solely defended after the film’s release; it was also one that was developed as the actors were fleshing out their characters. That means that much of their interactions were–or at least Yen’s–were calculated to read as “married.” That’s what makes Chirrut and Baze one of the most compelling parts of Rogue One. 

Honorable mention: C3PO and R2D2

R2D2 and C3PO are here as honorable mention because…they’re robots. But if you even have a passing knowledge of Star Wars, then you’ll know the running joke is that C3PO and R2D2 are the “first gay characters” in Star Wars. Or, at least, C3PO is the “first gay character” in Star Wars. But with the advent of actual queer humans in Star Wars, this running joke can be put to rest, since 1) I don’t know if R2D2 really likes C3PO like that anyways (seems like he merely tolerates him and is merely comfortable with C3PO’s nagging) and 2) robots in Star Wars don’t exhibit the capability of having romantic love anyways. If we cross the streams and invoke Philip K. Dick’s Voight-Kampff test, the robots of Star Wars recognize that they are in service of their human masters and are comfortable with that reality. Even though exhibit have wit, sarcasm, fear, pride, happiness, and even anger, Star Wars robots never go beyond their programming to advocate for robot rights and free will.

What do you think about this ranking? What pairings would you add to this list? Give your opinions below!

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When will other women of color have their Rose Tico moment in “Star Wars”?

I’ve seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and like the majority (save for a handful of fans, who I’ll have words about later on once spoiler fever has died down), I absolutely loved the film. The storyline and its more cerebral themes were amazing and refreshing–as SyFy Fangrrls/SyFyWire contributing editor Carly Lane wrote on Twitter, this is the most cerebral Star Wars film yet–and the introductions of new characters such as Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and DJ (Benecio Del Toro) were organic and fun. It’s as if these characters have been around since the beginning.

Rose is also one of the characters that reminded me how little women of color are shown in Star Wars and how I wish I, as a black woman, could have had the same kind of representational experience in this fictional galaxy.

Watching Rose


I was excited to see not Rose and her sister Paige, to see representation long overdue. It was gratifying to watch Rose challenge Finn on his planned desertion and to inspire hope in him and the rest of the Resistance. She’s a tremendous force in this film, and I think the film–and the franchise–is better for it.

I’m extremely happy that finally, after an entire two years of back-to-back whitewashing of Asian characters and stories, a big blockbuster film has put an Asian character at the center of its story. I’ve covered so many films that negate Asian characters or recast them as white actors, and there are even some projects I haven’t covered just because I couldn’t bring myself to write about yet another property that just didn’t get what it was doing. But seeing Rose was seeing what films can do when they are created by someone conscientious enough to tackle proper representation.

There was one thing that held me back a bit during my viewing of The Last JediStar Wars has yet to give an African-American female character the same treatment as Rose. To be fair, Star Wars has yet to give a character who looks like me more than five seconds on screen.

Watching Rose kick the film into high gear reminded me of a coping mechanism I’d developed as a child on the chance I was watching a TV show that had no black women as a part of its cast. As a kid, I’d gravitate towards the character who was a minority like me and live vicariously through that character. The first time I remember doing this was as a 5-year-old watching Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. There was a black man as part of the cast, but no black women. But, there was Thuy Trang’s character Trini Kwan, the Yellow Power Ranger. Trini was my way into Power Rangers, and during recess, when my friends and I would pretend to be the Power Rangers, I would always make sure I got the Yellow Ranger. She may not have been my same race, but to me, she represented me and other girls of color who weren’t represented on the show. As a child, seeing Trini kick butt and be cool helped me formulate my personal voice and worldview. Through Trini, I felt like I could have a place on a show that apparently wasn’t designed for me.

I felt the same way with Rose. Through her, I felt happiness because women of color were finally getting their overdue shot at being heroes. Young girls, Asian girls especially, will be able to see themselves included in a fantastical place like the Star Wars universe. That kind of feeling is one that is unmatched–I felt it somewhat when The Force Awakens introduced Finn (John Boyega) as one of our new Star Wars heroes.

But the black woman is still left out. Despite my love for Rose, what I can’t ignore is a deep, personal longing to see black girls (and grown women like me) represented on screen in a hero they can be proud of. The longing doesn’t stop at just my own race, though; when will all women of color get equal representation in Star Wars? Now that Rose is here, will the Star Wars powers that be realize they owe the members of Star Wars‘ WOC fanbase the heroes they deserve?

Star Wars’ WOC track record


Star Wars having a rough time with representing women of color is nothing new. In fact, I wrote about it last year during the Rogue One hype. As I wrote then, women of color are largely absent from the films despite having a larger presence in the books. One character, Imperial Naval Officer Rae Sloane and Han Solo’s former wife, Sana Starros, have important roles in the Star Wars saga. But not only is it unclear if Sana will be portrayed in the upcoming Han Solo prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story, but Rae has yet to make a film appearance in any of the new Star Wars films.

Combine that with the fact that there is a highly sought-after actress that is a part of the films, but is currently stuck playing behind CG and motion-capture. Lupita Nyong’o was a big get for the franchise–The Force Awakens was one of her first acting roles after winning the Oscar for her role in 12 Years A Slave. But she has been tasked with portraying Maz Kanata, a character who is lively and fun, but is fully computer-generated. All we hear of Nyong’o is her voice.

Before Rose, the most prominent Asian female character in Star Wars was Janina Gavankar’s Iden Versio in the video game Star Wars: Battlefront II. But, like Rae and Sana, it’s unclear if Iden will ever show up in any film or TV Star Wars properties. Ditto for Shara Bey, Poe Dameron’s mother, who does appear in the comic book series Star Wars: Shattered Empire. Women of other racial and ethnic groups, such as Native American women, have no representation at all.

Adding insult to injury is how Star Wars has typically used women of color as WOC-coded sex aliens. As I wrote back in 2016:

Another strike against Lucasfilm and the Star Wars universe is how often black women and other women of color are often cast as Twi’leks, whose women are often enslaved as sex objects. To quote Wookipedia:

“Since female Twi’leks were regarded as graceful and beautiful beings, many of them were forced into a life of slavery at the hands of the galaxy’s wealthy and powerful.”

It’s more than a little disturbing that while women of color are all but absent in the Star Wars universe, they are readily cast as women who are sold into a sexual slavery.

It’s even more disturbing that Oola, the only sex slave coded as a black woman due to the actress, gets killed moments after we see her on screen in Return of the Jedi. There could have been a better outcome for her instead of just being used as disposable eye-candy.

To The Last Jedi co-writer/director Rian Johnson’s credit, he did make it a point to showcase more women of color, particularly African-American women, in scenes. One of the biggest cameos of the film is Chewing Gum‘s Michaela Coel as a Resistance tech. We see another black woman as a Resistance fighter pilot, and a South Asian woman is also featured as part of General Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) ragtag team. Black women and other women of color also feature heavily in the luxurious Canto Bight scenes.

But the scenes that do feature women of color, black women especially, only feature them either in the background or in non-speaking cameos. We never get to intimately know other women are who are Latina, Native American, African-American or South Asian, etc. Much like the lone black woman in Rogue One, we know women of color do exist in this far away galaxy, but we never know them outside of being set dressing.

That’s what makes Tran as Rose even more powerful. Johnson said he cast regardless of ethnicity for Rose, and that opportunity–unencumbered by preconceived notions of what a “Rose Tico” should look like–led Johnson to finding the perfect person for the part.

“We saw a lot of talented actresses of a very broad range–but honestly, it was more about finding Kelly,” said Johnson to The Los Angeles Times‘ Jen Yamato. “There was something about Kelly that had that kind of genuine oddball nature and a real sweetness to her. She has the most open heart of anyone I’ve ever met and I knew that this was going to shine through onscreen. I knew that I was going to be rooting for her in the movie.”

As Yamato wrote, Johnson’s decision to create Rose as a main character and casting inclusively “led to the biggest leap forward for Asian representation Hollywood has ever dared to make on such a large scale.”

Watching Rose on screen provided me with both pride at seeing a woman of color finally take the reins of a Star Wars film, but it also made me a bit wistful that we have yet to see other women of color get the same opportunity.

But where Rose has paved the way, surely others will follow, right?

First Rose, now others

Let’s go back to Solo. This movie is the closest on the horizon, and it’s also the Star Wars can finally break the color barrier. Even though it’s unclear who Emilia Clarke is playing (reportedly, it was a role actresses like Tessa Thompson, Zoe Kravitz, and Adria Arjona tried for as well), Thandie Newton is also rumored to be part of the cast. We have virtually no substantial casting news on this front, so we have to wait until we get closer to the film’s 2018 release date. But, if Newton is a big part of the Solo cast, then she could very well be part of a new wave of diverse Star Wars leading ladies.

Regardless, Star Wars should come to grips with their startling avoidance of women of color. Now that inroads are being made thanks to Rose, writers and directors should continue to make giving women of color a voice in Star Wars a priority. Not as sex slaves and not as CG characters but as the heroes. Hopefully, Rose is the first of many more like her.

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Akai samurai: The Praetorian Guard’s Japanese influence in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve definitely seen the arresting image of the new enforcers in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the Praetorian Guard.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Praetorian Guards

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, writer-director Rian Johnson revealed that the Guard, Supreme Leader Snoke’s personal protectors, is a more amped-up version of the Imperial Guard in The Return of the Jedi. 

While the guards get their name from the real life guards who protected ancient Roman emperors, the look and feel of the Praetorian Guard is clearly more samurai in nature. Star Wars fans are already intimately aware of the cyclical nature of the Star Wars lore–any theme that has come up in the past can (and probably will) come up again. The same can be said of the Japanese influence on Star Wars, which is embedded right in the DNA of the Praetorian Guard.

The Jedi, samurai with lightsabers

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” (Lucasfilm)

Johnson gave Entertainment Weekly the background on the Praetorian Guard, including the guard’s Japanese connection.

“The Emperor’s guards were very formal, and you always got the sense that they could fight, but they didn’t. They looked like they were more ceremonial, and you never really saw them in action,” he said. “The Praetorians, my brief to [costume designer] Michael Kaplan was that those guys have to be more like samurai. They have to be built to move, and you have to believe that they could step forward and engage if they have to. They have to seem dangerous.”

The Praetorian Guard are wearing a simplified, almost-blocky style of samurai armor with a touch of the 1980s digital aesthetic in the curved grate that makes up the Praetorian helmet visor. However, the idea of samurai is nothing new to Star Wars. The Jedi themselves are based on the idea of the samurai, including the unwritten code the Jedi live by, a type of space-bushido (without the ritualistic honor-bound suicide, seppuku, of course–these are “kids’ films” after all). Even Darth Vader’s iconic headgear and outfit are based on ornamental samurai armor.

As Samurai: The Last Warrior author John Man wrote for Salon:

…I looked at the inspiration behind the look of both the Jedi Knights and their opponent Darth Vader. So much of it derived from samurai traditions: the cloaks, the tunics, Vader’s helmet, the lightsaber.

…They are expert in the use of swords, despite their ability to call on the most fearsome and destructive of long-distance weapons…Both forgo armor to fight in loose tunics. That is how the Last Samurai, Saigo Takamori, went into battle against the Japanese Empire in 1877; that is how Toshiro Mifune appears in Kurasawa’s film “The Seven Samurai”; that is how young Skywalker, up and coming Jedi, faces up to Vader, the father hehs lost to the Dark Side of the Force.

[With regard to Darth Vader’s armor]: …[A]fter Japanese unification in 1600, the samurai became redundant, but instead of vanishing they reinvented themselves as vital members of society, adopting ever more extreme armor designs, with overlapping plates, masks with bristling mustaches and helmets with horns, or crab-like extensions (symbols of protection), or rabbits’ ears to suggest longevity. Vader’s headgear is a simplified version of a samurai face-mask and helmet, with neck protection and ear-flaps. Unlike a samurai, though, he does not need a hole in the top of his helmet through which to poke an elaborate top knot.

Side-by-side comparisons really show the connective thread between the samurai, the Jedi, and fallen Jedi like Darth Vader and his Imperial Guard.

Lucasfilm, Felice Beato/Public Domain

Even after we move away from the original Star Wars films, the idea of samurai-esque robes remains throughout the Star Wars universe, including the latest in the Star Wars main storyline, The Force Awakens. 

Star Wars “samurai-in-space” focus comes from George Lucas himself. As Ollie Barder wrote for Forbes:

It’s widely known that George Lucas was a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s work and famously used inspiration from films like The Hidden Fortress for many of the film’s plot and characters as well as whole scenes.

Barder goes on to write that even the word “Jedi” stems from a Japanese connotation.

…[T]he term “jidaigeki is Japanese for “period drama.” Films like The Hidden Fortress and other aspects of Kurosawa’s oeuvre were often period pieces. Featuring the trials and tribulations of samurai and peasants caught in-between petulant warlords.

The word itself also gave birth to the Jedi and it’s no surprise that they too borrowed many elements from the samurai as well.

Lucas borrowing for the real world is nothing new; Lucas has used the name of Tunisian city Tataouine as the basis for the name of the desert planet Tatooine and in the Star Wars prequels, the costume design for Padme/Queen Amidala feature motifs from several world cultures. In Rogue One, the idea of a space Mecca, Middle Eastern stereotypes and all, is apparent in the spiritual planet Jedha. There are even more examples of Lucas borrowing from other Japanese properties. But despite all of the other disparate elements Lucas brings into his world, including 1950s diners (looking at you, Clone Wars), the biggest throughline in Star Wars is that this is a space opera featuring space samurai protecting the innocent against the space ronin, masterless samurai who are only thirsty for power.

A Shinto color for protection used for evil

Torii at Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture (Rdsmith4/Creative Commons)

The Praetorian Guard’s relationship with Japan doesn’t end with just Lucas and Johnson’s affinity for samurai. The bright red color that forms the Praetorian Guard’s formidable look also has ties to Japanese culture. In this case, it’s more than just mere borrowing–it’s borrowing with irony.

There are several meanings for the color red in Japan (as is anywhere else), but there is a particular meaning for red in the traditional Shinto religion: protection. However, unlike with the Praetorian Guard, who’s charged with protecting an evil leader, red is charged with protecting Shinto worshippers from evil and disease.

According to Mark Schumacher, who wrote about the history of red in Shinto, the meaning of red might have come from “demon quelling and disease (e.g., smallpox, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, measles).”

According to Japanese folk belief, RED is the color for “expelling demons and illness.” The rituals of spirit quelling were regularly undertaken by the Yamato court during the Asuka Period (522-645 AD). Centered on a fire god (a red deity), these purification rites were designed to purify the land by sending evil spirits to the Ne no Kuni [“The Land of Roots,” an underworld]. This association with evil easily segues into other links with child mortality, protection against evil forces (sickness), fertility, the caul (embryonic membrane covering the head at birth), and other child-birth imagery. The red bibs, red robes, red scarfs, and red caps found frequently on certain Japanese deities…lend strong support to his interpretation.”

Schumacher wrote that for a small amount of time, the Japanese god of smallpox, Hōsō Kami, was closely linked to the color red. This association came at some point between smallpox’s initial introduction to Japan in 550 AD and the first recording of smallpox in 720 AD. It was believed that if the skin of a person afflicted with smallpox turned purple, they would die, but if the skin turned red, they would live. Eventually red came to mean protection against ailments.

This early association between demons of disease and the color red was gradually turned upside down–proper worship of the disease deity would bring life, but improper worship or neglect would result in death. In later centuries, the Japanese recommended that children with smallpox be clothed in red garments and that those caring for the sick also wear red…The Red-Equals-Sickness symbolism quickly gave way to a new dualism between evil and good, between death and life, between hell and heaven, with red embodying both life-creating and life-sustaining powers. As a result, the color red was dedicated not only to deities of sickness and demon quelling, but also to deities of healing, fertility, and childbirth.

An argument could be made that, if the Star Wars crew were conscious of the fact that red has such a huge meaning in Shinto, maybe they were using red to align the Guard and Snoke even more with the evil and danger they represent. However, with what red has come to mean in Shinto over time, the all-red Praetorian Guard is more of an unintentional ironic statement; just like the red torii gates that signify a protection of the spiritual realm and a cleansing of the worshippers that stand near, the Guards are protectors who signify that entering Snoke’s realm is a rarefied experience. However, unlike those that visit torii, there’s no holiness or goodness to come from the Guard and especially not from Snoke. Instead of healing, there’s only spiritual disease.

Aniline Red 

From “Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection” at the Phoenix Art Museum 2017 exhibition.

The history of red gets even more complicated when you add westernization into the mix. If you notice, the color of the Praetorian Guard is not just red, but it’s a shocking red. It’s a red that makes you sit up and stand at attention. It’s an unnatural red, to be sure.

This unnatural red looks like it could be aniline red, a synthetic color that owes part of its origins to British scientist William Henry Perkin trying to find a cure for malaria. You can read more about aniline red’s road towards becoming a marketable color at Prints of Japan, but just keep in mind that it was the Europeans who brought this synthetic color to Japan. I would say it’s become one of its more iconic colors, too; as a synthetic, it’s able to keep its vibrancy over hundreds of years, compared to Japanese prints that utilize natural red dyes.

Woodblock print depicting dignitaries of early Meiji Japan. ( National Diet Library Achives, Tokyo)
Part of a Kunichika triptych. (The British Museum)

These two prints are saturated in aniline red; see how pop-arty they make these 19th century pieces?

I don’t know if the folks behind Star Wars recognized they were playing deep into the Japanese color history by making the Praetorian Guard shockingly red. Of course, the Imperial Guard are also red, and the real Praetorian Guard were also associated with red. But with so much Japanese influence making its way into the Praetorian Guard, it’s funny that even this small element of Japanese history snuck its way in.

Final thoughts

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. Ikeda Nagaoki in 1864 (Lucasfilm/Topps, Public domain)

So what does all of this mean in the end? It seems like there’s a conversation to be had about where the line stops when it comes to “appropriation” versus “inspiration.” It’s very easy to say that Lucas was inspired by samurai films he saw growing up, much like how Quentin Tarantino was inspired by the blaxploitation and grindhouse films he saw as a kid. While it’s certainly clear that Lucas found a more elegant way to showcase his inspirations by way of a space opera, is there much difference between Lucas’ insistence on direct Japanese ties to his work and Tarantino’s insistence on directly imitating and reworking major themes from blaxploitation? To a certain degree, both Lucas and Tarantino straddle the line between appreciation and flat-out lifting (or, to be nicer about it, “paying homage.”)

If you’re being really nitpicky, you could say that many directors out there steal from their favorite films. No doubt–every director has put in a scene that mimics a scene they’ve loved from their childhood films. But where it gets interesting for Lucas and Tarantino is that there’s a certain amount of damage attributed to how they represent (or don’t represent) the cultures they’re drawing from.

For instance, how can Lucas draw inspiration from Japanese films just to give a set of bumbling aliens stereotypical Asian accents in the Star Wars prequels? How can it be that Lucas has only rarely featured Asian faces in general–much less specifically Japanese faces–on screen? The Force Awakens, the upcoming Last Jedi and Rogue One have featured more Asian characters than the prequels and the originals combined, and all three of those movies have been under the inclusionary focus of J.J. Abrams, not Lucas. This article isn’t about Tarantino, but since I’ve brought him up (and since I’m black) it’s time to start talking about how Tarantino only views blackness through a limited scope, not through how actual black people behave. (Yeah, I know he marched against police brutality, but that’s the least he could do–that’s something we all should be doing, to be honest.)

With all of this said, where does this put the Praetorian Guard? It would seem, regardless of the arguments made for or against “paying homage,” the mysterious samurai and Japan’s relationships with spirituality and color are imports to Western culture that still fascinate us and keep us fascinated with the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun. The Guard are only one more block that cements that fascination.

The Academy’s 2017 Class is a Much-Needed Step in the Right Direction

The Academy has taken a huge step forward with rectifying their “white old man” look by adding a new freshman class of 774 actors and directors, including Gal Gadot, Leslie Jones, Jordan Peele, Nazanin Boniadi, Grace Lee (whom I’ve interviewed before), Zoë Kravitz, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Betty White (why hadn’t she been added yet???), B.D. Wong, Donnie Yen, Leslie Jones, Riz Ahmed and Dwayne Johnson.

(For the full list of new members from all branches, visit

According to the Oscars’ stats, the new members hail from 57 countries and are 39 percent female, with seven of the branches inviting more women than men. Thirty percent of the new members are also people of color.

This is a vast improvement for the Academy, especially taking in where the organization was about a year and a half ago, with threatened boycotts and outrage over the lack of minority-led Oscar nominated films. Fans had utilized April Reign’s hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to voice their anger, and the Academy has taken meaningful steps to respond, first by adding more members from various backgrounds last year, and now this new batch of members this year.

Of course, even though these numbers are huge steps in the right direction, there are some gaps that need to be filled. Such as there aren’t many listed who are also disabled. I say “many” because there could be people with invisible disabilities, such as mental illness, that are listed. As of my review, I only see one actor with a physical disability, Warwick Davis. The focus for the Academy right now is purely on gender and race demographics, but it’d be great to see the organization focus on disability demographics as well, since it might spur the organization to recognize films that feature actual disabled actors.

Also, there aren’t any Native actors listed and there’s very little Latinx and LGBT representation as well. Bigger gains could be made on these fronts. But on the whole, this fleshed-out Academy voting board will benefit both the Academy itself and movie goers, despite the opinion of one Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter.

Usually, I refrain from jumping on fellow movie critics and analysts, since oftentimes, we are getting paid for our opinion, and an opinion is something that you can either agree with and support or disagree with and turn the other way. However, for Feinberg’s analysis about the new batch of voters, I have to make an exception for.

Feinberg’s initial point—that jamming the voting board with more actors might seem more like a vapid political move to avoid bad PR—is rather innocuous by itself. You can either take it or leave (and even as an innocuous point, I would leave it because of the positive impact any move, including ones that could be seen as vapid and political, could have on the poor state of representation in Hollywood today). But what gets more intolerable is how aggressive Feinberg becomes in discrediting the actors who got the invite.

I hate to single anyone out, but I don’t even think the people who I am going to reference would argue that they have had the sort of film career that already merits an invitation to the film Academy. Let’s start with this year’s invitees to the acting branch, whose names are the most familiar to the general public. Wanda Sykes? Zoe Kravitz? Terry Crews? Really? Some have made only one big-screen contribution of any note, such as Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot. And many are predominately known for their work on the small screen: The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed, Atlanta‘s Donald Glover, Underground‘s Aldis Hodge, Saturday Night Live‘s Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad, The Golden Girls‘ Betty White and Mr. Robot‘s B.D. Wong (I have similar reservations about several white male invitees, as well, such as Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm and ex-bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno.)

…None of this is intended to insult the talent and/or doubt the future potential of any of these individuals, but rather to examine and question what the Academy is trying to do here. I believe that the Academy’s intentions are admirable, but that its tactics are foolhardy. The bottom line is that the Academy cannot fix the industry’s diversity problems any more than a tail can wag a dog. This is not a problem that can be reverse-engineered.

Feinberg might write that he’s not trying to insult these newly-minted Academy members by rejecting their entire body of work as a reason to be invited into the Academy, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. First of all, he’s acting like none of the people he’s listed have ever been in movies–they all have film credits to their name along with television credits. I mean, how many Jurassic Park films does B.D. Wong have to be in to be recognized as an actor in a film franchise, not to mention the voice of Mulan’s (bisexual) partner, Shang? Before Mr. Robot, Rami Malek was a film actor, having been part of the Night at the Museum and Twilight franchises. Heck, he just finished a movie, Buster’s Mal Heart. Doesn’t Rogue One count as a good reason for Riz Ahmed to be a part of the Academy? Also, are you really going to go as far as s**t on someone as respected and beloved as Betty White?

The bottom line is you can’t be invited to the Academy unless you’ve been in the movies or work in the film industry in some way (along with some other qualifiers such as sponsorship, etc.). For Feinberg to say that because these actors in particular have made their mark in TV as well is needlessly splitting hairs. Secondly, why not add them to the Academy?? What’s the big deal? With as long as these folks have been in the game, and with as many hours as they’ve dedicated to their craft, they deserve to give their say on what they feel are the best films of the year. It’s not like they don’t know what makes a good story, and that’s all a film is–a story. It would seem the only problem is that the Academy has proven that they aren’t just inviting people for good PR; they’re inviting people to double down on the promise it made to its members and audiences alike–to create an organization that actually reflects the movie-going public.

Feinberg is poking a bear by singling out majority POC actors whilst adding parenthetically that he has some gripes with two white male members, as if that makes his poking okay (and tell me why Hamm and Ferrigno can’t sound off on films?). This is not the hill to die on, especially if your argument is created from something as baseless as “they’ve been on TV, therefore the films they’ve been in don’t count towards Academy membership.”

Feinberg does write in an earlier post about the new members that “there is a refreshing presence of other highly accomplished minorities throughout the list” and that many among the new members, particularly the new members of the directing branch, should have been invited long ago. However, he takes such a disturbing tone in his later analysis, with the excuse for it being the argument that adding more people of color to the Academy won’t stop racism from happening in Hollywood at large. But you can’t be both for and against more representation in Hollywood, unless you’re a champion at doublethink. Besides, arguing that the Academy can’t solve racism is like not seeing the forest for the trees.

The gag is that everyone knows the Academy can’t solve industry racism by itself. The Academy, and its viewpoints up until the past year or so, is a product of a society that is still grappling with the realities of race, the sexual spectrum, mental illness, and how to deal with all of it in a respectful manner. There’s a lot more that has to happen inside of Hollywood to truly change the industry culture, sure. There’s also a lot that has to happen outside of Hollywood before it begins to trickle into Hollywood en masse. Like the Academy, Hollywood’s ills are only a product of America’s ills.

But that’s not to say the trickle isn’t already happening. We’ve seen more filmmakers bolstered by the many avenues now available to producing their visions, and we’ve seen more and more actors of color and marginalized communities speak out against terrible treatment in the industry. We’ve also seen the online community of movie fans—the audience members themselves—voice their frustration with the industry on social media, their message finding a place where it can be amplified and heard by The Powers That Be.

All of this led up to many watershed moments of representation in the past year, but none that inhabit the whole purpose of expanding the Academy more than Moonlight, an indie film showcasing a story about black gay men, winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Only two years ago, a film like that wouldn’t have made it to the nomination rounds. But, because of an Academy that had more minority members, Moonlight got the organization’s attention and became the Best Picture Winner, beating out a movie that couldn’t be more Status Quo if it tried, La La Land.

Also, the fact that more people from underrepresented communities will now have a chance to give other creators from underrepresented communities Oscar nods, it’ll give those creators the same clout and marketability their white counterparts have been enjoying for years. It’ll also give films featuring minority casts the same monetary and critical opportunities white films have never been without. In short, it’ll open up more possibilities in Hollywood for directors and actors, which will lead to more films being made, more awards given, and so on and so forth. The expansion of the Academy has the potential to have a snowball effect in Hollywood, and it can only be for the positive.

So, I, as a fellow entertainment analyst and critic myself, can’t abide the rhetoric that moves like these don’t change anything. It’s like telling the members of SNCC back in the ‘60s that their sit-ins at lunch counters wouldn’t amount to anything. Since we can now take for granted the concept of sitting at a booth in a restaurant, it would seem their sit-ins did make a world of difference. You can’t throw out progress just because it is slow and not immediately all-encompassing. That’s ridiculous.

I suggest for readers to take a look at Flavorwire’s article “THR Doesn’t Think All Those Women and POC ‘Merit’ Academy Inclusion'” by Jason Bailey, since he goes more in on Feinberg’s hitpiece-as-analysis way more than I did. But what Bailey writes at the end is particularly important:

It’s one thing for Academy members, terrified of their own obsolescence, to voice these thoughts in private (and, as writer Charles Bramesco notes, in the Reporter‘s loathsome annual tradition of ‘Anonymous Oscar ballots’). But it’s reprehensible for an industry publication like THR to hand Feinberg the bandwidth to mouthpiece it for them, with all the conviction of a country-club president who assures us that it means nothing that their membership is all-white. It’s just how things are done around here.

To end this on a positive note, I’m excited that so many actors, many of whom should have been a part of the Academy in the first place, have now been added to this illustrious roster. I’m sure they’ll serve the organization well, and I can’t wait to see what films they nominate for 2018.


Being Latinx in Hollywood: Media creators talk representation

Latinx representation in Hollywood is something that seems to be suspiciously under the radar, even though it’s highly important, as the Latinx identity is one that is diverse and multifaceted. Despite characters like Sofia Vergara’s Gloria in ABC’s Modern Family and the casts of Lifetime’s Devious Maids and TNT’s Queen of the South existing in the media, there’s still more that needs to be done in Hollywood, such as focusing more on darker-skinned tones, racial diversity, and whitewashing. For every Gloria onscreen, there’s only one April Sexton, Yaya DaCosta’s Afro-Brazilian role on NBC’s Chicago Med, or Carla Espinosa, Judy Reyes’ proud Dominican character on NBC’s Scrubs. Even the roles like Vergara’s role—which is a “sexy Latina” stereotype—need work in order to exist outside of the stereotypes that have been wrongly attached to Latinx characters and actors.

Two of the latest instances of Hollywood’s failure at Latinx representation are X-Men Sunspot and Dr. Cecilia Reyes. The Afro-Latinx characters, which will be part of the new X-Men film The New Mutants, will be played by Henry Zaga and Alice Braga. Zaga is Brazilian, but he isn’t black or biracial, which removes much of the context from Sunspot’s character, as his characterization stems from the racial issues he’s had to face as a biracial Afro-Brazilian. Alternatively, Braga is Afro-Latina, but being light-skinned, she’s able to exhibit a privilege that the original, darker-skinned actress up for the role, Rosario Dawson, can’t. Again, it takes an important piece away from a character that is not just Puerto Rican, but defined by her place in the African Diaspora.

Throughout this year, I spoke with several Latinx creators about how they feel about Hollywood’s Latinx representation and what can be done to make it better. This is a longform piece, so I’ll break this up into several sections:

The roles afforded to Latinx actors in Hollywood

Diego Luna in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (Lionsgate)

Latinx actors, like many POC actors, are offered less than their fair share of meaningful roles. When they are offered roles, they’re often racist.

“When Latinx actors do get roles, I feel they’re oftentimes stereotypes,” wrote Desiree Rodriguez, Editorial Assistant for Lion Forge sci-fi comic book Catalyst Prime and writer for Women on Comics and The Nerds of Color, in an email interview. “The Spicy Latina, the Buffoon, the Tough Chick Who Dies, the Sexual Exotic Fantasy, the Drug Dealer, the Gangster, and so on.

“…What I find frustrating is when Latinx actors do get roles, it’s a struggle and they are locked into stereotypes,” said Rodriguez. “I’m a huge fan of Diego Luna, but the first role I saw him in he played a Cuban – when he is Mexican – man who was basically the exotic fantasy for the white female lead in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. This isn’t even getting into how Afro-Latinxs, Asian-Latinxs, and other mixed raced Latinxs are barred from roles because they don’t fit Hollywood’s pre-packaged idea of what being Latinx looks like.”

“I think currently, while we are seeing more visibility, the current roles that are offered or available to Latinos are the role of a servant position, like a maid or something that falls in line with the stereotypes people have about Latinos, like maybe a sidekick or a criminal,” said Janel Martinez, founder and editor-in-chief of Ain’t I Latina, a site celebrating Afro-Latinas and Afro-Latinx culture.

“For example, in Orange is the New Black, a lot of people were hyped about the fact that there was a great representation of Latinas in the actual show, which is awesome, but when you look on the flipside of that, this is a show about women in jail,” she said. “Also, Devious Maids, [co-produced by Eva Longoria], it’s a full cast of Latinas, two of them identifying as Afro-Latina, and they were maids. I think people are seeing the visibility, people are excited to be able to say if you’re watching the show, you’re seeing our representation…but I think it’s still in a very limited scope. I find that it’s not just a Carrie Bradshaw or just someone who happens to be a Latina but maybe they’re the magazine editor in the movie. Their identity, while it’s important, isn’t in line with stereotypes and then manifested in the character that they essentially embody.”

“Typically, I see lots of immigrant, day laborers and criminal roles going to Latinx actors,” wrote Gerry Maravilla, Head of Crowdfunding at Seed and Spark and writer-director of Cross, in an email interview. “I think this comes from often lack of interaction on behalf of writers and filmmakers with Latinx people in the real world. As such, they rely on what they’ve already seen in films or what they see from the vantage point of their more insulated experience.”

“By ‘insulated,’ I don’t mean that they live secluded or antisocial lives, but rather the lives they lead don’t actually include Latinx people in any meaningful way,” he said. “Instead, they see the Latinx peoples working in roles like day laborers or think about Latinx gang culture because of its coverage in the media.”

I think the most important thing to remember about stereotypes is how detrimental they are to Latinx actors who are trying to be cast in roles that are meaningful [as well as] to creators and consumers as a whole,” said Kimberly Hoyos, filmmaker and creator of The Light Leaks, a website designed to support, educate and empower female and gender non-conforming filmmakers. “As a Latina creator, I’m not going to write a character that I wouldn’t personally maybe want to act as. I wouldn’t create someone who is my ethnicity that doesn’t represent something larger as a whole. As a consumer growing up, that’s what I would see, maids and…anything that was oversexualized or overcriminalized. I think that in part pushed me to be a creator so I would be in charge of what was being produced.

Amy Novondo, singer and actor, said that several people she knows are frustrated with the lack of quality roles.

“[Hollywood] thinks of that over-dramatized telenovela atmosphere and [they think that] Latinos are only capable of that kind of acting their minds,” she said. “I know a couple of Latinos who are really mad about this because we barely get a chance to get into the audition room and when we do, we’re stereotyped right out of the box. It’s like, come on—I want a little more than that.”

Dascha Polanco in Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Why have these stereotypes stayed around, and why have they kept their power? The answers lie in the pervasiveness of media itself, wrote Rodriguez.

“Media has a lot of power. The images we see, coupled with the words we read or we hear imprint on us however subtly,” she wrote. “It’s something of an irony that the Latin Lover trope can be attributed to Rudolph Valentino’s – a white Italian man – performance in 1921’s The Sheik, while stereotypes like The Domestic – where Latinx characters are gardeners, maids, etc – are perpetrated by popular, well known Latinx actors like Jennifer Lopez. And in Lopez’s case, we have an instance where Hollywood shows how deeply entrenched it is with its discomfort and ignorance dealing with the Latinx identity.”

Rodriguez references The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan, which exhibit Lopez in two roles that reinforce racial and ethnic hierarchies.

“In The Wedding Planner, Lopez plays an Italian woman who is, for all intents and purposes, highly successful and comfortably well off. In Maid in Manhattan, Lopez plays a Latina woman who works as a maid in an expensive hotel, just scraping by as a single mom, and only finds success after she falls in love with a white man,” she wrote. “This creates a distorted image. As an Italian woman, Lopez’s character is an independent and successful career woman who eventually finds love. As a Latina woman, Lopez’s character is a single mom (enforcing the idea that Latino men are absentee fathers/bad family men), working as a maid until a rich white man “saves” her; then and only then does she find success.”

“This is, perhaps, a cynical viewing of what are two separate, and admittedly tropey romantic comedies. But again, media has power. Consciously or not, there’s a negative message to be had in the fact that Lopez’s Latina identity was erased in favor of an Italian one in The Wedding Planner,” she wrote. “By erasing our Latinx identities in favor of white ones, either by erasing the very existence of our Latinx identities or whitewashing them with white actors, media contributes to misinformation about what being Latinx is. Who we are as a collective culture and people – which is highly diverse and layered. Yet these stereotypes are upheld by this continued enforcement of ignorance and whitewashing.”

“[Stereotyping is] very, very detrimental and limiting because when you think of Latin America, we’re talking about over 20 countries and yes, we’re talking about Spanish [as a language] there are other languages [as well]…so I will say that when it comes down to not just representation, but inclusion in Hollywood, a person has to be invested in learning about the culture because there’s so many different moving parts,” said Martinez. “You can be Latino, Latina, Latinx, but you can be black, you can be Asian, you can be white and Latino. There has to be a great understanding of the culture.”

“…I think the work that is needed to really depict a Latino hasn’t been done and I think, specifically, when it comes to the representation, a lot of times they don’t even specify the nationality of the Latino [character]. …[Viewers] don’t even know if this person is Ecuadorian or Puerto Rican or if they’re from Honduras or Nicaragua or wherever because whoever wrote the role[.]”

Martinez also talked about how the different languages, slang words, and other cultural identifiers that make up Latin America aren’t taken seriously as characterization tools.

“When we see the portrayals on our screen, those things are not necessarily taken into account,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a strong grasp on what it means to be Latino, either Latino in America or Latino abroad.”

Jennifer Lopez and Tyler Posey in Maid in Manhattan (Columbia/TriStar)

Hoyos said that stereotypes are at their most insidious when people don’t even recognize them as such.

“I think the most dangerous thing about stereotypes is that to the untrained eye, they’re not seen as anything negative…To the average viewer, if they see one crime movie with Latinx as they gang members or the thugs, they may not even call that movie racist,” she said. “They might be like, ‘Oh, other movies do that.’ It becomes a normalized thing, and I think that’s why need to educate ourselves as a whole. I think a lot of that goes to correcting others when we see problematic media as a whole.”

Maravilla echoes this point by examining the news’ portrayal of Latinx Americans.

“I think these stereotypes originate from a similar place as the kind of roles that go to Latinx actors. They come from an isolated or insulated experience from Latinx people that prevents them from seeing or understanding them as complex, three-dimensional people,” he wrote. “When you look at other films, Latinx people are often criminals, immigrants, blue-collar people, and when they look at news coverage, this is also typically our depiction.”

“As filmmakers try to balance telling an engaging and affective story, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of making a narrative work at a story level, he wrote. “Because their focus or interest isn’t necessarily on accurate cultural representation, they rely on stereotypes to satisfy their story needs, but end up not fully realizing (and in some cases just not caring) about the harm these stereotypes are doing.”

Next: Whitewashing and brownface in Hollywood

Dear Hollywood: Make this Met Gala pic of Donald Glover, Riz Ahmed and Rami Malek into a blockbuster


The Met Gala has come and gone, and we’ve learned three things:

1. Rihanna is the Queen of the Met Gala

2. Kylie Jenner doesn’t get out of bed unless she can copy a black woman

3. Rami Malek, Riz Ahmed, and Donald Glover should star in a movie together. Any movie, whatever genre. Just make it, Hollywood.

Just look at these guys. I don’t even know if they’re friends in real life, but they’d look like they’d make great buddies. It’d be even better if they could showcase that friendship on celluloid (or, as it is nowadays, digital recording).

Picture it–a Girls Trip-esque film, but instead of having Queen Latifah and the gang go on an Essence weekend in New Orleans, it’s a Guys Trip, with Ahmed, Malek, and Glover going on a dude weekend in…anywhere other than Las Vegas, because that seems to be the cliche place for guys in a film to go. Let’s say they go to Miami, which is, technically also a cliche, but I used to live there and I like Miami, so there you go.

However, instead of the film being written like a typical “dudes on vacation” film, which usually involves a lot of ridiculous dude-bro behavior, the film would be written like…well, Girls Trip. From what I’ve seen of the trailer, it’s a film that is just as bawdy and sexual as any guys film, but instead, there’s the throughline of friendship and sisterhood. With the theoretical Guys Trip, the R-rated humor would be there, but there’s also tons of characterization and brotherhood there as well. It’d be awesome!

Also, we’d get to see Ahmed and Malek in comedic roles, something we haven’t seen from them in a long time, in the case of Malek (who has been in the Night at the Museum films), or ever, in the case of Ahmed (who hails from The Night Of and Rogue One).

If  roadtrip comedy isn’t in the cards for these guys, then I’d certainly take a future in which Ramek joins Ahmed and Glover in the Star Wars universe.

What do you think of Guys Trip, and would you watch it? Or, what kind of film would you want to see starring this trio of handsome guys? Give your opinions in the comments section below!