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The Breakout Fandom Couple of 2015: Stormpilot (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has indeed awakened the slumbering mass that is the Star Wars fandom, which has been waiting for the franchise’s return to greatness. The film, starring and John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac (as well as the members of the original cast), has already reached $1.23B at the time of this article, and surely, the film will reach even greater heights the longer it stays in the theaters. (This is also not taking into account the millions or billions of dollars spent on The Force Awakens merchandise.)

While the film is being touted as a tour-de-force of nostalgia and a refreshed look at a “galaxy far, far away,” the film has also been an achievement in diversity due to having well-rounded and powerful female characters (with the exception of Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, who—while cool—will hopefully be fleshed out in upcoming films) and two leads of color, Boyega and Isaac, who open the film. (The fact that their faces are the first faces we see in the movie immediately cemented the film as a break away from Hollywood’s normal modus operandi.) Boyega and Isaac’s characters, disillusioned ex-Stormtrooper Finn and Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron, have also acted as ambassadors to another type of diversity not usually found in films; characters who might not only be on the LGBT spectrum, but might also be in a same-sex relationship.

The fandom who propose Finn and Poe’s relationship (named “Stormpilot” or “FinnPoe”) to the masses provide several clues as to why they thing Stormpilot is possible. First, Poe gave Finn his name; instead of continuing to call Finn “FN-2187” during their escape from Stormkiller Base, Poe immediately decides to call him Finn, thus giving Finn a new identity and a new lease on life. Second, Finn keeps Poe’s jacket when, after the crash-land on Jakku, Finn assumes Poe’s died in the crash. Third, Finn completes Poe’s mission to get BB-8’s message to the resistance base. Fourth, Finn and Poe passionately embrace after realizing the other is alive and kicking after all.

All bets are off when Poe lets Finn keep his jacket, saying “It suits you.” Poe, biting his own lip before speaking, then says with bedroom eyes, “You’re a good man, Finn.” The playful punch to Finn’s shoulder simply looks like a feeble attempt to cover up what could be construed as obvious flirting. Finn’s focused stare back (as well as another focused stare he gives Poe after Poe slaps his shoulder again in a pseudo-camaraderie fashion before taking to the skies in his X-Wing) seems to suggest that Finn can feel something brewing between them as well.

The clues start coming together after Isaac revealed, albeit with a little dry humor thrown in, that he was, in fact, playing up a romantic angle with his character. John Boyega seems to concur.

Normally, fandom character pairings, or “ships” (short for “relationships”) don’t make headline news. But Stormpilot not only lit up fan spaces like Tumblr and Twitter, but also mainstream sites like E! Online, Buzzfeed, Hypable, Vanity Fair, USA Today, Metro, Pink News, Comic Book Resources, The Mary Sue, Bleeding Cool, MoviePilot and certainly many more.

Star Wars fan Stephanie wrote one of the many pieces on Stormpilot for The Geekiary. The post, called “Everyone is Talking About Our ‘Star Wars’ Slash Ship'” (with “slash” fandom slang for same-sex pairings) focuses on Stephanie’s cautious optimism when it comes to how those outside of the fandom ship world will accept Stormpilot’s existence. “The best thing about mainstream coverage…is that it normalizes queer romances,” she wrote in her article. “…When all these outlets are reporting on our fan activities as something worth noting, it sends a powerful message to studios that there’s an audience out there that wants these narratives.” However, Stephanie notes in her article, the usage of some outlets using the term “bromance” when describing a ship that much more than just friendship can be problematic and awkward. “The main issue with mainstream media’s coverage of slash shipping is that, since we’re so obscure and don’t often leave our isolated communities, they don’t quite know how to talk about it,” she wrote. “Even worse, this can be an indicator that mainstream press just doesn’t know how to talk about queer romance in general, even in regard to non-fandom inspired pairings.”

Stephanie stated in an email interview about her feelings behind her article. “I wrote my article because I was feeling so heavily conflicted about the fact that this ship was getting such a large amount of mainstream coverage so quickly. On the one hand, I’m elated that a slash ship is getting generally positive coverage. It helps legitimize LGBTQ+ relationships in general, and makes it possible for more visibility going forward. On the other hand, we don’t exactly have the best track record with mainstream press understanding fandom culture. It often feels like we are being gawked at, made fun of, or just outright misrepresented,” she wrote. “I’m really grateful that, so far, we haven’t had any coverage that’s treated us poorly. With any luck, we won’t and all of my worrying will be for naught. We definitely need to lose the term ‘bromance,’ though. Please. Romance is romance and we don’t need to ‘bro’ it up to soften it. But that’s been my only issue so far and it’s relatively small compared to what’s been done to us in the past.”

Stephanie didn’t immediately latch onto Stormpilot after her first viewing of The Force Awakens, but now sees the developing relationship as playing on classic romantic beats. “Unlike a lot of my friends, I didn’t walk out of the theater shipping them right away. I did, however, come out of the film immediately drawn to Poe Dameron. When I got home and discussed it with friends I was introduced to the idea of shipping him with Finn within 24 hours of my first viewing and it didn’t take me very long to get on board with that idea completely,” she wrote. “There are a lot of romantic tropes that code them as being in the early stages of a romance such as clothing sharing, nicknames (or in Finn’s case, a name that isn’t a Stormtrooper number), and even that long dramatic run into each others arms when they realize the other isn’t dead. I’ve seen the film two additional times since my first viewing with my slash goggles on and everything just falls perfectly into place.”

Stephanie attributes Star Wars large fanbase for the reason Stormpilot became the phenomenon it is.  “I think a lot of what has drawn people to Stormpilot is what draws people to slash pairings in general, but on a much larger scale since the Star Wars fandom is so huge. Many LGBTQ+ people like myself enjoy queer pairings because we just don’t get them that often in mainstream media. It feels good to see characters that reflect our own sexuality off on adventures,” she wrote. “Many heterosexual women are drawn to slash ships either because they like the idea of two men together in general, or because these specific characters in this specific story happens to speak to them regardless of gender. The interesting thing is that I’ve seen many straight men also shipping Stormpilot, which seems to be rare in a lot of my other slash pairings (though not unheard of). There might be more visibility here because of how huge the fandom is. Or maybe straight men are just getting comfortable enough to admit that these guys are kind of perfect for each other. I’m not sure why there’s a higher visibility of heterosexual men shipping Finn and Poe, but it’s definitely unique.”

Geek Girl Diva, another Star Wars fan onboard with Stormpilot, wrote a similar response in an email interview to the fandom’s love for the pairing. “I think people connect with both the characters and how they are with each other. Poe and Finn already have a friendship that’s romantic in a sense,” she wrote. “They fell into immediate like with one another. You get the sense that both Boyega & Isaac would be totally down with playing gay characters and Isaac has a very open faced admiration. I think people connect to the deep liking these two have for one another, and it’s not a stretch to take it to the next level.”

Geek Girl Diva was immediately a part of the Stormpilot fanbase thanks to the ever-present chronicler of fandom things, Tumblr. “It was all Tumblr, bless its shipping heart,” she wrote. “Once I saw the meme, I fell in love with the ‘ship.”

The fact that so many people, men and women alike, have latched onto Stormpilot could have implications for how Disney and the Star Wars movie team goes forward, right? Or could stuff stay at the status quo? With so many billions at stake, and with such a wide intersection of people in the Star Wars fandom (some of whom aren’t as open towards LGBT representation), it’s difficult to say if Disney and Lucasfilm will take the promise of diversity to the next level.

“I think [the mainstream press is] great, wrote Geek Girl Diva, adding, “As much as I love the ship (and I love it like a house on fire), I don’t think Stormpilot is in the cards on the big screen. But I do think Poe could very well be gay and he’d be a perfect way to bring an LGBT character into the Star Wars Universe.”

LONDON, UK - DECEMBER 16: Actors John Boyega and Oscar Isaac attend the European Premiere of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens in London on December 16, 2015.
LONDON, UK – DECEMBER 16: Actors John Boyega and Oscar Isaac attend the European Premiere of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens in London on December 16, 2015.

There has been a Change.org petition asking Lucasfilm’s president Kathleen Kennedy to include LGBT characters in the new Star Wars films. When it comes to whether the petition could cause a rush of LGBT characters to enter the Star Wars film franchise is difficult to say. But both Stephanie and Geek Girl Diva point out that LGBT characters are already a part of the franchise, if just in books and games.

“Lucasfilm has already made the jump into showing LGBT characters, first in [Star Wars: The Old Republic] and then in a couple of the new canon books (Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath & Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars),” wrote Geek Girl Diva. “I don’t know 100% that Poe isn’t already the lead into an LGBT presence in the films. I think he might be, but it’s a guess and nothing more. That said, I do think that the Stormpilot love could make it easier for [Lucasfilm] to flip that switch. But I’m not in a position to make a decision on that.”

“Thanks to Chuck Wendig, there are LGBTQ+ characters in the novels, but we are still lacking big screen representation. I have a feeling that if they were planning for Poe and Finn to be in an onscreen romance, that’s already been decided and a petition wouldn’t sway that,” wrote Stephanie. “However, something like Poe’s sexuality may still be negotiable and we could have an affect on that. Poe’s sexuality hasn’t been touched on and Oscar Isaac has been incredibly supportive in interviews. He’s treated the idea of two men in a romantic relationship with respect and even said he’d go for a rainbow colored lightsaber. This could all be joking, of course, but I get a strong vibe from him that he’s supportive of our community. It’s hard to explain why, exactly, but these tidbits from his interviews don’t feel like they [Lucasfilm] are ‘making fun’ of us at all.”

“Finn’s sexuality may be more difficult to sway. Unfortunately we operate in a ‘straight until proven otherwise’ mindset with the majority of mainstream media, and the idea of bisexuality seems particularly difficult for a lot of writers to grasp,” Stephanie added. “With Finn expressing even a moderate interest in Rey, this could be the writers coding him as heterosexual. But hey, it’s possible that the people who are writing the next couple of scripts could have a good grasp on the idea that you can be attracted to more than one gender at a time and we may get bisexual Finn after all.”

Some news that’s made the social media rounds is that Captain Phasma will have an extended role in future films due to fan support. With the amount of fan support Stormpilot has, it’s in the realm of possibility that Disney and Lucasfilm could think twice about the extent of Poe and Finn’s relationship. But again, it’s tough to say since there’s so much money and investment on the line.

“It’s possible. Adding a few extra interactions without rewriting an entire script isn’t too huge, but if the characters are written, say, on completely different planets for most of the film it may be hard,” wrote Stephanie when asked if she thought there was a possibility for Disney and Lucasfilm to make fanon canon. “But if we don’t cause enough enthusiasm for Episode VIII, there’s always Episode IX. This is a trilogy and I’m sticking with Stormpilot for the long haul. Just have to keep my fingers crossed that neither of them die in the next film. That’s pretty much the only thing that’d put a nail in the coffin for future interaction.”

Geek Girl Diva differs slightly on the issue. “On [Phasma returning to the series], I think that was a bit different. Phasma caught fire for a few reasons and it’s a lot easier to beef up her story than it is to add in a relationship between two lead characters,” she wrote. “In the end, I think that’s entirely up to [Episode VIII director and Episode IX writer/director] Rian Johnson and the [Lucasfilm] Story Group. It all depends on what the arc is for the trio in the larger story. I don’t think Disney & [Lucasfilm] will shy away from any interaction, but I don’t think they’ll play it up just for fans. I think, in the end, the filmmakers will do what they feel is the best fit for the trilogy and the story.”

“If I have a personal hope, it’s not for Stormpilot (even though I love the ship),” Geek Girl Diva added. “In a perfect world, where we get diversity of all kinds, we get a female lead, a hetero interracial couple and a gay character (maybe in a relationship with a male alien? Let’s think big!), all of whom are great friends and join together to defeat the Darkness. I can work with that just fine.”

If Poe and Finn do become canon, what will Disney do about LGBT representation for women? Of course, the franchise will add characters to subsequent films, but if fans want someone from the main Big Three characters, there seems to be a lot of support for Rey being asexual and/or aromantic. Much of the support for Rey as being along the LGBT spectrum seems to stem from the fact that even though there’s ample time (and many open invitations from Finn) for Rey to take their friendship to the next level, Rey seems to be more enamored with the idea of what Finn leads her to think he is; she’s more fascinated by the idea of him being a part of the Resistance and belonging to something great rather than him being an available guy. Also, she’s more concerned with the mission at hand, getting BB-8 back to the base, rather than hooking up. The final scenes find Rey not cementing a romance with Finn, but with her kissing his forehead while he’s in a comatose state, a goodbye before she heads to the island Luke Skywalker is hiding on in the hopes of being trained by him. Her new mission is to focus on her handling of the Force, not being someone’s girlfriend.

The call for making Rey along the LGBT spectrum would naturally add to the film franchise’ commitment to diversity, but there’s also a smaller contingent of the fandom who want Rey to be lesbian, bi, or asexual/aromantic simply at the expense of removing her characterization and forcing her into the box of a spectator or as a voyeuristic avatar for the fan him/herself. Several fans on Tumblr seem to imply that they want Rey to be asexual and aromantic not for reasons concerning diversity, but just so she won’t interfere with Poe and Finn’s possible relationship. Asexuality and aromantic individuals deserve to be showcased on the big and small screens, which is what happened on USA’s Sirens, which featured asexual paramedic Valentina aka “Voodoo”, who dated non-asexual fellow paramedic Brian. But asexuality and aromanticism—two orientations that don’t describe a lack of a person’s desire for basic human affection, but just the levels to which a person might desire affection—shouldn’t be used as a way to box a character in at the expense of two other characters’ possible romantic relationship.

Such fear of Rey being a wedge between Poe and Finn should be left by the wayside, since directors are beginning to, at the very least, not write fans off for their non-canonical opinions. One example is Captain America co-director Joe Russo stating in an interview (via Vanity Fair) that while he has always personally viewed Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes’ relationship as brotherly, he doesn’t begrudge or limit anyone else from their own points of view. “People can interpret the relationship however they want to interpret it…People have interpreted that relationship all kinds of ways, and it’s great to see people argue about…what that relationship means to them,” he said. “We will never define it as filmmakers, explicitly, but however people want to interpret it they can interpret it.”

This movement towards fan inclusivity, as well as actors like Isaac suggesting he was playing at romance with another male character, means a lot when it comes to the struggle to get proper LGBT representation. But, as the Vanity Fair article linked above points out, the road towards true inclusivity might be even longer than fans are prepared for. However, something can be said for progress happening in leaps and bounds after years of stuttering steps. Take a look at marriage equality; it has taken over a decade to get marriage equality in a majority of the states, and then, one day, marriage equality was nationwide with the swift smack of the Supreme Court’s gavel. So who knows as to what kind of romantic future Finn and Poe (or Rey) have. While we could be going to the theaters in 2017 with Finn in a relationship with a girl, we could find Finn and Poe in same-sex relationships (if not with each other) and Rey exploring the universe of sexual identity while she hones her Jedi skills. The ball is in Disney and Lucasfilm’s court; let’s see what play they make.

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"Star Wars: The Force Awakens": Why Finn Matters In This Galaxy and A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is something I’m looking forward to intensely. The film looks amazing, particularly since it looks akin to the originals (we will not speak of the wayward turn the franchise took in between the originals and The Force Awakens). But it’s also a high-profile sci-fi film that not only features people of color in the film, but has an actor of color, John Boyega, as the main character, Finn. Some might wonder why this is important. I’ll tell you in a personal story. 

#DifferenceMakers: “Star Wars: Force For Change”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out! I know everyone’s excited (especially the #Stormpilot fans: read here and here at The Nerds of Color to learn more about the popular pairing). There are tons of reasons to love the film, but now there’s one more: It’s going to give back to fans in need.

Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and Star Wars star Mark Hamill have partnered together with CrowdRise to create a new campaign, Star Wars: Force for Change. The campaign, as the press release states, “inspires people to make a positive impact on the world.” The initiative will match donations of Star Wars fans to four charities up to $1,000,000. Star Wars: Force for Change has already raised over $10,000,000 thanks to the Star Wars fanbase, and the campaign will last a full month, leading up to May the 4th (aka Star Wars Day). The four charities that are benefiting from the campaign are the U.S. Fund for UNICEF in support of UNICEF Kid Power, American Red Cross, Make-A-Wish, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Star Wars fans are some of the most generous, thoughtful, and sympathetic people I have ever met,” said Kennedy. “I am so proud of the charitable work they have done over the years and hope this month-long donation-matching campaign will go some way to express our sincere thanks for their tireless efforts.”

During the first week, the first 20 fans to raise or donate at least $500 will win a Blu-ray copy of Star Wars: The Force Awakens signed by the cast. Other prizes up for grabs will be revealed throughout the month, including an all-expense paid trip to Ireland (a trip that includes Skellig Michael, where the final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shot). The campaign ends 11:49 (PST) May 4. Check out the video to learn more:

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Support the charities at CrowdRise.com/ForceForChange!

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

Lucasfilm/Disney

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

Lucasfilm

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.

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

How “Star Wars” forgot about black women

I love the new direction Star Wars is taking with The Force Awakens and now Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I even support the fact that Rogue One is rumored to be the first Star Wars film to not begin with the classic Star Wars preamble crawl. Rogue One is also running with the diverse platform The Force Awakens started, featuring a woman as the main character (Felicity Jones) and a main ensemble cast featuring Forrest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Fares Fares, Jimmy Smits, James Earl Jones (as the voice of Darth Vader, of course), and Genevieve O’Reilly.

But for the most part, Star Wars has only been killing it when it comes to white women and men of color. Once again, it’s time to ask the age-old question: What about the black women?

In the latest Rogue One trailer, this lovely lady makes an appearance:

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Lucasfilm/screengrab

But do we get to learn more about her? I’m already wanting to know the rest of her story and who she is in the resistance.

What’s the worst part of this erasure is that it’s not like Star Wars hasn’t prominently featured black women before. It’s just that the women are usually in the written tales of the franchise. For instance, Imperial naval officer Rae Sloane, who appears in various Star Wars books, her first appearance being A New Dawn.

Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm

And Sana Starros, Han Solo’s self-proclaimed former wife, is featured in the Marvel’s Star Wars comics, first appearing in Star Wars 4: Skywalker Strikes, Part IV.

But Disney and Lucasfilm might have not taken a prime opportunity to actually cast Sana or any other woman of color as Han Solo’s opposite in the upcoming Han Solo spinoff film. Emilia Clarke is set to play a prominent role in the Han Solo film, a role that Tessa Thompson, Zoe Kravitz, and Adria Arjona (Guatemalan/Puerto Rican) might have auditioned for. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it’s currently unclear if Clarke’s role is the same role the other actresses tried out for, if the film will feature multiple women. As it stands right now, though, Clarke’s is the only name we’ve heard since the news of Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover landing the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian roles, respectively. That doesn’t bode well for black female Star Wars fans who have been waiting to see themselves represented in a big way in what’s supposed to be a highly diverse intergalactic universe.

Also something that’s annoyed many a black woman fan—the fact that the one black woman we do have in the new Star Wars universe, Lupita Nyong’o, is playing Maz Kanata, a character that is completely CGI. (A similar annoyance with black men in sci-fi can be read about in this companion article concerning Idris Elba’s role in Star Trek Beyond.)

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A.M.P.A.S./Lucasfilm

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.

twileks-lyn-me-oola
Lucasfilm

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.

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Lucasfilm

Meanwhile, the Star Wars universe is proliferated with brunette white female protagonists:

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Lucasfilm

This isn’t to disparage against these actresses, since I like all of them. But I’m trying to prove a point. Star Wars has a predilection, a tradition, in fact, of casting brunettes, when brunettes don’t signify all of woman-kind. If Star Wars is really going to be the franchise that puts women first, it’s got to put all women first. Black women and women of color in general have been historically forced to identify with women who do not look like us or experience life like us. You’d think that in a galaxy far far away, it’d be all too easy to find women of color, and not just women of color who happen to be sex slaves. In a way, Star Wars reiterates a fact of life that has been apparent to many women of color; we’re usually more palatable heard and not seen, and if we are seen, then we have to be as vampy and erotic as possible in order to matter. That’s not the kind of message Star Wars needs to bring into something as uplifting and inspiring as a sci-fi space opera that preaches equality for all people.

Am I still going to see Rogue One? Of course. Supporting it means I’m supporting the actors of color who are prominently featured. But my dollars will hopefully act as a means for Star Wars to increase their focus on diversity. Hopefully, this will mean that someday soon, we’ll finally have a sistah in space.