Dear Racists: Leave Star Wars Alone

AFRICANGLOBE – An unstoppable force meets an immovable object. The unstoppable historical momentum of dissolving racism in our culture meets the immovable wall of two hegemonic pop culture empires: Star Wars and Disney. Or is it the other way around? The unstoppable financial and cultural impact of the new J.J. Abrams, re-imagined Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens meets the immovable reality of racial discrimination and hatred in America.

Either way, on Monday, popular microblogging network Twitter played host to a disturbing hashtag: #BoycottStarWarsVII. Its popularity grew throughout the day and into Tuesday. The subject: vitriolic, racist bile from a disparate group of people who believe the new Star Wars installment has an anti-white agenda, which they believe is evidenced by the fact that the film’s major lead actors are not white.

The tweets are so despicable that the worst ones will not be included here. But in order to appropriately impart the insidious nature and intent of the offending participants, here are a few:

And of course, what ignorant and offensive public tirade would be complete without misogyny?

Those of you who like to linger at the site of the accident can easily gorge on the others online to your heart’s content. There are probably tens of thousands aggregated under the hashtag at this point. Unfortunately, from this voluminous offering, many of the hateful tweets are garnering hundreds — even thousands — of favorites and retweets. And for every retweet, one can only imagine the countless more bigots who shared the sentiment but not the tweet. It’s an unspeakably ugly and targeted movement that is using an ostensibly progressive tool to saturate the Internet with the very worst of human nature. Fortunately, a counter-movement quickly arose against the hashtag, with people denouncing the tweets and their authors.

Coinciding with the highly-anticipated debut of the new trailer, the racist authors of the hashtag have opened our eyes once again to the seedy underbelly of race relations in America — the sinister secret we hold as a nation: pervasive and violent racial intolerance at every level of our society, including pop culture. This particular episode represents a cruel irony of social media. As it democratizes the tools of mass communication, it grants megaphones to heinous minds who quickly find followings of bigots to help them target people for discrimination. The fact that we’re even having this conversation in 2015 showcases, with gruesome clarity, the reality that racism and discrimination against Black people isn’t even remotely close to being defeated. Worse, many of our most prolific cultural curators don’t even know how to broach the subject. Here’s what The Hollywood Reporter and The Daily Beast missed in their respective analyses, in which the publications sought to counter the hashtag logically (as though a discursive debate with the original authors is necessary) by arguing that both the original trilogy and the prequels featured high-caliber Black roles. Here’s the reality: it doesn’t matter that the racist promoters of #BoycottStarWarsVII have forgotten about the many Black actors in the films’ history, which include James Earl Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, and Billy Dee Williams. The point is not that the Star Wars franchise represents some attempt at parity in a diversely cast film (which it most certainly does not); the point is that we accept and tolerate intolerance to a degree that it permeates past words and stereotypes into actual social contracts and behavior. Thousands upon thousands of major Hollywood films with completely white casts pass through our theaters, DVD players, and streaming laptops, and most people never even spend a moment questioning a systemic, pro-white agenda. So why would we need to even intellectually engage with a legion of racists who raise arms against one film they perceive as having an anti-white agenda? The answer is because racism is built into the very core of the nation, into our institutions, our traditions, our past, and our present. Even people responding in protest of the ‘movement,’ whose name you might say is #BoycottBoycottStarWarsVII, miss the mark in the strangest of ways. One late night tweet read, “Y’all#BoycottStarWarsVII folks mad cuz there’s a black guy and a woman as lead characters? Newsflash: it’s a fictional story. Get a life.” Yes, it’s a fictional story — of course, we would never support Black men and women triumphing against the Empire in real life. But as long as it’s a fictional story, well, okay then, you may proceed. Is that what the author of this tweet is subconsciously intimating? Thousands of more neutral tweets, which neither critique the hashtag’s original racist trajectory nor side with it, have surfaced as well.

All of us can at least momentarily sympathize with that last one, in which a pathologically confused man throws his computer into the garbage.

However, this is clearly not an issue we can simply toss aside or punt to future generations as we do with so many societal ills. It’s important to realize that like racism itself, this hashtag and the conversation it has generated will not go away. It will accompany us all the way up to the premiere of the movie and well beyond, into the years of the sequels. The meta-narrative of racial intolerance will now be inextricably woven into the fabric of this franchise. It’s like many other different power structures and symbols of patriarchal white hegemony that are beginning to crack at the seams after countless centuries of genocide, inequity, discord, oppression, and denial.

Recently, after a gut-wrenching sequence of brutal police assaults on black Americans culminated in the creation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, racism in America took front and center as the most difficult yet desperately needed national conversation. Many social justice activists are still actively battling what can be characterized as an ongoing establishment crusade against recognizing systemic racism in our nation’s police force, prison system, and drug legislation.

Little in the Star Wars diegesis or lexicon speaks to a message of racial parity. In fact, after first watching Star Wars: A New Hope (the original film that launched the franchise), John Landis famously asked George Lucas,“George, is everybody in outer space white?” Subsequent films in the series demonstrated more diversity in casting, but the predominance of White actors in lead roles is an unmistakable feature in the history of Hollywood film.

More importantly, the statistics on Black producers and directors are even worse. And so, too, is the reality of women’s subjugated role in film casting, directing, and producing. To wit, an eerily similar bigoted movement occurred prior to the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, when men’s rights ‘activists’ proposed a boycott on the film because it featured a female lead, Charlize Theron.

There you have it. #BoycottStarWarsVII. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Even a new Star Wars movie can’t shield the nation from its unforgivable, irredeemable legacy of brutal racist oppression.

*One final point: one Twitter user floated a conspiracy theory that the hashtag and its movement are part of a Disney-engineered trolling campaign to help with the marketing of the movie. It’s a little hard to believe, frankly, that Disney would engage in such harmful social discourse to market a movie, their cartoon franchise’s almost all-white princesses notwithstanding.


By: Jake Anderson