Why Aren't 'Star Wars' Filmmakers as Inclusive as Its Universe? (Guest Column)
Every Star Wars movie, from 1977’s A New Hope to 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story shares one peculiar trait, one that is both subtle and obvious at the same time. The female lead of all of them is a brunette who either has a natural British accent or a Madonna accent — it comes and goes, depending on her outfit. Carrie Fisher, Natalie Portman, Daisy Ridley, Felicity Jones, Emilia Clarke … if you squinted, you might not be able to differentiate them in a lineup.
The same can be said of the people who get to make Star Wars movies: To a man, and they are almost all men, they are white dudes with various levels of facial hair (the sole exception being Leigh Brackett, co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back).
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Looking independently at the context with which each of those men were hired, more often than not, it makes complete sense. Of course you’d get J.J. Abrams to make a Star Wars flick. Duh. Phil Lord and Chris Miller have the magic touch, get them on board. That Looper dude is super-smart — give Rian Johnson an Episode — hell, give him a trilogy. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have spent the better part of a decade crafting one of the best TV series ever in Game of Thrones, so if they want to tell nine hours of Star Wars stories, give them a trilogy, too.
None of those calls by Lucasfilm’s Queen of All She Surveys, Kathleen Kennedy, are inherently bad. (Although a few — namely, Miller and Lord, Colin Trevorrow, Josh Trank — didn’t quite work out in the end.) It’s just that, when every recruit into the Star Wars Universe looked like they rolled off an assembly line that just makes pale men in baseball hats, it makes you wonder.
Does no one else have a passion to make a Star Wars movie?
Are there no female storytellers, no artists of color, no gender-fluid creators who would kill to get to play in the sandbox George Lucas built? And would the stories themselves not benefit by being told through a different set of lenses? Why are the people getting to tell Star Wars stories not as wildly diverse as the Star Wars Universe itself?
It’s not as if recent movie history doesn’t make a compelling case for the broadening of horizons. The Fast and the Furious movies started as a 21 Jump Street for gearheads, but in the hands of filmmakers like Justin Lin, James Wan and F. Gary Gray, they have turned into global, billion-dollar powerhouses. The Harry Potter movies might have kept going after director Chris Columbus’ first two outings — The Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets — but no one can deny that Potter movies didn’t get interesting until Alfonso Cuaron unlocked the enterprise’s artistic potential with The Prisoner of Azkaban. Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-nominated Creature From the Black Lagoon riff The Shape of Water should have been the monster movie that Universal used to kick off their Dark Universe, instead of the Tom Cruise misfire The Mummy, which effectively tanked that initiative.
Marvel is getting the best reviews (and the highest ticket presales) they have ever had for Black Panther, a story about a black hero, made with a predominately black cast, written, directed and produced by black artists — which comes on the heels of Thor: Ragnarok, which breathed new life into a moribund character thanks to Maori iconoclast Taika Waititi. And DC’s one true breakout has been Wonder Woman, whose director, Patty Jenkins, had to fight tooth and nail for the very elements that audiences responded to — because the fellas in charge just couldn’t see it.
And yet, Star Wars remains a boys’ club, despite having a woman in charge of the membership. Despite there being proven storytellers like Ava DuVernay, Shonda Rhimes, Mira Nair, Michelle MacLaren, Karyn Kusama, Dee Rees, Lexi Alexander, Kathryn Bigelow, Ana Lily Amirpour, the Wachowskis — all working at the height of their powers, all with genre experience or deep genre love. And that’s just the female bench.
There’s no way of knowing the conversations Kennedy might have had that didn’t go anywhere; if there were overtures made and rebuffed. The giant Star Wars machine isn’t for everyone. And it’s entirely possible that there are women and people of color currently engaged to write and/or direct a Star Wars movie, but they just haven’t told us yet.
But the talent is out there, you just have to want to find it — or open your eyes when it’s staring you in the face.
Marc Bernardin is a comic book and television writer and journalist whose credits include Hulu's upcoming Castle Rock. He also co-hosts the genre-focused podcast Fatman on Batman with Kevin Smith.
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