I inherited a lot of things from my father. Beyond the obvious things like my last name and the good looks was a love for movies, comics and science fiction.
He is the person who took me to the arcade for the first time, to my first comic book store and introduced me to my first video game counsel. He would make it a point to watch all the cartoon shows so we would recap the events of the Batman Animated Series and debate about who would win in a fight, The Super Friends or the X-Men.
Growing up my dad would take me to the movie theater nearly every weekend. I can remember spending my Saturday mornings waking up him picking me up and doing our ritual of breakfast, barbershop and movie theater. It was our special time. I can remember sitting in the seat next to him when I was 8 as we watched Star Wars together for the first time.
This was the special edition re-release Episode 4 (AKA the “original” Star Wars film).
We were sitting in our favorite AMC Theater and I remember him being so excited. Looking back I get it was the fact that he was to relive a part of his childhood with.
He would lean over and tell me how they updated all the effects from when he originally saw it.
Sticking with StarWars as an example. George Lucas is credited with creating an entire universe saturated with fantasy elements, a mystical like religion that allows is followers to defy the laws of physics, entire worlds made up of alien creatures spaceships and swords made up of light but when you take away all the fantasy elements what is it at the core.
So the reaction of some white people when the trailer for Episode Vii came out and showed a white woman and black man as the lead actors were to created a hashtag #boycottstarwarsvii. My question was how can you be upset when a story about white imperialism and expansionism has minorities and marginalized people as the protagonist to challenge the evil empire.
The way that I see it, Star Wars is the story of white imperialism. The bad guys, the Empire, is a presentation of whiteness. Just like Christian European nations that spread across the world assimilating other cultures and people, the Empire does so too, only it is done to entire worlds. Also like in real life, when targeted groups attempted to defy and resist they are met with military action that leads to slavery, subjugation or annihilation.
The good guys, the Rebel Alliance, are a representation of white liberalism. They start out by trying to operate as a part of the structure of power but that does not work The do not take any real action of sacrifice or look to tear down a corrupt system until it is too late and they are forced underground.
As far as I can tell, all the Skywalkers: Anakin, Luke, Leah (and Rey) should all be black.
I say all this to make two points. The first is that I know my history when it comes to geek trivia. For example, I can name nearly every X-Man that has ever appeared in the nearly 60 years of their printed history, including power sets, special skills and familial or romantic ties to each other. The second is that I have a personal connection to these stories. They have an attachment to very special memories for me. So while I am not the biggest and most obvious Star Wars fan, I can see why people go to the conventions and wear coordinated costumes with their families. Thanks to I am a second generation “blerd” by nature. A “blerd” is someone who is black and into anything that could be considered nerd culture.
Even as the way we engage in the nerd culture has evolved over time, from dusty comic book stores to IMAX movie screens, fans have managed to not only keep the connection but expand it.
Because of points 1& 2, I have been having such a hard time lately with how Hollywood and the way that they have been choosing to address the concerns about race when it comes to transferring some of these properties into film and television. The term whitewashing has been thrown around all over the internet when describing the controversy around the recent films Ghost in a Shell and The Great Wall.
Nerd Fact: I am not going to talk about Iron First here because the story the Netflix series is a different, way more complicated issue. Danny Rand was a blue-eyed blond in the comic in the 1970’s and therefore was flawed way before the show. That could be a whole separate post just wanted to let you know that I know…..SEE POINT 1 ABOVE
This most recent wave is not the first time this issue has come up. Did anyone other than me actually go see The Last Airbender? Full disclosure: I went opening night, albeit with low expectations because the original animated series it is based upon is AMAZING. An even better comparison was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. This one is really fun because like Scarlett Johansson playing an Asian character, we have literal European nobility playing a Persian prince.
Both of them fell into the trope of taking stories centered around people of color that were successful in the original medium and changing it into a white character/actor center stage in the film to disastrous results.
One would think that the people who create these stories would have some say or control to prevent things like form happening.
A friend of mine who is a writer told me that once a write creates somethings and shares it, the intent no longer matters and that the piece is owned by to the public to interpret however they choose. So the conversation raised the question of who do these stories really belong to? The quick response to this question is that that Disney owns everything, at least from the legal standpoint. I want to look past that. Does making something public does that mean that I have to be OK with whiteness creeping in and taking it over?
For a long time, it seems that Hollywood has been allowed to project the stories of people of color in an effort to make money and “throw us a bone” once or twice a year.
This form interest convergence is not working anymore. Box office results have shown that this younger, internet-savvy group of hyphenated, intersectional, complicated group is not going allow the characters and stories that we have known our entire lives be filtered for mainstream consumption. Moving forward, we need to see more Moonlight and less Lala Land.