Monday, September 7, 2015

Black Storm Troopers, White Washing & Spec Fiction

Description: In a still from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
a young black man in scuffed white storm trooper armor looks
off screen in disbelief.
Wendell Bernard Britt Jr. writes for just what John Boyega's casting in the much-anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens means not just to him personally as a fan of color, but the impact representation has on speculative fiction in particular:
I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories was watching a drive-in double feature showing of Disney’s The Lion King and Star Wars: A New Hope. My ideas of right and wrong, heroism, self-sacrifice and discipline all come from these movies... 
The first character in the trailer is a harried and exhausted looking John Boyega decked out in a Stormtrooper outfit, and I did all I could do to contain my glee. When I had heard that Boyega was cast to be in the movie, I had assumed it would be in a supporting role, much like Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian before him. Disney had just dropped 4.4 billion dollars on the franchise, and they only had 1:33 seconds to wow their entire fan-base. To waste those precious seconds on a bit character would be completely irresponsible. Then my brain caught up with what I was seeing. Was it possible that a black character is going to be the protagonist of Star Wars?
This leads him to wonder-- when black people make up 12 percent of the US population, and black people account for 13 percent of  all ticket sales nationwide, why are are there so few characters of color? What effect does that have on who's seen as a hero? What's the response? He goes on to explain that:
Occasionally an enterprising white writer will include black people in fantastical genres. When this happened white audiences tend to have explicitly negative reactions to them. Much like the general public’s reaction to a black person being cast as a Stormtrooper, Hunger Games fans took to Twitter outcrying the casting of Amandla Stenberg (black) as Rue (a character from the predominantly black 8th district from the books). 
For some Americans, understanding, empathizing with and even imagining a little black girl in a fantastical land was beyond possible. Not only did readers fail to register Rue’s blackness, they became upset when they were confronted with it on screen.
The entire article is an illuminating musing, both personal and professional, on what this split means to him, and is well worth a read.

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