Thursday, January 21, 2016

Where's Rey? Dark Side of Marketing Forces Heroine Out

Left: Screenshot of Rey from Star Wars the Force Awakens. Right, a letter from 8 year old Annie Rose that reads "Dear Hasbro, How could you leave out Rey!? She belongs in Star Wars Monopoly and all the other Star Wars games! Without her, THERE IS NO FORCE AWAKENS! It awakens in her. And without her, the bad guys would have won! Besides, boys and gorls need to see women ca be as strong as men. Boys or girls, who cares? We are equal, all of us!" letter courtesy of Carrie M Goldman.
Star Wars: The Force Awakes looks to shatter box office records. It's brought in an estimated 1.5 billion dollars in box office sales so far. Rey is the heroine of the story, which is why it's been downright weird to see her missing from so much of the official merchandise Hasbro has been releasing. For example, on Hasbro's Star Wars Monopoly set, there were two characters from the main Star Wars series as game peices: Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. There were two characters from The Force Awakens: Kylo Ren and Finn. So, representing the classic and modern Star Wars? All men.

The “Battle Action Millennium Falcon” playset tie-in to The Force Awakens has Finn, Chewbacca, and BB-8-- but not Rey even though in the film she is the actual ship's pilot! And while Hasbro released a statement apologizing for leaving her out of the board game release and promising to include her in future releases, most official merchandise for Rey is still exceedingly difficult to find, and what does exist is rather thin on the ground. This has lead to the hashtag #wheresrey as fans and parents have taken to social media to talk about this representation.

According to an insider source with Lucasfilm marketing, Rey's lack of visibility in merchandise was not just some sort of accidental oversight. In an article on pop-culture blog Sweatpants and Coffee, this marketing insider said this was done deliberately:
In January 2015, a number of toy and merchandise vendors descended on Lucasfilm’s Letterman Center in San Francisco. In a series of confidential meetings, the vendors presented their product ideas to tie in with the highly-anticipated new Star Wars film. Representatives presented, pitched, discussed, and agreed upon prototype products. The seeds of the controversies Lucasfilm is facing regarding the marketing and merchandising of The Force Awakens were sown in those meetings, according to the industry insider.
The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.
“We know what sells,” the industry insider was told. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”
It sounds like a bit of a self-fulfilling, doesn't it? Marketing decision-makers say female characters don't sell, so they exclude them from merchandise. They then use this as evidence that female characters don't sell, and use it to justify excluding them from merchandise in the future. Not only did marketing execs seem to be caught completely by surprise, but according to the article, they seem stymied by the fact that real life wasn't adhering to the narrative they'd created:
“I’ve spoken with Disney people, and they were completely blindsided by the reaction to the new Star Wars characters,” Marcotte went on to say. “They put a huge investment into marketing and merchandizing the Kylo Ren character. They presumed he would be the big breakout role from the film. They were completely surprised when it was Rey everyone identified with and wanted to see more of. Now they’re stuck with vast amounts of Kylo Ren product that is not moving, and a tidal wave of complaints about a lack of Rey items.”
How about your thoughts, readers? Is this sort of aggressively gendered marketing something that's going to fall by the wayside, or will marketers dig in their heels even more?

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