Sunday, December 27, 2015

Is "The Force Awakens" A Film About White People?


This film contains a very modest spoiler for The Force Awakens.

You could hardly not notice the John Boyega character in the first trailer of Star Wars. His Black skin was set against the white of storm trooper uniform, the sand and the sky. The implication was that this was the first time a Black man would be a leading character of the Star Wars films and not merely a token character chosen to appeal to a Black audience (i.e. the Billy Dee Williams and Samuel Jackson characters).

The character played by Mr. Boyega is certainly one of the main characters of the film, or so someone as naive about race relations such as myself might have thought.  But maybe not.

Hey I'm in a Star Wars movie!

In this editorial by Andre Seewood of the “Shadow and Act” blog of Indiewire, “Hyper-Tokenism: The “Force Awakens” While the Black Man Sleeps”, see here, he makes the argument that the Finn character is just a new style of token Black character and that in reality nothing has changed.

He makes the following points. First, that because Finn is knocked unconscious near the end of the movie, he does not actually participate in the climax of the film. Second, that Finn is a second class character in that he does not have the Force, does not speak Droid, and so forth. Third, that he fits the model of the “Hyper Token” Black person which amounts to giving the Black character much more screen time but depriving him or her of the dramatic potential of how the film is resolved: that ultimately the film is by White people about White people. And fourth, that he finds some sort of connection between this type of character and the final year of the Obama Administration.

He goes on to further describe how annoyed he is at the Black community for supporting a film like this that so crassly exploits Black people.  

I was a little surprised by this discussion, I had not really thought about it.  I did interpret the casting of Boyega in a cynical manner, assuming that the filmmakers had cast him as a way of marketing the film.  As a person who often passes as White it is easy for me to overlook the racial implications.  

It is implicit to Seewood's argument that nothing about such a character would be accidental and that therefore it is fair to look for motive and, being a little sensitive to the larger issues, to be looking for limitations in the range of the character, as Mr. Seewood certainly is.  

I think his editorial is worth reading and thinking about.

My knee jerk opinion is that probably, and in the absence of any other evidence, that any racism is accidental.  A fair rejoinder to that argument might be that by 2015 nothing on the topic could possibly be accidental.

Two final points that are far less interesting. I did not understand his Obama argument at all. President Obama seems about as White as a Black person could be. And second, apparently the correct way to spell Black is to capitalize it.

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