Is It Too Soon For A Black Stormtrooper?
Saturday November 28th saw the release of the much awaited of the ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ trailer, within 72 hours the trailer had generated over 40 million views on YouTube and fans such as Anna Kendrick, Stephen Colbert and Simon Pegg expressing their excitement.
After the acquisition of Lucasfilm by The Walt Disney Company in 2012, many predicted that the upcoming trilogy, of which The Force Awakens is the first instalment to be lacking in the qualities they have come to expect from the series.
One of the two sources of criticism (the other being the introduction of the cross guard lightsaber) surrounds British actor John Boyega who is the first character seen in the official trailer. The black actor, known previously from his role as Moses in British Monster film ‘Attack the Block’ is to play a lead role as an Imperial Stormtrooper in ‘The Force Awakens’.
Imperial Stormtroopers are the elite soldiers of the Galactic Empire they served as a constant reminder of the absolute power of Emperor Palpatine. The first troopers were cloned from renowned bounty hunter Jango Fett, ‘father’ of unaltered clone Boba Fett, to be the Army of the Republic.
Debate raged online as to whether Stormtroopers were all white clones and whether having a black man cast as one was a case of political correctness ‘gone mad’.
Jango Fett was culturally and perhaps ethnically a Mandalorian and the actor who played him (in episodes II, III and V) Temuera Morrison is from New Zealand and is of Maori descent, with apparent Polynesian features and darker skin. By the time of ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ the Empire has been recruiting from general populations for years so why is it such a leap to have a black actor as a Stormtrooper when the genitor in the films was not white?
Kriston Capps of The Atlantic puts it best:
“So a black stormtrooper can very well be a black stormtrooper in the Star Wars Galaxy without there being any great significance to it. It’s not that simple in the fraught universe of Hollywood, though, where casting a black actor as a lead in one of the most powerful franchises in film history can help to correct a representation gap older than Yoda—but not without drawing scrutiny”.
Having a black Stormtrooper should not be a problem, the reaction it received was in fact the problem. Instead of applauding the young actor for bettering his career and becoming more well known, or even critiquing his acting, the only thing said about him was about his skin colour.
Boyega released this statement on his Instagram:
This is not the only recent story of the film industry treading on toes when it comes to issue of race.
Ridley Scott’s new Egypt-based film ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ features an all white leading cast with people of colour playing secondary and minor roles. Welsh born Christian Bale plays the protagonist Moses, Sigourney Weaver plays Queen Tuya and Australian Joel Egerton plays the Pharaoh Rhamses.
There is still a degree of uncertainty amongst Egyptologists, anthropologists and historians about the skin colour of those living in Ancient Egypt, some believe that they were more European, others more Asian and others believe they were black.
According to ‘The Story of Africa: The Peoples of the Nile Valley’ published on the BBC World Service Website:
The Greek historian Herodotus, for example, described the Colchians of the Black Sea shores as “Egyptians by race” and pointed out they had “black skins and kinky hair.”
Apollodorus, the Greek philosopher, described Egypt as “the country of the black-footed ones” and the Latin historian Ammianus Marcellinus said “the men of Egypt are mostly brown or black with a skinny desiccated look.”
Granted that this film is not being penned as a documentary or entirely accurate, it’s main aim is to entertain and bring in a profit, not to initially educate the audience so what does it matter if it is not 100% representative of life in Ancient Egypt?
When talking to Variety in November, Scott said “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up”. Naturally this has sparked outrage, leading to the #BoycottExodusMovie as they accused the director of ‘whitewashing history’.
Scott’s comment although inappropriate, is not surprising, less than 10 percent of the actors on Hollywood’s walk of fame are people of colour, this is not to say that there are not ethnic minority actors and actresses but that they are not as popular, supported or well known as their white colleagues. For example Johnny Depp played Tonto in ‘The Lone Ranger’, a character that is a Native American, but instead of using a minority actor the director and production team decided to use a well-known and popular face as it would generate more interest and ultimately more money.
Looking at the census for the United States of America in 2010, minorities made up 36.3% of the entire population, in the same year minorities only claimed 10.5% of the lead roles in a sample of 172 films. Meaning they were under-represented by 3:1, which is an astounding figure when you think that the 36.3% of minorities contains multiple races. Of these films 25.9% of all the speaking roles went to people of colour that number is not high enough, it has leading to misrepresentation and an ignorance of these issues.
Kia Makarechi of The Huffington Post explains that the roles black actors/actresses have been critically acclaimed for are characters who’s races are an integral part of the movie, meaning that they cannot be played by White or Asian or Hispanic people. However when the roles that need filling are racially neutral, meaning the actor can be of any race or ethnicity, 90% of the time colourblind casting favours the white applicants.
In order for things to change industry decision makers need to stop making excuses and arguing that there is a shortage of diverse talent, as there is not, but at the same time not adding nameless, faceless persons of colour in every scene to add diversity to every frame.
It is estimated that in 30 years or so, that in America, the majority of the population will be Hispanic, making the white population the minority along with African-Americans, Asians and Native Americans. The disconnection felt between ethnic minorities and the film industry needs to be repaired, if not it does not bode well for the future of Hollywood.
Video Credit: Star Wars YouTube Channel
Video Credit: 21st Century Fox YouTube Channel
Photo Credit: jboyega Instagram
Photo Credit: jboyega Instagram