Star Wars controversy shows issues with inequality
June 1, 2016
Filed under Opinion
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It’s early January. The heavy smell of popcorn and artificial butter-flavored grease wafts over me as I enter the theater, I can’t decide if I’m feeling excitement or worry for the particular movie we’re heading to see. It’s difficult not to be excited for the comeback of my favorite franchise since childhood, but it’s just as difficult to not to be skeptical, and I’m honestly nervous I’ll be leaving utterly disappointed in about three hours. The lights go down and there’s a brief silence. Suddenly, the speakers explode with the all-too familiar sound track, and the screen flares with the traditional logo of the Star Wars saga.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out as the seventh installment of the Star Wars franchise on December 18, 2015. Raking in $119.1 million in North America and $529 million from the global box office on opening day, the action-packed sci-fi movie proved to be a sensation and all my previous fears were forgotten.
But like all great movies, there was, and still is, opposition and controversy. In the case of Force Awakens, that controversy goes a lot deeper than many of us may realize.
If there was one thing I found inspiring it was the portrayal of the young, intelligent, and strong protagonist Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. Abandoned on the planet Jakku at a young age, the audience watches her on her journey of self-discovery. Her show of bravery against the relentless First Order and even against her own destiny has made her an inspiration to women of all ages. She is just the strong, independent female main character we have been painstakingly waiting so long for. And yet some just can’t help themselves and feel the need to set her background to the minor, male characters.
Many of you have probably heard about the controversy in the toy industry–particularly with the toy company Hasbro. Several months before the movie even came out, Hasbro released several action figure sets featuring characters from the movie–save one. It was next to impossible for anyone to find a set that included Rey, the main character, and people ended up having to settle for random storm troopers and First Order personnel. Even in the Monopoly game, Rey was not among the pieces, Hasbro instead choosing to use Finn.
The outrage of it all led to the popular hashtag #WheresRey, placing the toy company under a lot of heat from the fans–among them, JJ Abrams himself, remarking how it was “preposterous” that the main character wasn’t properly represented. Hasbro was finally forced to include Rey in toy sets and the Monopoly game, responding to the fans with poor excuses for her exclusion, such as it would’ve been a ‘spoiler’ for them to include her.
People have also tried to insult Rey by calling her a Mary Sue’. For those of you who don’t know, a Mary Sue is a character that is ‘perfect’ and is competent in too many areas.
Let me say this once, and only once: Rey is not a Mary Sue. People are just saying that because she can actually do things and isn’t just there to be pretty. First off, Rey isn’t competent in too many areas”. Okay, so yes, she’s a mechanic, yes, she’s a pilot, yes, she can beat off a group of bad guys with only her fists, But when you think about it, that’s all she can do. It’s a lot, and it’s a helpful lot, but it’s not everything. It’s only what she needed to survive, what she learned so she wouldn’t get killed or just die on Jakku. As for being a pilot: well, she’s always driving her speeder, since it’s her only mode of transportation. She can’t just walk everywhere–she lives in a freaking desert. Her speeder can’t be the only thing she’s piloted either, so yeah she’ll probably be able to fly the Millennium Falcon. And, for the Force and her lightsaber skills–um, hello, she has the Force, like Luke Skywalker and Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi did. In which case, it’s no wonder that she could wield a light saber better than Finn–that’s what she’s supposed to do. She’s a Jedi, he’s not. It’s just simple accuracy, people.
The issues with Rey all lead to the issue of women in film in general. Lately, people have been insisting there are too many strong female protagonists lately. But name any others beyond Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior, and Rey? Maybe one or two, but not many. Now name all the male protagonists you can name. You can’t even name them all. There’s so many you just know you’re forgetting one. So stop being such a misogynist and getting all fussy because suddenly young women are finally getting a few realistic protagonists they can look up to. The controversy over Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a mere peek into equality in the movie industry in general. Obviously, it’s come a long way–women have gone from secretaries and love interests to strong, independent protagonists. But many are still there primarily for love interests. It isn’t hard to see that women are still understated in the film industry.
One of the biggest clues to this is the Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test is a test for how well movies represent women, it uses three simple criteria: there must be at least two women in it, they must talk to each other, and they must talk to each other about something other than men.
Just the fact that such a tests exists is a testimony to the lack of equality in movies; and yet in 2014, only about half of movies passed it according to The Guardian.
I’m finding hope just from thinking about Equality in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To me it seems like a huge step toward equality in the movie industry as a whole. Just looking at the costuming is enough to show a huge leap in equality in the film industry: All the costuming of women in the movie made sense. It’s comfortable, it’s conventional, and it has nothing to do with the fact that they’re women.
Look at Captain Fasma, and the other female stormtroopers. Their armor was designed the same as any male armor: created for protection and functionality. Not to make them look womenly and attractive. That’s because it doesn’t need to be. You don’t need to see a woman’s breasts to know she’s a woman, because women are far more than just that.
We’ve come a long way when it comes to equality between men and women in the industry, and in general too, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
I won’t say JJ Abrams is the only director with such large support towards equality, but I wish there were more like him. Of course, it’s not just the directors job to bring equality to the film industry–it’s the fans too. Shooting down strong female protagonists, and women in general takes us a step back. Because when you insult and degrade them for being female, you’re attacking an entire gender. So before you make a nasty comment about a woman, fictional or real, just stop for a moment, and think: why is it so necessary for you to get angry over a small smigen of female representation? Why is it so difficult for you to watch a female protagonist, when most movies have male protagonists anyway? People need to stop whining about “Mary Sue’s” and start being thrilled that girls are finally getting the strong protagonists they deserve. Because representation does matter, and it’s about time women got more of it.