By Curtis Houck ~
READER WARNING: The following post contains spoilers pertaining to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Writing in the December 24 print edition of The Washington Post, Style section columnist Lonnae O’Neal expressed her disdain for the hit film Star Wars: The Force Awakens due to it’s decision to have Daisy Ridley’s character Rey emerge as the lead heroine of the film who saves the day instead of black British actor John Boyeda’s Finn.
O’Neal maintained at the onset that she fondly remembered seeing the original trilogy as a young girl and was very much looking forward to this seventh installment, but quickly came to experience “myriad disruptions in the force, mostly around race and gender, part and parcel of an old Hollywood problem.”
As for why this was the case, O’Neal simply stated: “Spoiler alert: Not only does the hero of the film [Finn] not get the girl [Rey], he’s not the hero.”
The feminist writer argued that while the two new Star Wars leads “are affable and telegenic, and there are fun moments between them as they battle a gathering galactic tyranny,” there were no “sparks” between the two and “[n]othing like what any other lead in a sci-fi movie brings to screen.”
Taking a shot at how director, producer, and writer J.J. Abrams constructed Finn, O’Neal lamented that Finn started the movie as a Stormtrooper on “sanitation duty” (emphasis hers) and then “spen[t] most of the movie running scared while his co-star makes his status in the friend zone as clear as starlight.”
“He is not powerful in the way Rey is. And it’s not that we don’t appreciate the skill of the young heroine; it’s just that she seems empowered at his expense,” griped O’Neal.
After summarizing the roles of previous black Star Wars characters Lando Calrissian (played by Billy Dee Williams) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), O’Neal opined that The Force Awakens took a step back in creating a racially diverse Star Wars universe:
By contrast, the Finn character is remarkably anodyne. In important ways, a black character has moved from the periphery to the center of a blockbuster story. In other ways, Hollywood is still dancing around issues of intimacy and black heroism for a black male lead in a mixed-race cast.
She then quoted Black Reel Awards founder Tim Gordon, who agreed with O’Neal’s assessment: “I was looking for a little more heroism from Boyega’s character…Every time he picks up a lightsaber, he’s getting beat down and the lightsaber is getting taken from him.”
Turning to her concerns about sexism in the blockbuster film, O’Neal declared that there she “had a problem when Princess Leia reunites with Han Solo” because while “the two had heat” in the first trilogy, their reunion in the new one “is chaste, and while I don’t need a sex scene, I wanted some sense that this older woman is not on-screen simply to turn every part of her force over to the younger lead.”
This, of course, is completely ignoring the fact that their whole relationship had soured and the two had separated due to the heartbreak over their son Ben joining the Dark Side. It’s safe to say that having a child taking a turn away from good towards evil would challenge anyone.
Instead of celebrating how Rey had quickly mastered her Force powers and lightsaber skills in the climax with Kylo Ren, O’Neal teamed with Gordon to paint this not as an example of strong female becoming a young Jedi but as a disappointment since Rey isn’t a minority:
Rey “discovers her power quicker than anybody else in all seven movies,” Gordon points out. You rarely see the black character or the Hispanic character or the Asian character be that chosen person. Always, it’s the young white character who becomes “the one.”
Ultimately, both women and filmgoers of color always have to manage their expectations. Hollywood doesn’t change at the speed of light, or even the speed of life, Gordon says. “There are a lot of people in power who make decisions who have to kind of age out so we can get some more progressive folks who actually understand the direction this country is really going in,” he says.
Curtis Houck is a news analyst for the Media Research Center’s News Analysis Division.