This isn’t a new state of affairs. As Maureen Ryan points out at Variety, 24 people have been brought on to “direct, write, or otherwise take the creative lead” on a Star Wars movie over the past 41 years.
Of those 24, just one (Leigh Brackett, a screenwriter on Empire Strikes Back) has been a white woman. The other 23 have been white men – up to and including the latest additions, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Zero have been people of color.
Star Wars is far from the only corner of Hollywood dominated by white men. The statistics are skewed anywhere you look, from festival indies to prestigious awards contenders to nine-figure blockbusters.
By hiring only white men, Lucasfilm actively choosing to reinforce the status quo.But make no mistake: By continuing to hire only white men, Lucasfilm is not helplessly reflecting some unfortunate but unchangeable norm. It’s making an active choice to reinforce a status quo that rewards white men while systematically shutting out anyone else.
It’s not that the white dudes of Star Wars have no qualifications. Benioff and Weiss, for instance, surely got the job in part because they’ve already proven that they can handle a juggernaut franchise with a fiercely devoted fanbase.
On the flip side, though, you could reasonably argue that their movie-writing résumé is spotty, that their writing on Game of Thrones leaves something to be desired (season 7, woof), that their work reflects some massive blind spots when it comes to race and gender, that fumbles like the Confederate announcement suggest they’re very bad at reading the room.
In other words, it requires a leap of faith on our part to see these guys as good choices for Star Wars. And that’s fine; the same could have been said about, say, Rian Johnson, who’d never directed a blockbuster-sized movie before The Last Jedi.
But it’s telling that this same benefit of the doubt has never been extended to anyone other than white men. Two years after Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy earnestly explained that they were waiting to find a female director with the right level of “experience,” the studio has yet to deem a single woman or person of color worthy of steering a Star Wars movie.
In fairness to Lucasfilm, the company does include women and people of color in some very prominent positions, including Kennedy and Kiri Hart, who serves as SVP of development. However, that doesn’t excuse the homogeneity of their writing and directing teams. There’s no reason Lucasfilm’s commitment to diversity has to stop with them, other than that they’ve decided it must.
As in any other industry, experience begets more experience. Johnson and J.J. Abrams get called back to do a second Star Wars movie because Lucasfilm loved their first Star Wars movie. Gareth Edwards and Ron Howard get offers because the studio has already seen what they can do.
Meanwhile, non-white and non-male directors are trapped in a hellish cycle of being unable to gain the right experience because they don’t already have the right experience. Lucasfilm has the chance to break that cycle by taking a chance on a non-male or non-white director, the way they’ve continually taken chances on white guys. So far, they’ve declined.
Well – that we know of, anyway. As of this week, there’s a rumor going around that “multiple” women and people of color have been hired for future Star Wars projects, but that their names are being kept secret for some unknown reason.
It’s troubling that one of the biggest fantasy franchises in Hollywood is only interested in what white men think the universe could or should look like. We don’t know whether this is true or, if it is, why Disney is keeping these hires hush-hush. (The cynic in me even wonders if this is a rumor planted by Disney to offset some of the bad PR surrounding the Benioff and Weiss hires.) For the purposes of this conversation, though, it doesn’t really matter. We can only judge the choices we know Lucasfilm has made, not the ones they might have.
Moreover, by this point, the idea that we ought to be patient is, to be frank, some fucking bullshit. Fans are annoyed this week because we’ve been waiting for this franchise to become more inclusive, for four decades now.
For that incredible tolerance, the only rewards we’ve gotten so far are eventuallys and possiblys and maybe next times – and those only because we’ve pressed Lucasfilm on these issues, time and time again. It is no longer enough to hear that Star Wars’ creative team might get more inclusive someday, and we’ve nothing to lose by pointing out that they’ve continued to fail us.
The effect of these decisions, about who gets to be behind the camera, is not merely cosmetic. It’s troubling that one of the biggest – most beloved, most famous, most inescapable – fantasy franchises in Hollywood is, apparently, only interested in showing us what a very specific subset of humans think the world could or should look like.
To their credit, some of these white male directors have made active efforts to diversify the Star Wars galaxy. Heroes like Rey, Finn, Jyn, and Rose have all come to the forefront under the watch of Abrams, Johnson, and Gareth Edwards – three guys who don’t look like anything like them.
However, that’s a promising start, not a completed mission. To see what a difference a new perspective can make, one need only look toward Marvel, where Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is currently serving up a rare vision of a society untouched by European oppression, or DC, where Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman imagined what a land without men might look like.
This doesn’t just apply to films that are explicitly about female or non-white heroes. Consider how Taika Waititi wrestled with imperialism in Thor: Ragnarok, which is built around a white man named Chris. Or how Fast and the Furious quietly became one of the most diverse franchises running today, under director Justin Lin.
By refusing to let anyone but white men play in their sandbox, Lucasfilm is closing itself off to a wealth of new ideas that could keep this galaxy fresh and interesting, to people that might explore new corners that would otherwise go overlooked.
It’s deciding that this made-up universe needs to be defined by the same terms and restrictions as the one we’re already living in. It’s telling huge swaths of the potential audience that while they’re allowed to enjoy the story, it’s not really by or for or about them. It’s making Star Wars, a franchise which should be defined by its limitless possibility, feel small.