After the release of the Rogue One: A Star Wars trailer last week, I posted on Facebook five IMDB message board thread titles that I felt really showed the best/worst reaction.
The fanboys aren’t happy.
Later in the day, I had a talk with a gay Asian coworker about the reason behind the backlash. He didn’t get it. That’s when I realized what it might be. He’s had a lifetime of not seeing himself onscreen in genre films. Most fanboys haven’t.
Straight, white males are used to seeing themselves represented in nerd culture. From Ant-Man to Zartan, comic books and sci-fi are riddled with straight, white male characters. I grew up in a pretty white suburb. When we played Star Wars on the playground, everyone wanted to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker. No one was calling dibs on being Princess Leia or Lando Calrissian.
If a movie hero isn’t a white male, for the longest time, that movie was a mainstream flop. Granted, Steel and Blankman are arguably terrible movies. But Spawn were decent enough. And Hancock was actually good. The Crow was a cult hit and maybe that’s because Brandon Lee was only half Asian.
To the best of my memory, Val Kilmer in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the first time I even remember seeing a gay action hero on screen.
It’s been said that video games are the future of entertainment. They don’t have a much better track record, although I always liked to believe that Pitfall Harry was a nickname for Pitfall Harriet, and she was running across the jungle, not in an exercise of futility, but for Civil Rights.
Video games, for the most part, have straight, white male protagonists, unless it’s a game where you can create your own character. When those games offer a possibility where your male avatar can romance another man or your female avatar can romance another woman, it becomes a newsworthy and there’s backlash.
I’ve got news for the conservative parents who insist that Mass Effect made their son, playing a male Shepard, romance that hot male soldier. The game was impartial. Your son banged that dude because your son wanted to bang that dude. And believe me, he had to really work for it, just like I had to work to have my female Shepard bed down with Liara, the blue alien lady.
I like this new era of seeing diversity in our heroes. Any time I’ve played a video game where I could create my own character, I’d create a badass lady hero. And it’s not that I’m such an emotionally advanced and progressive dude. It’s just that if I’m going to stare at the back of someone running for 100 hours of game play, I want them to have a pretty butt. And that’s the same as my coworker who said that any time he can create his own character, he’d create a super hot guy.
The backlash with female heroes seems to be a pretty American thing. Luc Besson almost exclusively heads up his films with strong ladies. Mad Max: Fury Road is a technically an Australian film. And even more so, should have been titled Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road. American genre films, especially Star Wars seems to be the core of sexism and racism in nerd culture.
Was Mad Max any more groundbreaking than Star Wars: The Force Unleashed? Both movies are female lead requels of existing franchises with full realized worlds and cutting edge special effects. Star Wars was woefully snubbed at the Oscars. How many black people are in the entire Mad Max franchise? One. Tina Turner. Star Wars has Finn in a starring role and I really hope that it’s dropped casually and matter of factly that Poe is gay. Star Wars also has a much deeper plot then, let’s drive towards the left side of the screen for an hour, then turn around and drive to the right side.
The Force Awakens was dismissed by many as being a retread of A New Hope. I couldn’t disagree more. They’re similar only in that both stories are about people discovering their calling. Isn’t that kind of the case of all origin stories? A New Hope is basically just Luke’s story to blow up the Death Star. The Force Awakens is mostly about the quest to find Luke Skywalker. It isn’t just about Rey’s journey from survivor to hero. It’s about Finn going against his literal programming to be a hero. It’s about parents trying to fix their part in not being their for their son. It’s a much deeper film than Mad Max and A New Hope.
One of my biggest hopes was that if I ever had a daughter, I’d have a son first, so he could be the protective big brother. But in this age, especially in this Star Wars age, of having role models like Daisy Ridley, Felicity Jones and hopefully a better used Gwendoline Christie, I realize I don’t have to revert to ancient beliefs and hokey old fashioned thinking. If I ever have a daughter, she’ll get to live in a new era of Disney Princesses who don’t need rescuing. She’ll get to live in an era where Disney Princesses wield lightsabers and steal Death Star plans.