Stop Calling the Force Awakens Racist!

John Boyega

I don’t normally single out articles, but it seemed necessary to call out some bullcrap when I see it. And no, I’m not talking about the Oscars…at least not this time

Earlier this week, I wrote about the issues we all have with the Oscars and deservedly so. The current system does nothing to promote diversity and is a strong reflection of where the movie industry rests as a whole. I quoted the demographics of the AMPAS because it’s a pretty clear picture of the lack of diversity in the academy and helps explain the disparity. You don’t have to read into it, it’s fairly simple and easy to explain what’s going on. Getting it to change may be a different story, but presenting the facts isn’t. However with the article below, that’s not exactly the same case. I’ve included the link here and at the end, so you can make sure I didn’t take anything out of context. The article is challenging the notion that Star Wars: The Force Awakens IS NOT progressive at all and actually quite racist…. a film headlined by a black male lead and white female lead…is there something I’m missing??

Star Wars VII is far from progressive. The movie still promotes age-old stereotypes of black men. 

Let’s look at Finn, played by Nigerian-British actor John Boyega. He has been ripped from his family and forced to work for his captor. Sound familiar? Finn’s life story casts him as a slave.

And how does Finn get his name? He starts the movie with a name given to him by the original slavers, FN-2187 but then is named “Finn” by Poe Dameron, a white pilot. It reminds one of Kunta Kinte in Roots, who is forced to take the name “Toby” by his white slaver. Some read “Finn” as his liberation name, but I see it the other way around. Star Wars’ “Toby,” truly liberated, should have picked his own name. 

Finn is a buffoon. He’s a stormtrooper, trained by the evil First Order, but he can’t fight — Rey, the film’s female lead, is a much better fighter than he is. 

“We got a character who couldn’t win one fight on his own, who repeatedly needed saving, who didn’t get a ‘traditional’ win,” writes Greg Anderson-Elysee, a self-described “black nerd” on comic news site the Outhousers.

He can’t fight but he’s also not savvy. When Han Solo tries to subtly signal that he look in a certain direction, he’s confused by the pantomime. And when it’s time for him to be competent, what is he competent at? His special skill that earns him a place in the Rebel plot to destroy the bad guys’ evil base: He was a janitor there once. Really, Disney?

(Before I dive into this, I should note that one of the articles used for Cherelle Cox’s piece actually describes my feelings towards Finn quite nicely. The link up above for, The Outhousers, is excellent, but it doesn’t look like Cox liked their analysis)

Hmm, where to begin…

First, the hero growing up in captivity or being separated from his or her normal surroundings / family is a common literary device. It has been for centuries; I understand the historical slavery argument, but dropping that card every single time becomes problematic really quick. Considering that the First Order isn’t really concerned with color, but more like how many kids can we throw in armor and make them pew pew, I have to call this one out of bounds. I know there’s a lot of precedent for black characters to be put in these situations, but they usually get relegated to side or bit characters afterwards, which is not the case here.

Additionally, receiving a new name is also a common literary device too so we again can’t throw a racist flag for that one either. I mean even in just the Star Wars universe, the number of Darth’s or bounty hunters running around with new or different names is staggering. The logical thought for most would have been this (If they weren’t equating it to slavery): FN-2187 would be his stormtrooper “slave” name and Finn his “freed” rebel name. The author decides that they see it the other way, but for what reason? You would be condemning Finn’s relationship with Poe by interpreting it that way. You could throw the flag, but you would also have to invalidate his new friendship because otherwise this point just doesn’t make any sense. Is Poe enslaving Finn? No, Finn asked for his help to escape and not to mention Poe was screwed without Finn. No one is stopping Finn from choosing his own name, but he’s clearly someone going through a lot. Choosing a new name might have been lower on the totem pole which included things like escape the freaking base!!!

Saying that Finn can’t fight in a universe where he’s the most accurate stormtrooper in existence speaks volumes to how far off this point is. He probably hit more targets and racked up more on-screen kills than any of the original trilogy troopers. Being trained by the First Order isn’t exactly a compliment. The movies have never made an effort to strike fear in our hearts with the stormtroopers (except maybe the beginning of A New Hope). Why are we holding Finn to a higher standard? If you want to blast every Star Wars for that, be my guest. But get angry about all of them, not just one. You can call it bad writing or inconsistent, which it is, but I don’t think you can call him a baffoon…speaking of which…

How is he a baffoon? Yes, he provides some comic relief and if that was the actual argument (stereotypical black guy whose only role is to be funny), then I would listen to it, but that point wasn’t made by the author. Finn does provide comedy, but it’s done in great and memorable ways. He steals so much of the movie with his innocent approach, putting him front and center for most of the major events.

I know that we got baited and switched because of all the marketing and promotions highlighting Finn with a lightsaber. There were black nerds everywhere excited to see a black lead who would be a Jedi (not a knock on Mace Windu / Samuel L. Jackson, but he wasn’t a lead) and potentially have a hand in finding Luke Skywalker or having a connection to the Skywalker lineage. Having those hopes dashed didn’t feel too good, but it’s not like we received a terrible character out of the switch. Calling Finn the next Jar-Jar is honestly insulting to the work John Boyega put into the character. Sometimes, there’s moments to call out racist bullcrap when it rears it’s ugly head. This just isn’t one of those times; because with all the other cinematic or structural issues surrounding The Force Awakens, a racist undertone just isn’t here.

The key will be how does Finn grow after the experiences of Awakens because like Kylo and Rey, he is trying to learn more about himself. The 7th installment throws us back into the universe with new characters who are in flux. Kylo Ren is impressive and clearly a very powerful force user, but he’s immature. He can fight, but as the film suggests, he needs to complete his training. Yes, Rey beats Kylo, but she’s just as inexperienced as the rest of her generation. (As our theory suggests, there may be more than meets the eye in regards to her training) Finn has been brainwashed to believe he only had one thing to do, but now that the slate has been wiped clear, he has to figure out what’s next for his life. In all due respect to the author, I can’t agree with their assessment because it misses all of the growth that took place. You can look for the boogeyman in this script and you will find it. But I can just as easily look at as I have just done and find an excellent character. There are so many new fans of the series who will have a new appreciation for Star Wars and finally have another major mainstream black hero to root for. And trust me, they will not be rooting for a baffoon.

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