In 2015, the highest grossing film of all time in North America was released. That film was Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and it was led by a woman, a black man, and had a significant role for Guatemalan Oscar Isaac. There were critics of such casting but many had hoped it signaled a diverse future for a franchise which barely had 50/50 gender equality among its cast of characters (not to speak of ethnic diversity). And while on screen efforts have been promoting diversity (Rogue One‘s heroic ensemble has no white men in it), things have not been so forward moving behind the camera.
To illustrate, here are all the directors who have made or been announced to made a Star Wars film since Disney bought Lucasfilm: J.J. Abrams (Episode VII, Episode IX), Gareth Edwards (Rogue One), Rian Johnson (Episode VIII, his own upcoming trilogy), James Mangold (untitled Boba Fett film), Stephen Daldry (untitled Obi Wan movie), Jon Favreu (untitled TV show for Disney’s new streaming service). Similarly, here are all the writers who have worked on or been announced to work on a Star Wars in that same time period: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt (Episode VII); Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Gary Whitta (Rogue One); Rian Johnson (Episode VIII); Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan (Solo); J.J Abrams, Derek Connolly, Chris Terrio, Colin Trevorrow (Episode IX); Simon Kinberg, James Mangold (untitled Boba Fett film); David Benioff, D.B. Weiss (untitled project).
Of the twenty people just named, all of them are cis white men.
A part of me wants to write, “straight white cis men,” but not everyone in the entertainment industry is out about their sexuality. But I digress: this is a problem. And it is not a question of the talent of any involved, many (such as J.J. Abrams and James Mangold) have turned out some of the most highly praised films of this decade. Lawrence Kasdan was one of the writers who gave us The Empire Strikes Back, still considered by many to be the best Star Wars film of all time. Meanwhile, Jon Favreu helped jump start Marvel’s Cinematic Universe with Iron Man and then gave Disney their mega hit The Jungle Book.
So if all of these white cis men are talented, what IS the problem?
If a filmmaker (be they writer or director) is worth anything, they try to tell a story that is honest to some degree. They reach into their own past experiences and emotions to try and come up with things from their own life that are relatable. Be they emotions, experiences, or relationships. They write what they know and what they know is informed by their experiences in life. As part of the most privileged demographic in society, white cisgender men all have a very specific set of experiences. And while one can look past their own experiences to tell a more culturally inclusive story, that tends to only happen when the story requires such effort (such as Coco or even Hidden Figures). There is no prerequisite for a white cis man to think about what it’s like being black or hispanic or a woman or trans when making a Star Wars film. And so they tell the stories informed by their privileged experiences. Which is unfortunate, not only from a creative standpoint but from a business one as well.
Having a more diverse creative team behind your film – as history has shown – leads to a unique film. A film no one has seen before. Such examples of this include Get Out, Black Panther, and Wonder Woman. All of these are informed by the experiences of those who create them: people of color, women, and (in the cases of successful television shows like “Sense8”) trans people. They tell stories that aren’t common because the people who tell them don’t get as many chances as white cis men do. But beyond why Lucasfilm should hire more diverse creators from a creative standpoint, consider it from a business standpoint. Get Out and Wonder Woman were two of the most successful films of 2017, while Black Panther is the third highest grossing film of all time domestically. The only Star Wars film to make more money than Black Panther is The Force Awakens.
Diversity sells, both in front of the camera and behind it.
Boba Fett is played by Māori actor Temuera Morrison, making him the most signifcant Māori character in pop culture. While there is no doubt James Mangold CAN do well with the character, why not hire Māori director Taika Watiti to make a Boba Fett movie? Watiti had incredible success with Thor Ragnarok for Marvel and is a unique talent. Instead of having Jon Favreu work on the untitled television show, perhaps the Wachowski Sisters of “Sense8” should take over. While the trans siblings’ films have had a mixed reception as of late, “Sense8” was a critical hit for Netflix and shows that their ability to create unique mythologies is best suited for TV. And if the Lando movie starring Donald Glover moves forward, a black director would be the best choice in my opinion. Some candidates I would like to mention are: Jordan Peele (Get Out), F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton), Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Ava Duvernay (Selma), and Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights). But it doesn’t have to be “black people direct a black Star Wars movie” or “a woman directs a female Star Wars movie”. There is enough talent in the industry right now to have a whole diverse Star Wars cinematic slate. Filmmakers such as Justin Lin (Star Trek Beyond), James Waan (The Conjuring), Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2, The Darkest Minds), Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), even Rogue One‘s Diego Luna (who works as a director) could bring unique insight and experience to the famous galaxy far far away.
If Star Wars continues to only be informed by the experiences of white cis men, then the kind of stories the franchise can tell will become stale and accessible only to the most privileged. As Marvel has learned with Black Panther, diversity brings in new stories which in turn bring in new audiences which in turn brings in more money. At least start hiring an equal amount of women as you are men, an equal amount of each ethnic group and gender identity behind those cameras. So, to anyone at Lucasfilm who is reading this, don’t bring in more diverse talents just because it’s the right thing to do. Bring them in because it’ll make you a ton of money! Either way, you and us (the audience) wins.