27 Jan Disney’s Scramble for Black Viewership
The return of Star War was a fan fiction roller coaster for many people across the globe. The Force Awakens, after its release last December, broke several records and has already become the most successful movie of all time.
Months before the release, some fans voiced their feelings behind John Boyega, who is of british born, African descent actor being one of the lead characters. #BoycottStarWarsVII brought out the racist, ugly side of sci-fi fandom for the first time I have ever seen. All that confidence can be credited to their white nationalist messiah Donald Trump for being open and unapologetic.
Even some white nerds felt threatened by racial diversity in a movie full of diverse aliens. Their delusion to feel some level of oppression made them refer to this as “white genocide”. There was a huge social media response that kept a strong buzz around this movie until it premiered.
Black people and many others drowned out the boycott crusade and looked at this movie as a big leap forward in diversity. However, Black people still failed to analyze how Disney manipulated this situation and used Boyega to secure a larger Black audience for future movies. We’ve become conditioned to the point where any role that is given to us is met with gratitude that is payed back financially through movie tickets, home releases and merchandise.
Disney’s response was calculated putting Boyega in the forefront of promotion, yet manipulative. This was a perfect way to secure a black viewership as long as Boyega remains in the series.
During the build up towards the movie premier, I thought Boyega would be the lead character watching the promotion and general media buzz surrounding him. After watching the movie, it’s evident that he only plays a role on a team of characters.
There is a difference between a singular lead character and a team that collectively works together. Disney did not put as much emphasis on Daisy Ridley(Rey) a female and Oscar Issac who is Hispanic. This wasn’t something I noticed on my own, a movie goer in this article also noticed the hype before the movie heavily favored Boyega and I’m positive many others did as well. The hysteria leading up to the movie made it seem like his role was actually bigger than it was.
During a movie premier before the public release, Boyega wore one Black glove and used the signature force choke hold gesture on the red carpet. The single black glove is a throwback to the lead character Luke Skywalker in the original films.
Luke Skywalker was part of a team of characters and while he didn’t do everything by himself, there is no doubt that he is the protagonist. The force choke-hold is a throwback to Darth Vader the antagonist.
Finn, Boyega’s character, is shown wielding a Light Saber in promotional posters. In the movie, it turns out to be the same light saber that belonged to Luke Skywalker.
In Force Awakens, not only does Finn have the inability to use the force in the movie, he gets knocked out in the final fight with the antagonist. Rey is the one who breaks through as the lead character with her ability to use the force, defeating the antagonist and returns the light saber to Luke.
Another calculated move by Disney was to keep the roles of the 3 main characters a mystery. The details of the characters were kept secretive until the premier essentially. The racist nerds who crawled out of their basements got emotional over a hyper token character while the resolution for the movie still predominately involved whites. Finn is not a traditional token and Andre Seewood coined this new term and explained John Boyega’s situation in this movie perfectly.
“Hyper-tokenism in a White film can be defined as the marked increase in screen time, dramatic involvement and promotional images of a Black character in a White film, while simultaneously reserving full dramatic agency as the providence of White characters by the end of the film.“
Now just because we receive one Black character in a predominately white film, Black audiences must be grateful for being thrown a bone. The only negative thing that happens to Finn is getting knocked out and we are happy he didn’t die like a traditional token.
It’s sad how white Hollywood has controlled the industry for so long, any roles Black people attain, Black audiences eat up without even thinking critically behind possible motives by the roles. We jump for joy behind any kind of progression from an industry that keeps powerful Black roles to a minimum.
We kick and scream for diversity and once we get it, it’s done half ass but we say thank you anyways for a feature in a major film. What’s worse is that we quickly forget overt racism Disney proudly showed in the past.
Disney Candy promotion
If you examine the recent movie The Princess and the Frog, Black people were so satisfied with the first Black princess that they overlooked critical covert racism from Disney.
The subservient friendship Tiana had with her white friend Lottie for one. The fact that Tiana was a frog most of the movie, instead of being a princess or just an actual woman to name a couple points. Representation is more about diversity and equality, it’s about children growing up with strong examples they can see themselves grow into.
We don’t need a Black man in Star Wars or a Black Princess from Disney to make children feel proud. Representation in entertainment is what children see on a constant basis and it’s up to parents to reduce how much TV/Movies they take in.
We have many stories that can be told, we just lack the resources that white Hollywood currently holds and that’s why we’ve been reduced to this problem of acceptance into the industry.
Hollywood has failed to show consistent representation with powerful roles for our people. When we do get roles they are typically negative, subservient or abusive and those are the ones to expect awards for. Since representation is only a game to them, my feeling is they might as well not throw us a bone at all.
Now coming back to Star Wars and assessing things globally, look at what happened in China’s version of the promotional poster. They diminished Boyega’s size and Disney didn’t even comment on the matter. In fact they brought 200 storm troopers to The Great Wall of China to help promote the movie.
Disney could have released any kind of statement but decided to remain silent. Boyega was also silent as well, which was puzzling after being so vocal about the boycott. It’s clear that Disney wanted to play to China’s taste in movies and allowed it to happen.
In one country they have Boyega being a focal figure in the movie while being Black and proud to celebrate diversity. In the next country they diminish his character on the poster and in the Chinese version of the trailer as well, while he remains silent about that issue. What makes sense in that particular situation is that Disney or China didn’t care so much about a Black audience.
Even if Boyega wasn’t pushed as a lead character, or wasn’t black, the movie may have been just as successful worldwide. I’m sure there were Black Star Wars fans from past movies and John Boyega’s casting and mystery character naturally made it more exciting.
Star Wars holds a elite status in fandom universe like Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings where people enjoy the fantasy to the point it becomes part of their daily life. That could be possibly why the manipulation on Disney’s part was met with very little criticism once the anticipation was over. This manipulation can only be described as capitalist greed to maximize profits and keep their supremacist agenda at play.
One thing is for sure, the success of this movie will only continue to perpetuate the role of the hyper token. He is the only Black character with dialogue in the movie while Lupita Nyong’os beauty and talent was converted to a Asian caricature.
We have to stop asking for progression from an industry that continues to hand pick which roles should win awards and who gets to play them. We have to stop showing gratitude with our money towards merchandise for kids and movie tickets after we say thanks to Hollywood for putting us on film or TV.
Peace and blessings to all.