Star Wars: The Force Awakens (TFA) is generally regarded as a groundbreaking film for its leading roles being acted by a black man and a latino man, both of whom break the stereotypes that men of color are violent, sexual, and emotionless. However Kylo Ren and his potential redemption arc perpetuate the idea that white male criminals are simply “troubled boys” who will be excused their crimes, contrasted with the demonization and imprisonment of men of color.
Iconic opening scene to TFA. At 2:15 Finn is smeared with the blood of his fallen comrade
which causes him to make his choice not to kill (shown at 3:54).
Before the movie premiered, media buzzed with the news of a black stormtrooper, setting the stage for TFA’s series of broken stereotypes. Having two actors of color in leading roles defies the Hollywood standard that white people are the ‘default’ hero. Finn, the black stormtrooper, again broke the mold in the opening scene when he decided “[he] wasn’t gonna kill for [The First Order]” after being ordered to massacre a town. Finn’s refusal of violence contrasts the idea that black men are inherently aggressive and dangerous. His compassion for Rey to the point where he risks his life to save her from Kylo Ren, destroys the idea that black men are emotionless. It also breaks pattern by being an interracial relationship. Poe, another lead, is played by Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac, who has stated that he is working to make Poe defy the stereotype of the ‘Latin Lover’ by making the
role about Poe’s piloting skills rather than romance.
Despite TFA’s progressive portrayal of men of color, the movie and its fanbase enforce the stereotype that white criminals are not responsible for their actions. Kylo Ren leads a violent, terror-based regime, which should seem an obvious crime. Yet Kylo’s parents deny that their son is responsible for so much destruction, claiming that “it was Snoke [who] seduced our son to the dark side” rather than Kylo’s own choice. The fanbase has added onto this portrayal of Kylo with a steady stream of fan theories surrounding the Kylo Ren Redemption Arc, all of which boil down to “Kylo did some bad things, but chose good in the end so it’s ok”. That people are willing to excuse Kylo of murdering innocents and showing no regret for his actions seems to reflect the stereotype that white men who do bad things can be forgiven, no matter the heinousness of their crime. Although TFA defies stereotypes about black and latino men, the movie enforces stereotypes that white people can be redeemed from even the most vile crimes.