Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens": The Hidden Racism

CAUTION: Explicit Language

Building off of the most popular series of science-fiction action epics in movie history, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was an incredible smash hit. The box office was immense, bringing in two billion dollars and having an astounding profit of over 780 million. The film was also met with extremely positive reception from critics and audiences alike. The film, though, still struggles with several instances of racial stereotypes and cliches through the use of the main character, Finn, who fell into a stereotypical black character. It only makes it worse that the character was an attempt change a large aspect of the Star Wars franchise, but seem forced and superficial.

The film features a few major characters. Finn is a former Stormtrooper, and he is also the film’s only black character. He was torn from his family to be forced to work for the First Order, until he reaches a point where he can escape after refusing to kill for his captors. As great a story as this may be cinematically, it is all too reminiscent of slave stories. Finn has been fully stripped of his identity in order to make him utterly subservient, in the same way many slaves were through familiar separation and degradation. Even when he managed to break free he is hunted down ruthlessly by his white captors. Only through the help of Rey is he able to evade capture, showing that he is still dependent on the help of more “privileged” (force sensitive) whites for survival. Although he is eventually able to fight his oppressors, in a story akin to that of Frederick Douglass, Finn remains unable to reunite with the community and family he has been torn away from.

In addition to the way his backstory is presented in a somewhat historically insensitive way, Finn as a character falls into some stereotypical traps and has an unfortunate and all too common lack of any sort dramatic agency. He is somewhat clueless, lost, but not so much so where it could be considered incompetent or intentionally stupid. What does resonate with the feelings of potential tokenism and helplessness, is that Finn seems only able to succeed when he is rescued by white people and then he is able to find his way from there.

Compared to the rest of what is widely considered to be an amazing movie, especially as it fits so well with the rest of the “Star Wars” series, is often considered to not be a huge deal. It can not be ignored, however, that some themes and stereotypes are still prominent in even films as popular and successful as “Star Wars.”

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