Last week, I, like millions of others, waited for the premiere of the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens during the Monday Night Football game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. For me, the trailer did not disappoint, and as I sat there with my son, a feeling of nostalgia crept over me as I thought back to the impact the original trilogy had on my own childhood. I watched the trailer then went to bed. The next morning, while browsing Facebook, I noticed that one of the top trending stories involved the trailer, and an apparent backlash. Staring at me from the screen, I saw a story about #boycottstarwarsvii. Essentially, the hashtag calls for individuals to boycott the new film because British actor John Boyega, of Nigerian descent, plays a prominent role in the narrative.
When I saw this, I could not help but wince and the absurdity and think about James Baldwin’s discussion about going to the movie theater to watch a western and questioning why he identifies with the cowboys as they fight and oppress the Native Americans rather than identifying with the subjugated characters. Along with the above hashtag, another story made the rounds the day after the trailer debuted. This story plays along the same lines of the hashtag, but it ultimately takes it a step too far. A website reported that a 53 year old man in North Carolina committed suicide because of Boyega’s prominence in The Force Awakens. The man’s wife found a note next to her deceased husband; it read, “Make America white again.” Within the note, the man wrote, “If white people aren’t in Star Wars, then or money must not be either. I’m tired of seeing N***ERS taking over great white films. I cannot live in a world being overran by blacks.”
At first, I thought the story was real, and I just couldn’t conceive of an individual killing his/herself over the prominence of a black actor in a film. Seeing the story in correlation with the above hashtag, I cringed at the very thought of a man killing himself and leaving such a racist note to his spouse and the rest of the world. A couple of days later, I discovered that the story was a hoax, satire if you will. This made me even more concerned because while it shocked me that a man could kill himself because of Boyega’s role, the underlying thoughts of his action did not necessarily surprise me; however, realizing that the story is actually a hoax made me think about the reasons why an individual would even think about writing this piece.
Nestled within humor lies truth, so seeing this article as humor or satire leads me to really question of the underlying factors that led the author to write such an article. I cannot speak for the author’s motivations, whether or not they were to pander to or counter the #boycottstarwarvii. I can say that the choice to do it in such a manner causes problems. Presenting a man who kills himself over the representation of characters in a film, based on their skin color, makes me think that more exists here. Right now, I cannot articulate that feeling, but I know that it’s something taint should be discussed in some manner.
To conclude, I want to leave you with a clip from Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. In the clip, Hooper X, a gay African American comic book creator, comments on the “racist” elements apparent in Star Wars. Hooper takes on the persona of a black militant to help the sales of his comic, and while this is the case, he speech holds some truth. Hooper says, “Those movies are about how the white man keeps the brother man down” because at the end it turns out that a white man exists between the visage of Darth Vader. While watching this scene, I can only think of the semiotics of language and where we get our ideas for connotations in regards to words like “black” and “white.” I think about the student’s comments to the minister in Ernest J. Gaines’s “The Sky is Gray” and about Walker Vessels comments about language at the beginning of Amiri Baraka’s The Slave. Walker says, “Brown is not brown except when used as an intimate description of personal phenomological fields. As your brown is not my brown, et cetera, that is, we need, ahem, a meta-language. We need some thing not included here” (45). Walker mentions that language contains slippage, different meanings to different people. Thinking about Star Wars, as Hooper comments, a clear distinction exists between good (white) and evil (black) because the villains appear in black, sometimes grey, outfits. This typically occurs in the first two films. Luke Skywalker dresses in all black in Return of the Jedi.
While the suicide story is clearly a hoax, some have purported that the hashtag is as well. Whether or the not the hashtag’s origin is legitimate or not, its mere existence should warrant a conversation on why someone would want to promote something of this nature. I know this post is semi-rambling, but I am trying to deal with these topics in regards to the cultural phenomenon of Star Wars and wondering how to possibly bring this discussion in to a classroom setting. Have any of you had classes where you have talked about the boycott Star Wars hashtag or the bogus news story? If so, let me know in the comments below.
Jones, Leroi. Dutchman & The Slave. New York: Quill Books, 1964.