Lucasfilm Continues to Have a White Male Problem
Star Wars has a problem. And I don’t mean it’s propensity to cast white, British brunettes as their leads; not this time, at least. I’m talking about the problem they have behind the camera. In a 2016 interview with Variety, Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy said she was committed to pushing diversity both in front of and behind the camera. While one of those elements is beginning to flourish, the other continues to suffer at the expense of every wanting filmmaker who isn’t a white man.
They’ve made some great strides in front of the camera so far. The Force Awakens made big waves by casting Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac as their leads. That was followed up with another female led movie, Rogue One which featured a multicultural cast that included Mexican actor Diego Luna, Chinese superstars Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang and Pakistani-British actor Riz Ahmed. The Last Jedi introduced us to the amazing Kelly Marie Tran, the first Asian-American woman with a major role in the Star Wars cinematic universe, along with Laura Dern. Of course, there were fans that reacted negatively to the changes. Based on the box office reports, however, the majority of fans loved a new Star Wars universe that was a more accurate reflection of the world we live in.
Behind the scenes, it has been another story. Yesterday, Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were announced as the writers and producers of a new series of Star Wars films. This marks another series helmed by white men. Rian Johnson, writer and director of The Last Jedi, was also given his own trilogy. The Star Wars cinematic universe is 40 years old with 11 movies. All seven of the directors have been white males. Of the 11 writers, all have been white males except for Leigh Brackett who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back. Of the 10 producers, all have been white males except for Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwan and Allison Shearmur.
With Benioff and Weiss, Lucasfilm has now added two more white men – a duo that have already been criticized about the excessive violence towards women in Game of Thrones and for developing a show in which the Confederacy won and slavery still exists.
Where are all the people of color? Where are all the women, including women of color, in the director’s chair and the writer’s room? Disney chose Ava DuVernay to direct the $103 million A Wrinkle in Time, making her the third woman to direct a film with a budget this high. Why is it so hard for Lucasfilm to do the same? Instead of opting to take a bold step in the right direction, they’re choosing to maintain the status quo.
In that same Variety interview, Kennedy said that finding a female director was a priority. However, she had some reservations. “We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do Star Wars, they’re set up for success,” said Kennedy. “They’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience.” Original Episode 9 director Colin Trevorrow was chosen to direct the $150 million Jurassic World after making Safety Not Guaranteed for $750,000. Gareth Edward directed the $160 million Godzilla after he made Monsters for $500,000. Rian Johnson was chosen to direct the $200 million The Last Jedi after making Looper for $30 million.
Why are white men so often offered the opportunity to direct big budget films with little experience, but women and/or people of color are not? If you don’t give marginalized filmmakers the opportunity, how are they going to get the experience?
The production of Star Wars movies have been filled with white men and a handful of white women. It’s past time for a change. When will the growing inclusion on the screen be reflected in the storytellers off-screen? Kathleen Kennedy said she was committed to diversity within the franchise but her actions regarding writers, directors and producers tell a different story. Instead they continue to coast on safe choices. DC/Warner Bros. and Marvel both took chances with Patty Jenkins and Taika Waititi that paid off last year. The Last Jedi was about letting the past go in an effort to grow. It’s time for Lucasfilm and Kathleen Kennedy to do the same.