John Boyega

(one of 3 musings on many matters prompted by ‘Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens’)

A serious thing is this: The lead character in ‘Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens’ marketing thus far is a young black man- a character called Finn played by English actor John Boyega. Writer/Director JJ Abrams and company have cleverly used Boyega to draw spectacular attention to the sequels because here is a black man- seemingly the hero- at the centre of the Star Wars universe. A shining example of the new multi-cultural world we live in, led by Obama’s America. It’s a seemingly revolutionary act, and has grabbed the attention of the world…

The first image of the Star Wars campaign was of Finn in a Storm Trooper outfit in the middle of a desert. Director JJ Abram’s strength is deconstructing Myth- not so much building it. He understands how to play with the pre-conceptions of Myths constructed by others, expanding the Universe they created: so a black man in a storm troopers outfit immediately punctures a hole in the order of the Star Wars universe and immediately captures attention. Cinema Blend Movie News says, “In the history of Star Wars the Stormtroopers have always been nameless, faceless characters. They have numbers, not names. They’re completely interchangeable. The fact that one of the men underneath those helmets is one of the new movie’s primary characters feels strange to a lot of people.” Abrams knows how to take us behind the curtain like that.

Immediately after the image of the ‘black Stormtrooper’ lead character appeared, protests arose with a #Boycottstarwars from racists who felt threatened that a narrative they loved- whose lead characters had been lily white for so long- was being integrated. They even said such a thing was akin to ‘white genocide’!!! This was accompanied by the other shocker that the next lead character sharing screen time seemed to be a young girl- Daisy Ridley playing the character of Rey- with the white male lead character, Oscar Isaac who plays Poe, shunted to the side in the marketing… The chorus of protests grew even stronger with the release of the 2nd and 3rd trailers with images of black Finn wielding what seems to be Luke Skywalker’s blue light saber. Already the buzz is that the first Jedi of the new generation is a black man.

I am worried…

star-wars.jpg.resize.400JJ Abrams- and the Star Wars trilogy- are known for their false trails and shocker reveals: “Luke, I am your father,” being the ultimate movie surprise… Abrams normally purposefully leaves wrong clues for audiences to reach wrong conclusions only to surprise them. It seems too easy that Abrams and company have revealed so much of Finn’s arc so soon- from Stormtrooper to Jedi hero. It looks like a decoy and fake. In fact, in contradiction of the rules of heroism, most of the footage of Finn thus far has shown him sweaty, frightened, breathing hard, and running. Not only is that the very stereotype of the ‘always frightened black man’ but it is also a perfect metaphor of the state of the young African-American male in police state America 2015. Even Finn’s use of the light saber is panicked and full of terror. My worry is this: Finn is not a Jedi. We are being tricked. Finn will die. He just happens to have the light saber. He fights the villain Kylo Renn, sacrifices his life for the girl Rey, Han Solo and others, and dies. The 2 white characters are the ones who end up being Force sensitive and Jedi. The black man dies. Again.

Of course I may be wrong, there’s no way to know this until the show opens. But- My worry is that the white racists have nothing to really be scared about. That this movie is in fact business as usual. The black man- no matter how seemingly heroic- will die.

Some people will immediately say I am over-reacting- it’s ‘only a movie’… However I will say this unapologetically- as a flip side of the white racists who launched the #Boycottstarwars movement: if John Boyega’s character Finn dies in ‘The Force Awakens’ or subsequent movies- from that moment the Star Wars Universe is dead to me. As much as I love ‘Star Wars’ I will turn on it and then turn it off. The stakes are too high at this moment. It is not just a movie. What is joke for schoolboy, is death for crapaud…

It would be disgusting beyond measure, if at this universal moment of #Blacklivesmatter- when we are battling against a culture that devalues black male lives, that continues to promote the narrative that the only good black man is a dead one, and where we are witnessing almost daily assaults on Black Male bodies by police and other forces- that the most successful and popular film in the world will uphold this terrible evil.

I am not over-reacting.

White cops are not killing black men because of an airborne spread virus- they are doing so because they have witnessed this act thousands of times in fiction and have bought into a narrative that is being sold to them through pop culture and mainstream institutions. That black lives don’t matter.

None of my meditation on fictional Finn’s fate is alien to Black People in the West. We are not allowed to relax, even in fiction. We cannot even Dream in peace. White supremist racism pursues us even in our entertainment, our leisure, and our Dreams…This is why the fate of fictional Finn matters to me- as it does to every single black person on the planet. Because REAL lives will depend on his fictional fate of life- or death. Pawn- or Jedi… The fate of Finn for me is just a lever to prise a lid off a jar we all have kept locked for far too long.

Every year any normal citizen in the West will see thousands of images of black stereotypes and black death- with hardly any countervailing images of black people as heroic complicated people with 360 degrees of personality, 3 dimensions, and with virtues like intelligence, bravery, discernment, calmness, inventiveness, introspection, mastery, superiority, possession of an ancestral legacy, etc… And who will live to the end…. The public definitely will hardly ever see images of black people- especially black males- as heroic, super-heroic, and triumphant.

For instance in the most successful film franchise in the world at present- the multi-billion dollar Marvel Comics superhero universe of films- apart from Samuel Jackson, a number of the most significant black male lead actors in Hollywood have already been cast as villains and have been killed. Jamie Foxx, Djimon Honsou, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje… Genius actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is due to play the villain Baron Mordo in the new Dr. Strange movie! Over in the DC Universe Will Smith is playing the villain Deadshot. On TV Will Smith’s wife Jada played the villainess Fish Moony in ‘Gotham’ and was repeatedly beaten, outwitted, and eventually killed. Icon Angela Basset has been playing a villain witch in ‘American Horror Story’ and was killed and banished to Hell. So the face of villainy in the superhero Universe- the most popular form of movies in the world at present- is black! And none of these Marvel villains were even originally black in the books! No hashtag boycott of race-switching for those characters!… This is happening whilst at the same time all kinds of peripheral white boy actors (like Chris Pratt) are being cast as super hero after super hero in the Marvel canon and promoted to the A-list in Hollywood and the world’s consciousness. This is the inequity of storytelling when it comes to black vs white lives…

If ‘Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens’ betrays its promise, and is in fact using our desire for a black hero and a new multi-cultural view of the world as a dangled carrot just to distract us and then sucker punch us with another black male death, it should be one of series of ‘final straws’ for black people to finally understand that in the West they are on their own, abandoned in a hostile land… Once and for all. In fact we should have this clarity even if it turns out differently for fictional Finn- because I wish John Boyega and his character the best. Because the truth is I don’t know what happens to his character in the stories. What I do know is this- the big picture- that it is out of my or our control. And that lack of control of our Dreaming and thus our Becoming is the issue: The reality that we African people still have to rely on narratives written, produced, and directed by others to serve our biological need to see heroes that look like ourselves must end. Must. Our belief that somehow Hollywood is benevolent and will be converted and integrated must end. It will not happen. It will always be one step forward ten steps back. The present reality of movie portrayals must be more fuel for our mission to own and create our own. Despite how the new ‘Star Wars’ turns out for Finn, despite how Steven Spielberg’s telling of the story of one of our greatest heroines- Harriet Tubman- turns out, we must recommit and reenergise our engines to find the resources to produce our own stories, our own Myths. We must write and produce our own heroic Epics for ourselves in a land that only wants to see us dead…

Thusly I am launching a new hashtag #Fictionalblacklivesmatter as a reaction to the constant devaluing of black lives in works of fiction in the West. It must end. The debasing of black lives in Hollywood movies and American and Western popular culture is the primary thing that poisons the minds of the world against black people- and black people against themselves! It is the primary sustainer of the narratives that white American policemen and young black boys in ghettoes hear in their heads when they encounter another young black male. It is what has devalued black life even before someone even encounters a black person…

We must change the stories that are being told. Now! It is pantheon of stereotypes so despicable and commonplace that it is amazing that black people have not succumbed en masse to them as yet. #Fictionalblacklivesmatter is drawing attention to the heart of the Ferguson problem: white-constructed debased black-narratives that sell black inferiority and eventually black murder. It begins with the stories being told. #Fictionalblacklivesmatter aspires to provide a chorus to a movement that already exists to flip that script.

© 2015, Rubadiri Victor. All Rights Reserved.

Posted on November 10, 2015, in President's Blog and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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