A day or so after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a friend who had just watched it messaged me the following: “Did you like Han Dago?”. It took me a moment to realise what she meant. Then I replied, “I hope he ends up flying the Millenium Falconi“.
Apologies to sensitive readers, but it’s a thing we do. In fact, it’s a thing many of us from non-Anglo backgrounds do. And we do it with gusto. We do it to claim our space. And my friend knows I’m a proud wog-boy (dago, for our North American cousins), and knows I always appreciate non-Anglo casting, so she was keen to see what I thought of Oscar Isaac.
Now while I probably wouldn’t turn for Oscar (he’s no Don Hany – Google that fine Lebanese/French/Australian), I do love his work. The brilliant David Simon/HBO series “Show Me A Hero” and the film J C Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” were both heavily fueled by his powerful performances. Even subtler turns, such as in “Ex Machina”, are a pleasure to watch. He’s an actor who’s hard to take your eyes off. And, hey, he’s a good Guatemalan boy with big eyebrows and a wonderful mix of machismo (it comes from the Spanish, after all) and openness. Why wouldn’t I love Han Dago?
My friend started a thought process which, I’m embarrassed to say, I hadn’t considered before: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not only the most culturally diverse movie of the “Star Wars” franchise, it’s quite possibly (outside of Fast and Furious 7 – which is brilliant, by the way) the most diverse major motion picture to come out of a major Hollywood studio in years. Here’s why that matters…
Back in early November of 1977, I dragged my parents to the The Roxy cinemas in Parramatta (what a great cinema – Google that too…if you can take your eyes of Don Hany for a moment) to see Star Wars (the New Hope tag, while in the opening scrawl, came later). Sometime prior I’d seen the original (and somewhat weird and creepy) US trailer and it had ignited something inside me. So, not long after its release I dragged the folks to The Roxy, sat transfixed for 90-odd minutes, then stumbled out into the light, trying to explain The Force to my parents (my mother had been a Carmelite nun so, in hindsight, it’s odd she didn’t get it). It sparked something HUGE in me.
While I’d been watching Star Trek reruns for some time, and had already started writing little stories featuring Dr Who and the characters from Space 1999, this was different. I immediately began writing “Star Wars” stories, in particular the continuing adventures of Han Solo (who was occasionally joined by Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and others). Empire came out and my obsession grew. Empire was more subtle and adult, as I was becoming (HAH!), so it was perfect timing. By the time Jedi came out, though, with it’s Ewoks and return to the simplicity of A New Hope, my interest had waned. Blade Runner had come out just prior – and I understood it…well, kind of. I was moving past “Star Wars” into more adult fare.
Then came ‘The Prequels’. Then we wept and put “Star Wars” behind us. Then, years later, came rumours, and rumours of rumours. Then suddenly and unexpectedly we had Star Wars: The Force Awakens – a New Hope reboot with a bit of Empire pathos mixed in for good measure – and we rejoiced. However, in the intervening years between those first films and now, I’d become a die-hard, quota-based, affirmative-action-on-ethnicity-and-gender proselytiser. So, when an athletic white girl, a Nigerian Brit, and a Guatemalan American (possibly playing a gay character – yup, I’m making the call) walk into a bar (well, a castle), my rejoicement was further enhanced.
But why does it matter? Well, quite simply because that’s the world we live in (sorry angry white folks). It’s full of brown and yellow and black people. As well as gay people, and transgender people. Even women. Crazy! And here’s the kicker: white folk are in the minority across the world (roughly half the population of Earth is South or East Asian, whereas caucasians only make up 15%) – and clearly some of them feel it, becoming confused, dissociative, and angry.
For the rest of us though, seeing more brown and black and yellow (and women’s) faces on our screens, big and small, brings real comfort. I still remember seeing Robert Blake in Baretta in the late ’70s and thinking, ‘He kinda looks like me’ (Blake, born Gubatosi, was of Italian heritage). And in Australia in the early ’80s we had Kingswood Country which featured Lex Marinos (a Greek) playing Bruno Bertolucci (an Italian), who was smart and well spoken and enjoyed taking the piss out of his VERY white Australian father-in-law (and could still drive around in a purple Valiant – yes!).
It’s not tokenism. It’s a proper representation of the world. Hell, it’s a proper representation of much of your street, I suspect. And before you say, ‘Wait! On a DNA level it’s been proven we’re all the same’, this goes beyond colour and appearance. This refrain, I suspect, comes mostly from a good place inside well intentioned people, but it has the effect of homogenising non-Anglos and defusing our various cultures so we’re all playing cricket – which I don’t mind – and watching American sitcoms – which I like less. John Howard, Australia’s 25th Prime Minister, closed down the multicultural cabinet portfolio mid-90s, along with a couple of key agencies, and called for ‘One Australia’. Undoubtedly for him that meant LOTS of cricket.
So, instead of being scared of the unknown, or wondering what those two Iraqi women are saying when speaking Arabic or Kurdish on the bus (no, they’re not talking about you), be empathetic. You know that feeling you get when you’re overseas in a non-English language country and you’re swimming in a sea of voices you don’t understand? That’s what it’s like for a lot of us, or was for our parents. And you know what, difference is important. It’s essential, genetically speaking (ask a geneticist – not a EU-genicist, however.). It’s makes the human race as a whole physically stronger.
In the meantime, enjoy the new “Star Wars” films in all their racial and gender (well, not so much gender, unfortunately) diversity glory. I hope you rally behind John Boyega’s Finn – a truly unusual presence in such a huge franchise – and , and Ridley’s strong, spirited and caring Rey, and Oscar Isaac’s swaggery, Hispanic Han-ness.
Because the Force is with all of us – not just the white ones.
Oh. And BB-8. Because he’s just so damned cute!