the Jedi Council Forums – ‘Racism’ vs. ‘Actual Racism’

[This post may be altered or deleted by the mods since publishing this]

So, @StarWarsUK decided to lump Finn into the came category as mass-murderers Kylo Ren and Anakin Skywalker. In a tweet video about “good and evil is a matter of perspective“, their choice was met with immediate backlash and they ended up deleting the video. The lack of optics is staggering, but someone managing that account listened.


devilinthedetails (Jedi Council Member): ][…]At any rate, though, Boyega doesn’t really have to meet anyone’s standard of Christian conduct or belief, and I’m not really sure why that would be an evaluation criteria for him. I’d give him the same freedom of religion and from religion as I’d give everyone else.

Boyega is Christian himself. How he handles himself, what he does or does not tolerate from absolute strangers, as evidenced through his actions, is probably a reflection of his particular interpenetration of the faith.

Talos of Atmora (Jedi Council Member): ]I don’t think he would have been a watered-down Kyle at all. He probably would have been a different take on Kyle’s premise but with more trauma to start with and in the midst of a more radicalized faction. Which is just perfect material for a central protagonist. Has a lot more potential than Rey’s character ever had. John probably would have preferred being given material like that too.

Yeah, Finn ain’t Kyle Katarn, that’s just a disingenuous statement all ’round. The only thing the two of them have in common is that they’re Stormtroopers who befriended rebels and became rebels themselves after realizing the system they were apart of was corrupt. Beyond that, the two characters are practical oranges and apples sharing the same sandbox universe. Kyle is a literal superhero type character doing larger-than-life things (like single handedly stealing Death Star plans) and actually got to become a Jedi on his own terms.

Finn is one of many children who was abducted and indoctrinated and robbed of their agency, and never had one aspect of his character explored after the first film. Kyle chose to be a Stormtrooper, Finn had zero say in the matter, and no one has been remotely been interested exploring that or how he felt about it like they have with Kylo Ren’s soggy revisionist backstory.

afrojedi (Jedi Council Member): […]We didn’t catch executives saying things formerly esteemed Capt Scott Bethmann Ret. USNA Alumini Association Treasurer said in what he thought was a private conversation, but their actions appear to be consistent with them: Separate and minimize.

Like I mentioned in the Diversity thread, corporations gain everything by paying lip service to diversity and inclusion and lose nothing by backpedaling or never committing themselves to what representation means for marginalized actors or stories about specific people. It’s the first impression that matters the most. I don’t think they were throwing around racial slurs and like that guy was, but they didn’t have to be to cause harm. LFD worked to minimize Finn’s role, the last two movies, and that scrapped script, are a testament to that.

EHT (Jedi Council Mod): As I said, we can’t automatically assume actual racism is the reason for these actions… maybe they were insensitive to how things would be perceived by the audience, etc. So instead of using terms like “anti-Black” as if that status is just a proven or widely accepted fact, it would be better to simply discuss the situation and their actions without ascribing labels to them.

The thing is, a lack of optics and sensitivity to the depiction of Black actors, characters, or showing no consideration for your audience, is a form of “actual racism”. It’s how begin/passive racism works. Non-Black creatives can say or do things that won’t be widely accepted as harmful beyond the impacted groups until they do something considered unforgivable to the outside party. It’s why the insistence to ignore Black critique about Finn (within the context discussed) reinforces the issue.

Did they mean or not mean to do it?  I think ignorance is to harder to argue given the platform they actively sold these films on (diversity/inclusion) and who they ultimately catered to anyway. But ignorance also doesn’t make that harm less damaging or absolve it of the aforementioned, it just exposes implicit bias, and becomes a shield of deflection for fanbases to use in the future. Intentional or not, their lack of optics clearly effected how Finn was perceived within LucasFilm once the character became Black by virtue of his actor. “(maybe) It (probably) wasn’t intentional” doesn’t outweigh the consequences, which is why I never worried myself with their intent whenever I bring up the consequences.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve discussed how Finn was handled specifically through the lens of erasure as it pertains to that term and how LucasFilm has historically demonstrated issues with the portrayal of their Black characters.

Other times I’ve used terminology like “tone deaf”, “microaggression”, “implicit bias”, “racial bias” (conscious/unconscious), “empathy gap” (a whole movie dang dedicated to making Kylo Ren sympathetic while Finn is used as a punchline, denied such sympathy), and “dehumanization” (violent physical humor, drinking out of the trough, treating him like he’s an ignorant).

I’ve done it here and I’ve done within the diversity thread with no issue until now. And it’s odd that using that term to identify the underlying issues with Finn is more disparaging than calling something like Reylo sexist or abusive as it relates to the female protagonist. It’s a product of the creatives, if not a reflection of how unconscious bias effected Rey in particular (as a character they also championed as a feminist figure).

I don’t seek this stuff out, but it’s hard to ignore the disparity in how post-TFA writers have approached Finn with apathy in comparison to how they commonly approached Kylo Ren with an abundance of empathy, through said creative’s own text, films, or personal dialog. Fandom’s post-TLJ sentiments about Finn didn’t just spring out of the ether. Those were sentiments that were communicated (if not already shared) through the language of the writers in external material, TLJ, and how they engaged fans on social media. (The constant reiteration that Finn’s entire story in TFA was completely about Rey, and that he was selfish, came from writers like Johnson, Hildago, and Fry, and other writers reinforced it. Same thing with “he needed to learn to be brave”. It’s like none of them watched TFA.)

During and after TLJ, the writers and external media used the middle-point of the trilogy to hyper-fixate on the so-called “flaws” of Finn in contrast to how they highlight and assume the audience should buy into Kylo Ren’s “struggle” or Rey’s sympathy for Ren. That video the StarWarsUK twitter uploaded explained so much about how they see Finn, as does that baffling moment in Colin Trevorrow’s script where Rey tells Finn she believes “anyone can change” because he left the First Order (as if Finn was out here doing the same things Kylo Ren was).

Jason Fry (who collaborated with Johnson to write the TLJ novelization) states his disparities regarding Finn and Rose (particularly how he characterized Rose as bitter and jealous) weren’t intentional, but he reinforced marginalization of Finn and Rose all the same. Bryan Young’s Age of Resistance essays (and those comics in general) demonstrate what I mean about how they see Finn’s story vs. Ren’s. He appears largely dismissive of Finn as a character, going as far as to hope that Rey is the one to liberate the Stormtroopers and reunite them with their families, while Finn can her help her. A plot thread specific to Finn’s narrative is something one of the writers hopes he becomes subordinate in for another character.

I doubt LFD is going to come out and willingly self-incriminate by acknowledging their biases or prejudices regarding race played a factor in how the character was treated over the span of two films and not particularly handled well in the first. Not anymore than Starz or FOX will admit Orlando Jones being fired from American Gods, or Nichole Beharie’s leading/protagonist role on Sleepy Hollow being sidelined (like Finn) then killed, was a result of such bias (both companies deny race had anything to with it). 

Lucas admitted ages ago it wasn’t his intention to play into stereotypes with Jar-Jar Binks (and he had Ahmed Best come to his defense). He clearly wasn’t considering how the Black audience would pick up on those tropes, but that doesn’t mean Jar-Jar stops embodying those problems. Disney/LucasFilm could come out and say the same thing about Finn and Rey, but they don’t cease to embody the issues people picked up on and named. And like I said before, “it wasn’t intentional” doesn’t nullify the nature of their actions. It means the writers have issues they need to (and I hope they) reconcile with. It also just becomes a deflection point for the insular fanbase ready to jump Black fans who bring it up using the aforementioned term.

Kennedy says (at the 11th hour of the trilogy) the films were always about Rey and Kylo Ren (and there’s a film and two years worth of pre-TLJ material arguing against that) as Boyega expressed his discontent over the span of five months about what happened to his lead role. Kennedy has historically shown zero consideration for Finn/Boyega’s role. (That vague tweet from Phil Lord regarding Solo and what might’ve happened to its Black characters doesn’t help matters either).

Boyega’s advocation for Black creatives behind the scenes, why he feared losing his career for speaking out against racism (at all), and how he’s spoken about his role post-TFA, trends toward saying what Jones has been frank about and what Beharie has diplomatically said without naming names. It’s why that Polygon article drew parallels to Boyega’s real life actions while criticizing the films for leaning into stereotypes with his character, and why Tor.com reckons the franchise won’t examine the implications of its allegories with regard to how its Black characters exist alongside them. Obviously, Boyega’s suggested he might work with them again, but that doesn’t make their lack of optics any less a form of erasure that Black actors have historically had to grin and bear.

I’m not asking you to reconsider your terms or guidelines (that’s unlikely to happen). In any other case, I would’ve let this lie, but it’s how your phrasing comes off that rattles me. I am asking you to consider how the phrase was being used (it’s specifically, essentially). I haven’t been making assumptions, and I’m not attacking/bashing LucasFilm. I’ve been naming a pattern of erasure as I’ve seen it crop up throughout this trilogy and as I’ve seen it appear in other media with Black leads or co-stars (Sleepy Hollow, The Flash, Supergirl, American Gods, HEROES, Doctor Who).

For me, it’s been long enough that I can’t dance around the pattern in how LucasFilm/Disney has approached Finn or other Black characters without naming it. I have zero benefit of the doubt or empathy left to offer them. For this particular forum space, especially given the nature of the fanbase, maybe that’ll always be perceived as bashing (especially since the company in question associates with this site, so I get it. You still want them to engage with your website without issue).

But for me it’s simply recognizing the attitude that springs from learned behavior, passively or proactively. Doing otherwise feels a little too much like asking me to become complicit in the gas-lightning I had to deal with from this fanbase for the last six years whenever this topic or that phrase comes up. Especially with bad faith actors in here using less ‘harsh’ verbage. That doesn’t set right with me, so I’ll do the smart thing and step away.

1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    An excellent article examining how John Boyega and his character Finn have been treated by Lucasfilm and the fandom.

    Like

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