|Star Wars: Episode VII - The Search for the Missing Women|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Sunday, 04 May 2014 17:26|
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... George Lucas created a sci-fi film about a male boy who was trained up by his male mentor to become a male Jedi like his male dad. Along the way, he met a male friend who helped him defeat a male Emperor while flying a spaceship in a fleet of male men. He also fell in love with - and helped to rescue - a princess. She was a woman.
Not a very long time ago in Pinewood Studios - last Tuesday, approximately 26 miles away from where I am - J.J. Abrams continued George Lucas' saga with the reveal of a new cast including all the old familiar faces, plus John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson and Max von Sydow. He also revealed another member of the cast: Daisy Ridley. She was a woman.
Let's be honest. Almost 40 years on, it doesn't look great. The reaction to the cast has been pretty vocal from those wondering why the new film looks set to be Star Wars Episode VII: Sausage Fest.
The original trilogy was already heavy on the pork, with only one major female character. And even her they trussed up in a gold bikini and chains as Jabba's slave - because that's obviously the look preferred by an employer who's a non-human giant space slug. Princess Leia, of course, became an active lead figure in the rebellion. The notion that it's therefore OK in 2014 to have only one major female character, though, is as dated as the broadsword-style Lightsaber fights that took place between Obi-wan and Darth Vader on the Death Star. We've come light years in the FX department since then. In the SEX department? The force isn't so strong.
Some would argue that it's fine to keep up the tradition of the saga's casting, or that this is all a hugely pre-emptive overreaction.
The latter is certainly a good point; we haven't seen a script yet. The seating arrangement at the Pinewood read-through, positioning Daisy between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, might suggest she's their daughter. Hell, she might even be the lead character. But that's still a gender ratio of 6:1, not including the old guard. Pre-emptive? Sure. Overreaction? Well, maybe a little too. But not by much.
The important thing, if you want to be diplomatic about the whole debate, is that the Daisy is given a good - or, grit your teeth, "strong" - female character. After all, what would be the point in casting females in rubbish secondary roles that do nothing to further gender equality?
But that's part of the problem. Why wouldn't you cast them?
Yes, you want good characters in every part of the script, but a good female character isn't defined by the fact that she's female; a good female character is defined by her character. People are people, regardless of gender. The cast that Episode 7 has, from Adam Driver to Oscar Isaac, is full of great talent, but did they just not audition any women for those parts? Or did they decide that fans wouldn't welcome women in those roles?
You get the sense that Hollywood still considers sci-fi and action to be a boy's genre - and that boys off-screen can only identify with boys on-screen. Which is bollocks. Look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which has as many male fans as it does female. Or The Hunger Games, Frozen and Gravity, which dominated the UK box office in December last year. Yet we live in an age where Doctor Who has had no women writers. Where female leads in action films are made a big deal about because they're female (cf. Gina Carano in Haywire). Even in something as knowing as The Expendables, women are only seriously considered by studios if they're put in their own separate box: The Expendabelles.
Does it have to be a 50/50 split in the Star Wars cast between men and women? No. I don't want art to be produced in a world of by-the-numbers equality. I want gender to no longer be something worth debating. Where women actors are considered for roles as much as men because they're just as awesome. Imagine Sally Hawkins as a Sith. Lupita Nyong'o as a fighter pilot. Or Olivia Colman as a Jedi. I would pay to see all three.
Of course, this is made worse by the fact that it comes off the back of That Alice Eve scene in Abrams' last film, Star Trek Into Darkness. At the end of the day, we won't know the full picture until the film's released and we've seen the characters and plot for ourselves. Perhaps J.J. and co. really did audition women for all of those Star Wars roles. Perhaps they genuinely felt all of the men were better suited. (After Attack the Block, it's certainly great to see John Boyega get some recognition.) Or perhaps Star Wars: Episode VII will take place in a strange, sexist future where a gang of Jedis team up together to search for all the missing women in the universe. If that is the case, they should've started the search a long time ago - in 2014.