'Star Wars,' meet culture wars, the fan-time menace
Has "Star Wars" become too politically correct?
The question has been raised before, as George Lucas' 40-year-old franchise has become more racially and gender diverse in its casting. The web is abuzz with, among others, thin-skinned conservative critics who detect what they see as increasingly unsubtle liberal political messages.
Of course, as a long-time fan, I know that criticizing "Star Wars" movies is part of the fun of watching them. We are like boxing fans who shout our advice at the fighters in the ring, only to feel frustrated when they don't take it.
Criticisms surrounding the latest offering, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," have raised alarms, as they appear to oppose what I think is one of the franchise's strengths: the racial and gender diversity of the cast.
Early signs of unrest appeared on the Rotten Tomatoes movie review website in the wide divide between the approval of professional critics (91 percent as the New Year's Day holiday weekend began) and the audience score (only 51 percent).
A shadowy self-described alt-right group calling itself "Down With Disney's Treatment of Franchises and Fanboys" in a Facebook page claimed responsibility for flooding Rotten Tomatoes with negative reviews.
Huffington Post quoted a "moderator" for the alt-right group who did not want his name revealed as saying the group has been using bots to bring down the film's Rotten Tomatoes user score. Rotten Tomatoes denies that, but what I find more unsettling is the group's promotion of what looks to me like their own version of political correctness, even as they criticize the "PC" of those who disagree with them.
According to HuffPo, the group is upset with "Star Wars" for "introducing more female characters into the franchise's universe" and putting such manly heroes as Poe Dameron (the star fighter corps pilot played by Oscar Isaac) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in danger of being "turned gay."
Men should be "reinstated as rulers of society," the "moderator" reportedly said, adding that's why he voted for President Donald Trump.
Although the "moderator" would not give HuffPo his name, the website said, his sentiments closely resemble those of alt-right leader Richard Spencer. He infamously organized the notorious Tiki torchlight march in Charlottesville, Va., last August that began a weekend of racially charged clashes and one woman's death.
In a video chat that went viral on YouTube, Spencer mocks the mega-hit movie as the latest product of liberal "SJWs" -- social justice warriors -- and the entire "Star Wars" series as "racialized as it never was before."
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Among other gripes, he knocks the movie for featuring a "girl ... who acts like a man" in its lead (Daisy Ridley as Rey), a "black guy with a heart of gold" (John Boyega as Finn) and villains who are all "men, mostly white and ancillary." Message? "Wise SJWs," says Spencer, "can't trust these high testosterone flyboys."
Everyone has his or her own opinion, but hearing Spencer's opposition to "The Last Jedi" only made me enjoy the movie even more.
I'm old enough to remember when the only people of color in major science fiction movies were green or purple and came from other planets.
I was excited when the "Star Trek" television series broke the medium's color line in the 1960s with a racially diverse crew on the Starship Enterprise. I was also relieved. Hollywood was recognizing that, yes, earthlings of color have a future, too.
Nor was this a trivial matter among true social justice warriors. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a fan, as multitudes of us were, of Nichelle Nichols who played Lt. Nyota Uhura in what was the first space-oriented series to integrate its cast.
She almost left the show after its first season to pursue other offers when King, calling himself "your greatest fan," talked her out of it, as she told NPR in 2011. Thanks to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's decision to integrate the cast, she recalled King's telling her, "For the first time we are being seen the world over as we should be seen."
Positive images matter. TV often is the only opportunity many of us have to be exposed to people who come from races and backgrounds unlike our own. The biggest value to science fiction, in my view, is its ability to free our minds from present day realities to experience a taste of how much better things could be.
(E-mail Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.)(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.