The main cast of the new Start Wars trilogy has just been announced, and honestly the actors they’ve chosen seem very talented. But, as at least one observer has already noted, the number of new female actors added to the franchise can be counted with one finger—maybe a middle finger.
Likewise, the only nonwhite addition is an African British man, John Boyega (so very deserving for his turn in Attack the Block). No other minorities will, it seems, star in the new suite of films, but this doesn’t mean other minorities will have no presence. We remember Jar Jar Binks. We remember the Ewoks. We remember a whole variety of aliens, all of whom seem to give us back the racial and ethnic diversity missing in the cast in a funhouse way that is, for those who care about such things, not really that much fun. Mostly, it’s exhausting. What does it mean that the full range of human beings can only be represented by making some of us not human at all?
We also remember the lavish outfits that Princess Amidala wore, and the sets that melded machine worlds with faraway places that were once a part of what was called the Orient. Assuming such practices will continue (and how could they not without marking a complete departure from the universe the new movies seek to capitalize upon?), what this means is that the Asian once again will actually have a huge part to play in the new movies. This part will not be as human actors at the center of the plot nor even the “colorful” aliens who accompany them in their adventures. No, they will primarily be playing the part of the wardrobe and the makeup and the furniture and the buildings and the general ambience. Asians will be everywhere but nowhere. They will have left a vast cultural legacy behind in their mysterious departure from the frame of the camera. Their things will dance and jiggle and entertain while their persons will disappear, ghostly, an evocation of what cannot be human or perhaps of what cannot even be a metaphor of the human.
I could be wrong of course… some speakerless part or two will be allowed, a whisper of Lucy Liu or John Cho and Kal Pen, about whom the makers can say, “There, there’s one. We’re inclusive, as always.” Or maybe, in these hard economic times that never seem to get any less hard, there’s no need for such multicultural apologizing, so none will actually be forthcoming. Racial inclusivity is a luxury that can only be afforded during the most flush of times.
Final thought, because I don’t honestly know: has there ever been an Asian/Asian American actor in any of the Star War films in any capacity?
UPDATE: Turns out, I was wrong. Asians can be a metaphor of the human. Somehow I had completely edited out memory of the Chinese trade federation merchants! . . . now if only I can edit that memory out again.
image: Otis Frampton/public domain
© Min Hyoung Song 2014