Include LGBT Characters in Star Wars Films

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Include LGBT Characters in Star Wars Films

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Started by Peyton Thomas

"The demographics within our business don't reflect society, and they certainly don't reflect the audience. There should be many, many more faces of color, many more women, many more gay people."
-Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm; USA Today, June 6, 2013

In mid-December of 2015, audiences around the world flocked in droves to the latest installment of the culturally iconic Star Wars series. In its opening weekend alone, Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossed a record-breaking $610 million on its opening weekend alone. As of this writing, the film has grossed $1.9 billion globally. Industry analysts speculate that The Force Awakens could become the highest-grossing film of all time.

All this despite conventional Hollywood wisdom that women and people of colour are not marketable enough to play leading roles.

In every element of the production process for The Force Awakens, Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm have vocally and intentionally prioritized diversity. J.J. Abrams, the film's director, spoke of The Force Awakens as a movie that he hoped mothers could bring their daughters to. Kennedy has praised her predominantly female story staff, and Lucasfilm has held meetings with female screenwriters and directors while making staffing decisions for future Star Wars projects. Those involved with the casting of The Force Awakens have said that new lead characters Finn and Rey were written without any specific race in mind, so as to open up new opportunities for actors of colour. 

If the bevy of women and people of colour flooding every corner of the screen during The Force Awakens is anything to go by, Kennedy has followed through on her 2013 promise to include "many, many more faces of colour" and "many more women" in Lucasfilm's projects. Promotional photos for the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story anthology film are similarly encouraging.

However, the last portion of Kennedy's promise - "many more gay people" - has yet to be fulfilled. A handful of LGBT characters have been introduced in canonical Star Wars novels and games; author Chuck Wendig told Entertainment Weekly that Lucasfilm had been "very gracious and accommodating" of his decision to include a gay protagonist in his novel, Star Wars: Aftermath. Nonetheless, the film series has yet to incorporate a single LGBT character. 

Little girls can attend screenings of Star Wars and see themselves in the heroic, fearless Rey. Little children of colour can dream of growing up to be Finn or Poe Dameron. But young LGBT people going through the incredibly painful and isolating process of accepting and loving themselves will find no mirrors in The Force Awakens.

In the wake of The Force Awakens' release, many commentators and fans have wholeheartedly embraced the notion of LGBT Star Wars characters, devoting immense amounts of time and energy to imagining Rey as a lesbian, Finn as bisexual, or Poe Dameron as gay. But this enthusiasm is not limited to fans. Series newcomer Oscar Isaac stated, during an interview with Ellen Degeneres, that he was "playing romance" in his character's scenes with Finn.

And Mark Hamill recently answered a fan's question about whether or not Luke Skywalker could be bisexual, writing, "His sexuality is never addressed in the films. Luke is whatever the audience wants him to be, so you can decide for yourself." He subsequently responded, via Twitter, to many more LGBT fans, who thanked him for supporting vulnerable LGBT youth and allowing them to imagine their favourite character as LGBT. If Lucasfilm were to establish an iconic character such as Luke Skywalker as LGBT, they would clearly have immense support from the public, as well as Hamill himself. 

Thanks to Kennedy's leadership on the issue of diversity, the Star Wars story is marching forward with nuanced, fully human women and people of colour at the helm. The commercial and critical success of The Force Awakens will no doubt have a tremendous impact on the film industry, and inspire more thoughtful and diverse storytelling about women and people of colour. In turn, young girls and children of colour will see a world of expanded possibilities and opportunities. The social good caused by prioritizing diversity is tremendous.

For these reasons, we, the LGBT community and our allies, believe that it is important and necessary to affirmatively include LGBT characters in Star Wars films. We call upon Kathleen Kennedy, Lucasfilm, and the Walt Disney Company to immediately prioritize the inclusion of complex, dimensional LGBT characters in upcoming Star Wars films.

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