Since I was a child growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I’ve witnessed the rise of both feminist and Black feminist narratives in society, academia, and media. And with it, their wet-dream of subservient men and boys across race, class, and context, all socialized to serve the Feminine Imperative of women’s needs and interests.
What does that look like? Well, you’ve seen it for years. Here’s an example in an AT&T commercial.
I remember seeing scores of female characters invade films, TV shows, and cartoons that once targeted boys. Sometimes they even developed female-centered versions of male-centered shows such as She-Ra, sister to He-Man, who easily kills him in the comics (both of whom are returning by the way. She-Ra to Netflix in 2018 with a possible movie and He-man a movie.
Fun fact: there was little effort to do the reverse, as neither Barbie, Strawberry Shortcake, Jem & the Holograms, or many others had versions made to target boys). Even as a kid, I noticed that there was always a push to show how they were just as good as the males, a feat usually demonstrated by them matching males in all endeavors. Over time, I began to notice a newer trend in pop media: female supremacy. Now, women and girls (hell, even in female monsters such as the alien queen in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), were better than their male counterparts at all things. They were always smarter, stronger, wiser, more capable, better leaders, more skilled, always right, better fighters, etc. From there, the Wonder Womans and Supergirls routinely bested their male counterparts. And strategically so.
This has seemingly become the new mandated norm, and it’s so generationally prevalent that my 12-year old has rarely (if ever) seen a male beat a female at anything in media. Even things that men can regularly beat women at are downplayed because comparisons are outlawed. So much so, that when two friends of mine who play tennis and basketball (respectively) shared with me that the lowest rated professional male players perform at a higher physical level than the highest rated female players, I was stunned. Although I’m not personally invested one way or the other about either sport (I don’t watch any of them to be honest), I was still blown away to hear it. Mainly because men aren’t allowed to be considered better than women at anything. And to point it out openly is a problem (think John MacEnroe’s public shaming at critiquing Serena Williams and highlighting the difference in men’s and women’s tennis). Even critiquing women using statistics and facts regarding performance levies the well-worn ad-hominem trope of being a misogynist.
In such fashion, the last few Star Wars movies reveal Disney’s plans to crystallize gynocentric narratives as the new norm. Why? Simply put, since the 1970s, when second-wave middle-class White feminists protested to join the ranks of labor (something poor Black and Brown women were already doing), industries began to notice that nearly overnight there was a new consumer market to sell to: women. They also discovered that men, too, prioritized purchasing for women. Soon, the media industry would catch wind. Initially beginning with talk shows and romance films, they also prioritized female-centered narratives in most genres.
Action films that used to center male leads and stories now had to have a female counterpart that c/would outdo the male lead in some key fashion. (Some purely random examples would be any H.R. Giger-inspired Alien movies. Or Ben Affleck’s Daredevil (2003) where Jennifer Garner’s Electra soundly beats the main character, despite his superpowers. Or the film The Core (2003) with Aaron Eckhardt and Hilary Swank where Swank’s NASA astronaut superwoman “Beck” fixes geologist Dr. Josh Keyes’ own invention when he gets stuck. On his own damn invention. Even though he holds a Ph.D. And he’s the one who figured out that the world was going to be destroyed. Uuuummm..okay. Or Geostorm (2017), where the lead engineer who built the space station he’s sent to investigate has to be corrected by the woman who now runs it as to where to find a central control room (they throw in his sexism to boot when he meets her and doesn’t anticipate that she’s the new director). I could name a million more…but those just happened to flash across my TV screen while writing this.
The latest three Star Wars films, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Star Wars: Rogue One (2016), and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) all subscribe to these new norms—especially since Disney bought them from George Lucas for $4 billion dollars. Considering this is the same company that popularized princesses while still not allowing for Black princes…I’m worried…but I digress. 😂
The Force Awakens introduces a young force-sensitive woman named Rey who, without training, bests a twice-trained warrior (by Luke and Snoke) named Kylo Ren who wants to be the next Darth Vader. It also introduces Lupita Nyong’o’s “Maz Kanata,” another force-sensitive female who is a short, ageless matriarch (a female Yoda) that guides Rey—as well as patronizingly chastises Han Solo about going home. Of course, in his elder years he’s still a juvenile-like rascal who needs a woman to tell him to “go home” (code for grow up, service women’s needs and return to Leia, despite that no one asked him about his own pain and why he left in the first place). Rey needs no Jedi training, telepathically dominates Kylo and uses the famed Jedi mind trick to escape captivity without any help.
My short assessment? This film is a White
woman’s masturbatory sci-fi wet-dream.
In Rogue One, female characters are centered and win against the odds (alright, dammit, I fell asleep both times I tried to watch it!). Star Wars with no Jedis suck. Anyway…the main character, Jyn, and a young likeness of Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia somewhat steal the show (aside from Darth Vader’s infamous hallway scene).
I should first say The Last Jedi is brilliantly visual, with some scenes so eye-catchingly breathtaking they were truly stunning such as Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s ship ramming the First Order battle cruiser or the mono-sledded ships railing on a white surface with a blood red under-carpet of salt). Dope. And I also must pay tribute to Carrie Fisher’s final performance (may she rest in peace).
My short assessment? This film is a White woman’s masturbatory sci-fi wet-dream. In this film, the rebellion is led by mostly White women except for Poe Damero, Fynn, Rose, and her strangely butterfingery late sister Paige. In fact, many scenes seemed to make it a point to show three women to every man—yet it’s not surprising that the only Black woman present was an alien (Maz). Otherwise, Black women have been largely absent from the Star Wars saga, with several Black men present at a main character level (albeit that there can only seem to be one in a movie at a time): Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), Lando Calrissian (Billie Dee Williams), Mace Windu (Samuel Jackson), Captain Panaka (Ahmed Best), Jar Jar Binks (Hugh Quarshie), Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), and Finn (John Boyega). Although Black men are strangely represented here. Jones’ Vader is a disembodied White man with swag of a strongly-voiced brother. Lando is a criminal swindler with a heart of gold. Mace is a magical negro. Panaka a forgettable guard/butler to Queen Amadala. Jar Jar…(ugh…well, brothers gotta eat I guess). Gerrera is a hard-boiled revolutionary (inspired by Che Guevera) but is foster parent-nanny to young White girl Jyn. And Finn is practically an escaped slave with no social skills and no sexuality. In fact, only Lando seems to have any sexuality to speak of having openly flirted with Leia, as Windu, Panaka, Binks, Gerrera, and Finn seem monkishly castrated, which is a requirement in film where Black men are around White women. Each are servants and enablers to White characters, and each do so readily (although I will credit Windu with not being very accommodating to his White character Anakin…unless you consider his “death” the enabling that cements Anakin’s alignment with the dark side). Sigh…
Poe, played by Guatemalan-American actor Oscar Isaac (who could pass for White), is the savant crackshot x-wing pilot. Alongside Finn, the sexually stunted stormtrooper whistleblower, they both represent “good” masculinities alongside Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker. (“Chewee,” despite being a brilliant pilot himself is somewhat ignored this time around, but in The Force Awakens, he has a couple of interestingly gendered scenes. In one scene, while a female nurse tends to his wounds, he apparently tells her about his exploits to which she patronizingly mentions how brave he is in a tone reserved for children.
In another scene, Maz claims her interest for him, a gesture to which he’s not shown to respond. Hyper-strong and aggressive, Chewee’s masculinity is tied to an animalistic (atavistic), primal beingness and thus is unworthy of reflection. However, I still consider it relevant as his maleness was important enough to mock to begin with.
The Resistance is run by primarily women, a stark contrast from the original 1977 film, Star Wars: A New Hope where it seemed run mostly by elder, White, British men.
In Last Jedi, Poe is an impetuous warrior-pilot who’s immaturity prevents him from following orders from the bevy of wise, sage-like women who run things. His seemingly sexist ambivalence toward their leadership is contrasted by Leia and Vice-Admiral Holdo’s matronly, self-sacrificial wisdom, and they routinely have to discipline him like a child while privately declaring their admiration for his brashness.
Poe’s warlike nature represents the folly of patriarchy when contrasted with matriarchy, reminiscent of Laurence Fishburne’s Bumpy Johnson in Hoodlum (1997). Bumpy’s ambitious warlike-nature descends Harlem into a bucket of blood, mainly because he doesn’t follow the lead of the matriarchal Stephanie “Madame Queen” St. Clair (played brilliantly by Cicely Tyson), a crime-boss who needs Johnson but does not approve of his methods—until they return her to power that is… Still, as with Hoodlum, Star Wars’ women are represented as brave, wise, compassionate women in contrast to scared, self-doubting, self-sabotaging men.
Similarly, Finn is a grown child whose affections for Rey are undefined, but clearly not allowed to be sexual because even in 2017, Black men cannot “infect” White women (presumably with blackness) by sexually engaging them in film.
He’s also bumbling, and constantly needs a female to course-correct him. In The Force Awakens it was Rey, now it’s Rose Tico, one of the few women of color in the film. Although only a maintenance worker (all the admirals are White women), she nonetheless constantly either corrects Finn or outsmarts him. To show she’s “tough” and “strong,” female characters usually have to be shown dominating their male counterparts. Rose is no different. Upon meeting him she tazes him for being a traitor, thus showing her dominance (much like Leia does to Poe). Nevertheless, Finn represents two dominating tropes for Black men. In The Force Awakens he represents our stereotypical attachment to fear, and in The Last Jedi he represents failure. Constantly bumbling, constantly falling, incapable of forming his own plans…he is ‘Black male incapability’ personified except for his eventual defeat of Phasma. Here, I craved the self-assuredness of Boyega’s “Moses” character from Attack the Block (2011).
Luke is consistently course-corrected and outdone by his unwanted protege Rey. She corrects him about his self-pity and debilitating guilt, explaining how Kylo failed him rather than the opposite. She even defeats him in hand-to-hand combat…despite that…well, he’s frickin’ Luke Skywalker!!! (So far she’s defeated everyone she’s had a conflict with except for the now deceased Snope…so her character seems to have no worthy challenge). This a loss to me, because her character seems to possess what she hasn’t earned, and it makes the story less interesting. The fact that Vader could have killed Luke at any moment made the story compelling, for it not to be so would’ve been silly.
In the era we live in, the rise of the Sacred Feminine is being articulated in all facets of life. However, the most cherished qualities associated with masculinity have been questionably represented. Media-based gynocentric social practices see men strictly as sources for resources or drones subject to die for their queens. This fails to encompass the whole of the possibilities available to masculinities. Leia and Luke are symbolic representations of the Kemetic neters (deities) reflected through the Western myths that inspired Joseph Campbell and thus George Lucas. She is the Sacred Feminine, Auset/Isis/Mary/Mary Magdalene, sister-bride to Luke’s Sacred Masculine Ausar-Heru/Osiris/Horus/Jesus Christ. Although here, while Leia’s representation is virtuous and divine-like, Luke is conflicted and filled with self-doubt. In other words, we can’t imagine a balanced, enlightened masculine that both complements and yet does not defer to the Feminine. I would contend that Yoda is one such example of such a masculinity, but he lacks any type of sexuality. Now…if only he were Black and had a sexuality, we could witness what a strong yet progressive Black masculinity could look like here.
Kylo, as the villain, represents a conflicted masculinity as well, deliberating between following the First Order’s androcentric patriarchy or an altruistic matriarchy that is the Resistance (personified by a mother he can’t kill, despite that he could commit patricide quite readily). Rey keeps sacrificially trying to save him, highlighting what is a constant throughout all three of the last films: women are inherently good, while men are, at best, internally conflicted and at worst, evil for no apparent reason other than to exploit power (Supreme Leader Snoke). Nevertheless, Kylo is consistently underwhelming, struggling to beat Snoke’s armed guards (needing to be rescued by Rey) and yet again losing to an untrained Rey.
Each female character from Rey to Maz to Leia to Holdo to Rose are internally pure and good while each male character is a problem…or rather, in need of women to check them and make them better. The worst female character is Captain Phasma (at least we assume it’s a woman from her voice and the casting choice in the credits), but we can’t witness her evil because she remains masked until her apparent death. And even then we only can see one eye. Here, it appears women are impervious to evil, and when not, are downplayed so as not to provide evidence of women’s capacity for evil. That is the sole purview of men. Such was the same with the very notion of sacrifice, as male sacrifice (e.g. Poe, Finn, or Luke) was often linear and short-sighted, while female sacrifice (e.g. Holdo, Leia, Rey, and Rose) was altruistic, widespread, and wise.
This crass, heavy-handed gender reversal is a comeuppance for past representations of men as heroes and women as damsels in distress, but as with R.W.S. Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity, not all men were part of that narrative. As Dr. Tommy J. Curry rightly asserts in his groundbreaking essay, “Killing Boogeymen: Phallicism & the Misandric Mischaracterizations of Black Males in Theory,”
“In short, there is no account even in Connell’s work which suggests that Black men would simply emulated white ideals or benefit from those constructs more than any other marginalized group in society.” (p. 6)
She claimed that Black men’s masculinity, for example, was antithetical to hegemonic masculinities (Raewyn Connell and James W. Messerschmidt, “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept,” Gender & Society 19 (2005): 829-859, 847), but few in today’s nigh-religious zealotry of third-wave intersectionalism remember such a nuanced but important fact if they knew it at all. That said, these masculinities are largely left out of the film and replaced with morally corrupt men or men who blindly follow women’s more altruistic lead, suggesting the new gender paradigm for society as prescribed by our gynocentric cultural imperative: follow their lead.
On a separate note, and as the child of a Black Panther, there was a sadness I felt watching the fledgling resistance movement seem to die off in low numbers with no cavalry coming to their aid when they hid in a bunker. The cultural cache of the 1970s counter-culture movements seemed to be earmarked by this film, as with their collective failure to rid the world of war-mongering and oppression. Perhaps the resurgence of activism in pre-Trump America from Occupy Wallstreet to Black Lives Matter will be vindicated by a new generation in episode IX. But for now it was a bit sad seeing them escape into obscurity. No Luke. No more Fisher-Leia. No Han Solo. No Yoda. No Mace Windu…?
Still, the question of the First Order seems trite since Kylo will no doubt take over, but how much of a threat can he be when he’s seemed to lose to everyone he’s had a lightsaber battle with? Rey defeated him twice now with no significant training, and even Yoda states that there’s nothing in the Jedi sacred texts that she doesn’t already know. (What!?!?? And she just knows all this…why? Ah. She has a vagina.)
Anyway, my problem is not that the film shows powerful women, as they assuredly can be. My problem is that women are primarily shown as inherently better/smarter/wiser than men when no such binary is necessary. And to the extent such male supremacy has been normalized in Hollywood, alternative masculinities that are not subservient to women or whiteness are downplayed altogether. In other words, if this new gender dynamic is a punishment for White men excluding everyone else from heroic/leadership roles, gender theorists have falsely accused all men of the crime, grossly overlooking that other racial groups, varying class demographics, and males of all stripes who have been excluded from power have also not seen themselves heroically. Why must they all be punished merely because they have penises?
It is time we, as Black masculinists, question the represented masculine norms and create new ones not beholden to any industry or need by others’ self-interest. Hopefully the myriad Black men who played many such masculine roles in our lives can be transferred into media so that we can acknowledge their range and move away from limited binaries of female servitude and White male aggression.