Star Wars: Where Are the Black Women?

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away there was a world where there could be found no black woman who could speak more than a sentence. It was a world of the most strange creatures and robots and technologies, but black women could only be seen in the background, usually at a bar or some place of entertainment. It was a period of civil war where rebels were fighting a war of resistance against evil forces in the universe. It was a world where The Force, a power that holds all things together in balance, both the good and the evil, the light and the dark could be summoned for the sake of restoring justice and peace to the galaxy. But, there were no black women of any consequence to be found.
On Christmas Day, my children and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie. We have been going to see these movies since they were children. I suppose I have become inured to the absence of black women until this movie when it came to the casino scene. There were black women represented in the latest version of the Star Wars bar, then it occurred to me: There was no black woman character of any consequence. I started to pay attention, and I started to look for the black women. C-3PO has more lines than any black woman in the movie. I left the movie livid.
So, I came home to think about the presence of black people as main characters in the films. I could think of only three black men – Billy D. Williams as Lando Calrissian in “Empire Strikes Back: Return of the Jedi”; Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu in “Star Wars Episode I: the Phantom Menace”; and John Boyega as Finn Galfridian in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi”. I am not counting James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader or Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata. They are black actors who did not play identifiable black characters.
Star Wars has been a multi-billion dollar franchise for movies, toys, and other merchandise for 40 years. Yet, the Star Wars imagination does not stretch to include black women in any major way. Why is this?
Perhaps the creative minds that created the Star Wars world are not familiar with human history and the place of black women in it. As of this writing, science tells us that all of humanity descends from a black woman in East Africa. Black women have been queens in Africa one of the most famous of which is Hatshepsut in ancient Egypt. Amina is a 15th century warrior queen of Zaria, Nigeria. Yaa Asantewa of the Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana fought against British colonization. Ana Nzinga Mbanda of what is now Angola resisted the Portuguese slave trade and colonization. The Dahomey warrior women are renowned for being fierce fighters and the last line of defense to protect the king.
Perhaps African history is too obscure to expect the creative minds behind Star Wars to know. They ought to know that there was a black woman who was Queen of England, Queen Charlotte the wife of George III, having descended from the Africans in the Portuguese royal line. Josephine de Beauharnais, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, the first Empress of the French, was born to a wealthy Creole family in Martinique.
Perhaps it is even too much to expect them to know this history. Let us think about black women and the resistance against injustice in the United States. In 1781 an enslaved black woman call Mum Bett sued for her freedom. She retained a lawyer and won her freedom, changing her name to Elizabeth Freeman. Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman are black women who resisted slavery and second -class citizen ship for women. Tubman made several trips south at great personal risk to lead enslaved men, women, and children out of slavery on what is known as the Underground Railroad. Tubman also served as a spy for the union army. She was not the only black woman who risked her life to send information about Confederate plans to the Union army.
After the Civil War, women such as Ida B. Wells Barnett bravely told the story of lynching in the south and of pogroms against the black community in the north. Women such as Mary McLeod Bethune worked tirelessly to build institutions of higher learning for black people. Madame C. J. Walker was one of the richest women in the United State because of her black beauty products and business savvy.
In the realm of civil rights and politics, the list of black women who have resisted injustice is long. However, we can credit Fanny Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party for its protest at the Democratic Party convention in 1964 that caused the convention to change its rules on seating segregated delegations. We can draw a straight line from Hamer to the Shirley Chisholm’s run for president in 1972, to Jesse Jackson’s two presidential runs that changed the way delegates are proportioned to Barack Obama and to Hillary Clinton. The reason the Democratic Party reflects the diversity of the nation is because of the resistance work of Hamer and others. Black women started the #blacklivesmatter and #metoo movements.
Perhaps the geniuses behind Star Wars are not familiar with or interested in politics. Perhaps they think more about popular culture. One of the most successful figures in popular culture and one of the most successful business people in the world is Oprah Winfrey. Beyoncé and Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the game, can hardly be missed by anyone paying attention. Thinking about success in the entertainment industry alone, one has to give proper respect to Shonda Rhimes who has produced some of the most successful television shows in the history of the medium.
Again I ask: why are there no major black women characters in the Star Wars world? Is this omission intentional or is it accidental? Is it a question of ignorance as in just do not know and thus is an accidental oversight? Or, is it a question of ignore-ance, something more sinister and intentional. This latest movie version of the Star Wars wrapped production in the summer of 2016. This was before the election of Donald Trump and the international woman’s march to protest the election. It is important to remember that a majority of white women voted for Trump even though he had bragged about being a sexual predator. The majority of white women voted for Trumpism light in the Virginia Governor’s race, and the majority of white women in Alabama voted to send Roy Moore, an accused sexual predator preying on teenage girls, to the United State Senate.
Black women saved Alabama by defeating Roy Moore. They organized and turned out the vote. They voted against Moore by more than 95 per cent. Black women are the heart and soul of the resistance to Trump and the evil he is doing to our American republic. Attention ought to be paid, and the creative imagination of the men, and the still too few women, responsible for a franchise such as Star Wars ought to imagine a time long ago and far far away when black women were as beautiful, brilliant, brave and consequential as they are and have been in the real life history of planet earth.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”