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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

let’s shoehorn some women into Star Wars?

nyongochristie

More than a month after director J.J. Abrams announced “the” cast for his upcoming Star Wars flick, with no mention at the time that there were roles still to be filled, and a couple of weeks after the film was supposed to have started shooting, suddenly we’ve got two new cast members! From StarWars.com:

STAR WARS: EPISODE VII ADDS ACADEMY AWARD WINNER LUPITA NYONG’O AND GAME OF THRONES’ GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE

“I could not be more excited about Lupita and Gwendoline joining the cast of Episode VII,” says Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. “It’s thrilling to see this extraordinarily talented ensemble taking shape.”

Nothing from Abrams? The ensemble is still “taking shape”? Does that mean more casting announcements will be forthcoming?

How big a disaster is this movie going to be? I said this a month ago, when rumors started surfacing about another cast member still be added (which came only after there was an outcry about the lack of women in the cast):

If Abrams is going to add another character now — with the script already done and shooting set to begin in the next couple of weeks (as also mentioned in the cast announcement), then it’s very likely that the presence of this character will reinforce all the standard complaints about what happens when filmmakers shoehorn women into movies where they don’t “belong.” She will feel shoehorned in because that’s exactly what will have happened. She won’t be an organic and necessary part of the story.

And now we learn of not one but two new female cast members. Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie are awesome, so which indignity they don’t deserve is going to be thrust upon them: Will they get lots of screen time portraying characters the story doesn’t really need just so that someone can pretend the cast is more diverse, as if “diversity” means, “Cram in some nonwhite, nonmale window dressing to shut up the feminazi fans”? Or will they appear in nothing but brief cameos?

I will of course reserve judgment on the final film until I see the final film. But nothing about this bodes well.

Thanks to Neima for the link.


posted in:
movie buzz | talent buzz
  • Vos_L

    Jesus, do you people ever stop complaining? No film names a full complete cast in its first casting announcement. Lupita Nyong’o was rumored to be in this movie long before the initial casting announcement. People complain there aren’t enough women in the cast….now they are complaining that women were added to the cast. Making a Star Wars movie is a thankless business.

  • What do you mean, “you people”?

  • Matt Clayton

    According to a trade report, J.J. Abrams had been talking to Lupita way before she won the Oscar and before the major cast announcement last month. (And there were rumors of several news female leads in the film.) I think this bit of casting was due to J.J. Abrams being indecisive with the remaining two female roles until now, but I don’t think it was backpedaling on the director’s part.

    Some directors are like that, they’re not satisfied with the actors the producers show them for certain roles until after filming starts.

  • There was absolutely no indication when *the* cast was announced a month ago that it was not the final complete cast (for at least the major roles). Everyone involved made it sound like a done deal, all finished.

  • RogerBW

    Better Lupita Nyong’o than Jar Jar Binks.

  • Beowulf

    Ripley in ALIEN was originally a male character. All they did was substitute Siggy Weaver and keep the character as written. This seems no less acceptable than Helen Mirren playing Prospero, does it not?

  • Bluejay

    Are you saying you think they fired a couple of principal male actors from the Star Wars cast in order to fit in Nyong’o and Christie?

  • Bluejay

    I tend to see this as a net positive, all things considered. The best thing would have been for the cast to be diverse from the start. But since that didn’t happen, at least the filmmakers have proven to be responsive to public concerns about diversity and fair representation, and seem to be doing what they can to address the problem. It’s late in the game, but better late than never, and better some effort than none at all.

    To be clear: I don’t think shoehorning women into the script as nonessential characters is a satisfactory outcome, but it’s better than if the filmmakers ignored complaints about the gender imbalance entirely. Better to have Nyong’o and Christie in the film than NOT have them in the film. Small steps in the right direction.

    And if Matt Clayton is right about that trade report, and Nyong’o and Christie actually ARE playing parts integral to the plot, then so much the better.

  • Matt Clayton

    I’ll grant you that, but J.J. Abrams tends to lie about plot details and keep everything close to the chest. All the major trades at Deadline, THR, and The Wrap questioned whether the casting was complete when the press release hit.

    I guess we’ll see whether J.J. was backpedaling when the film hits next year.

  • If it results in the female characters feeling like unnecessary adjuncts, though, then it will slot right into the complaints of dudebros who don’t want their manly stories cluttered with extrananeous sets of breasts. So I worry about this. That’s the wrong solution to the problem.

    I will also worry if, at this late date, a massive rejiggering of the story to add two more significant characters is what’s going on. Starting production with a script and then changing it in major ways midstream is hardly ever a good thing.

  • Tonio Kruger

    And Neighbors was originally about a pair of male roommates but was later rewritten to be about a heterosexual married couple. Okay, that was a bad example but still…

  • Bluejay

    That’s the wrong solution to the problem.

    Maybe. What would be the right solution, though? I mean, other than getting it right to begin with. But it seems like you feel that once they get it wrong, then any attempt at course correction is futile.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    That story about “Alien” and Ripley is always described as “an early draft.” I’ve never seen any information about how far into even pre-production the idea of a male Ripley survived. Certainly, I’ve never seen credible information about specific male actors auditioning for the part. Only that relative newcomer Sigourney Weaver’s screentest was so impressive she beat out more prominent actresses (Meryl Streep gets mentioned). (Also, does anyone call her “Siggy”?)

    Anyway, point being that it’s highly unlikely that the version of “Alien” with a male Ripley is identical to the shooting script, with only the actor swapped. And, the experimental nature of casting Helen Mirren as Prospero in “The Tempest”, a 400 year old play, is hardly apt.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Indeed. J.J. Abrams absolutely deserves all the skepticism that can be mustered towards his in-production statements (especially after the whole is-he-isn’t-he-gonna-be-Khan nonsense). But I think a better response than “Yeah, whatever, too late now” would be “OK, better, let’s see what you do with this, and next time, don’t make me come over there.”

  • Why should there be an option other than “getting it right from the beginning”?

    Attempts at course correction at this point have a high probability of failing, and then resulting in the butthurt fanboys who dominate geek culture saying, “See?! This is why we can’t let girls into our club!”

    I hope I’m wrong. I hope the movie is great and the female characters are interesting and human and have lots of cool stuff to do that is essential to the plot and to their own furtherance as characters.

  • Bluejay

    Why should there be an option other than “getting it right from the beginning”?

    !

    Er… because people aren’t perfect, and when they mess something up, trying to fix it is more laudable than NOT trying to fix it?

    I hope I’m wrong. I hope the movie is great

    Me too. :-)

  • At this point, there really is no excuse to not get this stuff right. So it’s not on *me* to figure out how to fix this particular mess!

  • Beowulf

    Even if, in the unlikely event, that they DID hire women for formerly male parts, that doesn’t mean the roles were cast. You can film a whole movie and not hire an actor for the last scene shot until he or she is needed.

  • Beowulf

    You’re a feisty dude, aren’t you? You get to decide what’s apt and what isn’t?
    Siggy is a lot easier to write without resorting to IMDB for the correct spelling of her first name.

  • Bluejay

    So it’s not on *me* to figure out how to fix this particular mess!

    No, it isn’t, and I didn’t mean to put it on you.

    I guess I’m willing to give them some points (some points, not all the points) for heeding the public outcry, recognizing the problem, and trying to do something about it, when to my mind they could have easily just ignored all complaints and gone ahead and let the film make all the kajillion dollars it was going to anyway. That looks like social progress (progress, not perfection) to me. But I understand if you feel differently.

  • Bluejay

    If you can film a whole movie before hiring an actor for a shot, then that role is very likely a minor one. So it’s not really fair to compare that kind of role to Prospero and Ripley, who are at the center of their stories.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Well, you did end your post with a question. Maybe you meant it rhetorically, but it did appear to invite comment. And my comment is: I don’t think these situations are particularly comparable, due to mischaracterization of the situation in the recasting of Ripley (unintentional though it may be) and to the very nature and intent of the casting of Prospero in a 2010 film adaptation.

    As far as “Siggy” it was really just a straight question. I’d never heard that before. Sorry if it came off as snarky.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I guess that if not “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good” was easy, there wouldn’t be an idiom about it. :)

  • Matt Clayton

    Scott Mendelson at Forbes echoed MaryAnn’s thoughts about the casting back in May, and he wrote a well-thought out article “Why ‘Star Wars’ Adding More Women to Its Cast Matters” following yesterday’s news about Lupita and Christie joining the production.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2014/06/03/why-star-wars-adding-more-women-to-its-cast-matters/

  • RogerBW

    There are two better examples, anyway: the second series of _The Avengers_, where script writers wouldn’t know far in advance which of the three guest cast would be available so couldn’t commit to a traditional female role, and the consequent design of Honor Blackman’s character; and Salt, which was written for Tom Cruise.

  • Beowulf

    Fair point.

  • Beowulf

    Them!

    (oh, wait — Them are ants.)

  • Beowulf

    I call the Queen “Liz,” too.

  • SALT is a good example (even if not a great movie). Also, in general, if we can’t yet get writers and directors to make films with believable, well-rounded female characters, it’s a good start to convince them to do a little gender switching, get some female faces into some of these meaty male roles. How good would A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES look to us if it was Gina Carano in the role instead of Liam Neeson? That’s not a real question. The answer is “Fucking Amazing”.

    None of us fits our gender stereotype, so the notion of traditional female roles is a little prosaic anyways.

  • RogerBW

    I don’t know; I enjoyed Haywire, but it was still a very old and tired plot. Why not use some plots that haven’t been made into what feels like hundreds of films already?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I dunno, I’m not all that impressed with Gina Carano. She appears to have only one facial expression: a flat scowl. And before anyone says, “One facial expression? What about Keanu Reeves?” yes, well, Keanu is a lot prettier than Gina. (Seriously, Gina Carano is a plenty attractive woman, but the most accurate descriptor I’ve ever heard about Keanu Reeves is “angelic”. Not cherubic. Angelic.)

    Now, if you’d said Michelle Rodriguez… That women is a barely tapped wellspring of screen charisma.

  • I guess? HAYWIRE was pretty good… I don’t mind a formulaic plot if the dialogue is good (it was) and the action is top notch (also wik). But that’s just specifics.

    Generally, the simple move of hiring a female actor to play a role previously written for a male, even with no other changes than pronouns, makes things more interesting to me.

    If you’re into video games at all, a good example is Commander Shepard in MASS EFFECT. All they did was hire a female voice actor and create a new character model. Everything else stayed the same. And for me it made the character, and the story, profoundly more enjoyable — in this case owing a lot to a superior voice performance, but also because as a white male in this society, I’m just tired of looking in a mirror.

  • He has a history of creating meaty roles for women in his TV shows, at least… it’s very possible Abrams just didn’t realize announcing his cast before it was complete would be such a huge deal. I doubt he’s backpedaling, more likely he’s kicking himself for not considering how it looked in advance of the “announcement”.

  • Oh, you didn’t hear? Nyong’o is playing Jing Jing Binks, Jar Jar’s great neice.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Perhaps he meant it as a David Bowie reference…

  • Tonio Kruger

    And the current Pope Frankie?

  • Pop Ninjas

    Well, we hear what we want to hear I guess.

  • Bluejay

    So true! Like when the official announcement was titled “Star Wars: Episode VII Cast Announced,” and the statement begins “The Star Wars team is thrilled to announce the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII,” and when Abrams said “We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII,” it’s POSSIBLE that one interpretation could be that it was the final cast. But it’s ALSO possible to interpret those statements as meaning there were major unannounced cast additions to come, based on no reasonable evidence whatsoever.

  • RogerBW

    And here I thought it meant that the cash-in machine for the dreams of ageing once-fans was shifting into third gear.

  • Bluejay

    Well, we hear what we want to hear I guess. :-)

  • Pop Ninjas

    Reading into a casting announcement a year and a half before a franchise as large as Star Wars hits the screen, regardless of how it’s presented, shows a lack of understanding of the blockbuster machine. Casting news for this film will continue for at least the next year. If you all prefer to take it as “shoehorning”, fine. Grab your megaphones and jump on your stumps. There are clearly plenty of anonymities around the Internet who will champion your cause.

  • Bluejay

    regardless of how it’s presented

    Presentation signals intent. When Joss Whedon brought out the entire Avengers lineup at Comic-Con two years before release, it was understood that there would be no more surprise Avengers other than who was there. The Star Wars team’s presentation — big announcement, big group photo — clearly signaled that they considered this to be THE main cast. If there were further major casting announcements in the future, they would have said something like “stay tuned for more.” If they meant to but didn’t, then that’s their own PR mistake, and they deserved the backlash they got.

    I am, however, on record as being in favor of the additional casting. I just think it’s probably an attempted fix, rather than intended from the beginning. If I’m wrong about that, then so much the better.

    plenty of anonymities around the Internet

    Whatever you say, “Pop Ninjas.”

  • Tonio Kruger

    Lie-la-lie!

    Lie-la-lie, lie-la-lie!

    Lie-la-lie!

    Lie-la-lie, lie-la-lie, lie-la-lie!

    (With apologies to Paul Simon)

  • Pop Ninjas

    The Avengers comparison is apples to oranges. Pre-established content (character-wise) versus open content yet to be fully imagined. Just because Nyong’o and Brienne of Tarth might have small roles in episode 7, doesn’t mean their roles won’t expand in future installments. But to that end…no one knows what their roles will be at this point. To assume they are being shoehorned in implies that the filmmakers are willing to compromise their vision to satisfy some Internet backlash. I doubt that. I might consider your opinion that this is likely just a fix if we didn’t know that Nyong’o has been rummored for a role way before the announcement of the main cast. I think she’s been a part of the plan for a while, but yes, not as a major player in this particular film. I think it’s unfair to treat this as some sort of one-off scenario. The Star Wars universe is still virtually untapped, and there will be characters that will be introduced here that won’t come to full fruition until much later.
    And while I agree there is plenty of discussion to be had around women in the film industry, I have no desire to sacrifice the vision of any storyteller that has to place quotas and mandates ahead of their particular vision. Shouldn’t we be championing the merits of Daisy Ridley, and Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie as actors as opposed to cheapening them as just a number on some equality checklist?

  • Bluejay

    Well, I hope you’re right. I’ll be just as happy as you to see a Star Wars film with an excellent, uncompromised story in which non-shoehorned women play integral, necessary roles. (Although it might be interesting to consider why Nyong’o and Christie — and not, say, Boyega and Driver — are the ones in roles that may have to wait to “come to full fruition until much later.”)

    Celebrating the talents of individual female actors and critiquing the continued under-representation of women in film are not contradictory actions. You can do both. And calling for storytellers to include more women in their stories is NOT calling for them to sacrifice their vision — unless their vision is specifically to have 95% men and 5% women for no particular reason, in which case fuck that. In most cases, more women can be incorporated into the story — by writing them into the story to begin with, by gender-flipping characters who don’t particularly need to have a penis for the plot, by having more female extras, etc — without affecting the “vision” of the story in any detrimental way. It’s not zero-sum; excellent storytelling and fair representation don’t cancel each other out.

  • You’re suggesting that I, a film critic with 17 years experience, do not understand “the blockbuster machine”?

  • Pop Ninjas

    Why do I feel like there was an audible sniff of entitlement after that statement?

    But since you seem insulted by my comment, I just say this….

    A film critic with 17 years experience ought to know that a franchise as large as Star Wars is not done casting over a year and a half prior to its release.

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