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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

the Force is with white men, and hardly anyone else [update]

A long time ago, this is what the future was going to look like:


This is a mission to the moon as envisaged by Collier’s magazine and artist Chesley Bonestell in the 1960s. The future was all about white men taking to space and conquering the high frontier. And only white men. (Check for yourself in this larger version. Every person in this image is a white man.) I wonder if anyone involved in the production of this piece of art, and in the long series of magazine articles about the future that Collier’s published at the time, saw anything off-kilter about this. I doubt it.

The most depressing thing about science fiction — always — is how conservative it is. This is, allegedly, the genre that is all about imagining grand new futures for humanity… and yet early literary SF — let’s call it pre late 1960s — seemed incapable of conceiving of a world in which the talents of women and people of color and non-Westerners were embraced and nurtured for the betterment of all. Early SF writers were able to dream of starships and faster-than-light travel, but not feminism, the civil rights movement, and the sexual revolution.

This is how entrenched the presumed dominance of white men is in our culture: even those who believed their imaginations were soaring couldn’t see around their huge blindspot.

SF literature has gotten better (though it still has a long way to go, as do both the fan and professional cultures around it). SF on television still lags the literature but has been far better than movies for ages: While Stanley Kubrick crammed his 2001: A Space Odyssey with white men doing all sorts of exciting things and women as flight attendants on a moon shuttle serving them, Star Trek was offering us both a black woman and an Asian man as officers on a starship (even if a white guy was still in charge). (In the 1980s, Star Trek: The Next Generation included two black officers and two women officers. White guy still in charge, though. Later series, and other non-Trek shows, have had nonwhite and female captains and commanders and other leaders and authority figures.)

But this is what the future looks like, in 2014, to the producers of the most popular science fiction movie franchise of all time*:


This is a photo released today (larger version here) by Lucasfilm, and posted on StarWars.com, of a table read of the script for Episode 7, along with the announcement of the film’s cast:

Actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow will join the original stars of the saga, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Kenny Baker in the new film.

Only one woman among the new cast? (That would be Daisy Ridley.) Only one nonwhite person? (That would be John Boyega.)

Director J.J. Abrams is quoted at the site:

It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life.

Perhaps the plot of this movie will be about the mysterious plague that has wiped out almost everyone who isn’t white and male across the galaxy. I’m not sure what other story would, given this cast, constitute bringing a world to life. (The fan rumor mill is speculating that perhaps Ridley will be playing Han and Leia’s daughter; she is sitting between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in this photo. How awful for Leia, if the only way she could find another woman to talk to was to give birth to her. Ridley could even be playing Jaina Solo, one of the most prominent characters from the Expanded Universe… but since Lucasfilm just threw out the Expanded Universe, and all its many female characters, this doesn’t seem likely.)

Star Wars may be taking place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” but let’s be clear: it reads as taking place in the future, not the past. But it is stuck in a 1950s mindset that was already outmoded when the first film was released in 1977. And it oozes Hollywood’s unspoken assumption that men — mostly white men — are the ones who should get to do all the interesting stuff in movies. (And even if, by some wonderful chance, Ridley’s or Boyega’s character is the main protagonist, that still would not excuse the preponderance of white men in the cast.)

The absence of women in the new cast has been noted around the Web (io9, Forbes, The Atlantic). And these commentaries are already prompting whines from fanboys — which I am not going to link to — complaining that movies shouldn’t have to shoehorn in women to satisfy feminazis and that there shouldn’t be gender quotas films and filmmakers must meet. As if the world — or even the galaxy far, far away! — weren’t full of women and nonwhite people of every gender doing interesting things.

It is so damn dispiriting. These fans — and we should probably include J.J. Abrams among them — are okay with the Force, with lightsabers, with alien creatures, with moon-sized battle stations that can destroy a planet… and they’re incapable of imagining a story set among all these wondrous things that might have a woman at its center.

What is it like in their heads? That’s something I am incapable of imagining.

(*Of the top 10 highest-grossing science fiction movies of all time, six are Star Wars movies.)

UPDATE 04.30.14: I am calling bullshit on The Hollywood Reporter’s scoop that casting for Episode VII isn’t done yet. From its blog Heat Vision:

Several sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that director J.J. Abrams has another substantial role to fill — and it’s a female part. No further details are known.

This was posted many hours after the initial announcement of “the” cast for the film, in which director J.J. Abrams was quoted as being “excited to finally share the cast” (emphasis mine). That sounds pretty final. And there’s no mention of any other major roles still left to fill. (I’ve got a screengrab of the page at StarWars.com in case it gets altered.)

I’m calling bullshit not because I don’t believe that Abrams is now scrambling to cast another woman… but because I think the cast was complete until people like me starting shouting about the lack of women. And this is a big problem. 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.

Unless… unless Abrams fires Oscar Isaac or Adam Driver or one of the other men just announced and hires a woman to fill his role. I don’t mean to imply that I want any of the men in the cast to lose their awesome new jobs — I don’t — but that’s the only way there can genuinely be 1) a female actor still to be hired for a role that 2) feels like it actually belongs in the movie.

Filmmakers! You need to be thinking about female characters from the inception of your projects. Or you need to write all the characters male and then flip the genders — without changing anything else about the characters! — when you start casting.

It’s not that difficult. But when you get to the point that Abrams now finds himself at, you don’t have many good options left that aren’t going to — rightly — piss off many of your fans.

Note: Do not read the comments on that Heat Vision post unless you want to have whatever shreds of faith in humanity you have left destroyed.

  • Karl Morton IV

    Are you really surprised? Why change a winning formula?

  • So I shouldn’t complain about it?

    Should I just stop complaining about Hollywood entirely? I mean, if they’re convinced they have “winning formulas” and that’s all they’ll ever need, why should I bother at all?

  • One of the things I loved most about Danny Boyle’s SUNSHINE was how diverse and interesting the cast of characters was.

    STARS WARS VII will still be huge, but it now has a much lower chance of being important. We’re at a crossroads, where the popular culture has just about almost realized how boring watching a bunch of white dudes having adventures has become… it’s a shame we haven’t quite ticked over into the next level of enlightenment.

  • Why change a winning formula?

    Because it’s not the only winning formula, my son. There are formulas yet to be discovered, new and interesting and (I don’t know) creative?

  • How awful for Leia, if the only way she could find another woman to talk to was to give birth to her.

    Well said. So disappointing!

  • I always liked that Return of the Jedi showed that the leader of the rebellion was Mon Mothma (a woman) and that she is easily the most calm and composed character in the movie (barely a flinch at those poor Bothans who died to bring us this information). She was absolutely in the minority though.

    Speaking of which, I see no mention of Billy Dee Williams returning. If I recall correctly he’s the only named black person in the original film trilogy.

  • Alvin

    Um isn’t the new cast that’s been hired so far more than likely playing kin to the elders? Just wondering? :) Still another important woman to be casted I believe. I’m sure there will be a more diverse cast as it comes together.

  • FunWithHeadlines

    “The Future”?

    Star Wars, of course, famously takes place “a long time ago.”

    That silly point aside, not all the main roles have been announced yet, so there’s still hope.

  • FunWithHeadlines

    And yes, you made the point about a long time ago…

  • Winter Soldier made an effort to include women as key parts of SHIELD as it would be in the real world. Granted, there’s just one woman as part of the Avengers (Black Widow), but the sequel movies are including more female characters as well.

    Star Wars is built primarily around The Hero’s Journey and its archetypes. While that would normally make it a male-centric story of the main character being a guy, there’s no rule saying most of the supporting companions (between two, three, four, six, eight to eleven in order to make the groupings the classic trio, quartet, team of five, seven, nine or twelve characters) have to be guys.

    To be fair, any Asians present? They make up over a third of the human population (China and India together dwarf the rest of the planet), yet I don’t see any present at the reading.

    The problem here is Hollywood: primarily white and unable to view the global market as anything other than an audience rather than participants. At least the upcoming Godzilla movie makes a better effort in that regard.

  • You understand that the big thing that happened this week was a table read of the principle cast, yes? That means, even if they do add more characters, the speaking parts are, for the most part, already filled out. Certainly all the big ones.

  • Arthur

    Star Wars is purblind in this regard. But — devil’s advocate — the sixties image reflected the tenor of the time, where white military males were the only ones sent into outer space. And we’re only now getting around to putting women on submarines (ack! military discipline!).

  • Mon Mothma is hardly a character in the narrative, though. She’s in one or two scenes. But yes, we absolutely need to see women (and nonwhite people) filling every story niche, from major protagonists to walk-on bit parts.

  • RogerBW

    Star Wars, of course, was explicitly a ripoff of pulp era stories, where women were prizes or femmes fatales. By its standards, Mon Mothma was “progressive”. This just looks like being true to Lucas’ second-hand “vision”.

  • To be fair, any Asians present?

    I *did* make a point of mentioning that we need more nonwhite people and non-Westerners.

  • As I said, they could imagine technological changes, but not social ones. That’s an indictment of the limits of their imaginations.

    I never understand why this — “they were reflecting the tenor of their times” — is an acceptable excuse when it comes to science fiction. It’s not. If they failed to extrapolate to an intriguing degree when it comes to the tech, no one would be excusing that by saying they were reflecting their times. That would be considered a failure of science fiction.

    And it’s not like the SF writers of the postwar period didn’t have examples of dramatic social change in their recent pasts! They *should* have been able to look at the end of slavery (which was as recent to the writers of the 1930s as the 1930s are to us today!) and women’s suffrage to see how social change *does* happen and has a dramatic impact on a culture. And anyone writing SF today — *cough* JJ Abrams *cough* — should be able to see that The Future is not going to look exactly like today.

    But I’m seeing this all over the Web now, in response to complaints about the lack of women in the new Star Wars: The Future *should be* exactly like the way things are now (or the way things are perceived to be now) — ie, women don’t fight in wars! — except with cooler stuff. But if they can throw in a sexy green woman with three breasts, all the better.

    I’m not suggesting that you’re saying this, Arthur. It’s just that as a woman and a science fiction fan, and as an increasingly enraged feminist, I’m really angry today.

  • RogerBW

    The people making big SF films today are the people who were excited about reading new stuff twenty or thirty years ago, when it was still acceptable to think in terms of white male only (especially if you were reading a lot of Baen books).
    If you want something that reflects modern society, don’t look at big films; it’ll come out of the no-budget arena.

  • I don’t see the no-budget films doing anything interesting. Because those are made by guys who grew up with and want to ape Hollywood films, and they think that’s what science fiction is.

  • Jurgan

    There’s not any reason I can see why the “Hero” in the Hero’s Journey must be a man. Can you explain why you think it must be?

    Also, your bit about Asians reminds me of Firefly. China’s influence was strong enough that everyone knows how to speak at least some Chinese, yet you never really saw any Chinese people.

  • Jurgan

    Star Wars was also influenced by Japanese samurai movies. Women weren’t a major driver of those either, but there were obviously non-white people in them.

  • RogerBW

    Yeah, I’ve seen The Machine and The Last Days on Mars (among many others). Maybe the readers don’t even try to make films, because reading takes time and so does filmmaking. Oh well.

  • Bluejay

    Or you need to write all the characters male and then flip the genders — without changing anything else about the characters! — when you start casting.

    Do you mean flip genders for some/half of the characters, or all of them? Either way, great idea.

    Flipping genders on all the characters, once the script is written, is a good way to test whether your film has gender parity, I think. If you flip all the genders and then think, “Hmm, that’s an awful LOT of women,” then maybe that’s a clue that there are too many men when it’s the other way around.

  • Bluejay

    Also: So I guess it turns out Patton Oswalt was right.

  • I was just saying that as my own gripe. Also considering that Lucas’ inspiration for the Jedi in the first place was Kurosawa’s samurai classics, I’m just disappointed more Japanese/Chinese actors aren’t being hired on. I hope to Gods Ziyi Zhang isn’t retired already…

  • LaSargenta

    But, wimmenz can’t go to space…they are too emotional!


  • exactly on point with Firefly. We barely saw any Asian characters, only once did I see one that wasn’t just background walk-by extras.

    As for the Hero being a guy, with regard to Jungian archetype, it just seems to play out as a Coming of Age/Rite of Manhood kind of thing. A Girl/Young Woman could go through a Hero’s Journey, but somehow the archetype for women – how we as a culture tends to define women (and I know that’s not always honest or correct) – can’t fit some of the stages of the Journey the way the archetypes for Boy/Young Man do.

    We’ve been seeing more female heroes in our culture, and it’s a good sign that a lot of them – My Little Pony counts, but also Brave, Frozen, Hunger Games, and Buffy and Xena and Scully as earlier genre-busters – are popular across genders. It’d be nice if Star Wars did open up to that – here’s hoping they make Leia and Han’s daughter an up-front Jedi Knight and turns out to be the one on the Hero’s Journey – but it doesn’t look like they’re going that route.

  • Matt Clayton

    I’ve heard rumors about that second female role before Lucasfilm announced the cast. But the thing that bothers me… wouldn’t she be part of the reading? (Maybe that’s partly why Kathleen Kennedy is there, not just as a producer, if they haven’t cast the actress yet.) So either Abrams is backpedaling or his Mystery Box shit is working overtime.

    And sadly, the lack of female characters is par for the course for Star Wars. Maybe Daisy Ridley will have as big as role to play as Boyega, Isaac and Gleeson.

  • Froborr

    While certainly most of the racism and sexism of science fiction is attributable to the times in which it emerged, there’s also something to be said for the enduring influence of racist scumbucket John W. Campbell, who basically owned science fiction publishing in the so-called “Golden Age” and about whose racism there are many reports from fairly reliable sources (Asimov and Moorcock, among others). According to Asimov (not exactly a progressive paragon himself), Campbell outright refused to publish any story in which non-whites (or non-humans, for that matter) were shown to be equal to white men, which is why (according to Asimov) he avoided identifying the races of characters in his stories and rarely wrote anything with aliens in it.
    According to Moorcock, Campbell’s view on the Watts riots was that “some people” (no prize for guessing which) are “natural slaves” incapable of being happy with freedom.
    This is the person who basically defined American science fiction for nearly half a century. It’s an ugly heritage, and unsurprising that it took until the late sixties for major countertrends to even start forming.
    Of course no historical context should be taken as excusing the ridiculous whiteness and maleness of the Star Wars cast. We can and should expect better, even while recognizing that Star Wars is a pretty unlikely place to get it.

  • Froborr

    Women who go on the Hero’s Journey are common enough in folklore that Joseph Campbell himself discusses them, noting that their journeys tend to be cyclical or spiral-shaped–they repeat the basic steps of the journey multiple times, sometimes in a rhythmic way, sometimes with steadily increasing scale. He cites “Molly Whupple” as an example of the former. Buffy is often cited as a modern example of the latter.
    (Please note that the previous paragraph should not be read as an endorsement of that hack Campbell or his crackpot theory.)

  • Froborr

    It’s part of what was so disappointing about the decision to make the prequels action-adventures. (Which was inevitable from a business perspective, but disastrous creatively.) If they’d been political thrillers about the rise of Palpatine, Mon Mothma could have been a main character.

  • Froborr

    Because yesterday’s winning formula is tomorrow’s boring cliché.
    Because trying to reduce art to a formula is why film has lost most of its relevance.
    Because the Star Wars movies were already boringly formulaic to begin with.
    …If you need more reasons, I’m sure they can be found, but that should do to start with.

  • A Girl/Young Woman could go through a Hero’s Journey, but somehow the archetype for women – how we as a culture tends to define women (and I know that’s not always honest or correct) – can’t fit some of the stages of the Journey the way the archetypes for Boy/Young Man do.

    Bullshit. On the culture, I mean, not you, Paul.

    I am honestly starting to think that a lot of men simply do not *want* to think of women as people with the same range of hopes and dreams and desire for adventure and spiritual growth that men want. Or maybe they don’t even believe that women are capable of change and growth the way that heroic men are. I think it scares some men and boys to think that women could become as powerful as someone like Luke Skywalker.

  • Ah, so you’re saying that a movie with all female characters would be weird?

  • LaSargenta

    Because the Star Wars movies were already boringly formulaic to begin with.

    Yup. I enjoyed the first one. Extremely bored by the next two, had no desire to see any of the others.

  • Tonio Kruger

    On the plus side, we have a whole list of female astronauts who have completed spaceflights including the late Sally Ride and first Hispanic astronaut Ellen Ochoa. Unless you choose to consider them chopped liver — in which case, shame on you!

  • Tonio Kruger

    And yet EC’s science fiction comic books was one of the few areas of 1950s pop culture that regularly challenged the racial beliefs of the era. And science fiction authors like Fredric Brown and Philip Jose Farmer were not above questioning such beliefs. Heck, even Robert Heinlein used non-white leads in his sci-fi novels long before it became common practice in mainstream literature. Unfortunately, visual sci-fi rarely follows the lead of the more liberal literary sci-fi because it tends to be conservative. Thus Lucas’ obsession with sci-fi plots that went out with the original Buck Rogers.

  • Bluejay

    I’m saying if filmmakers would gender-flip their films as a thought exercise, and find themselves noticing “gee, there’s only one male Avenger when I do that,” maybe that’ll help make them aware of how male-dominated their films actually are. And to really notice it rather than accept it as neutral, the way they would notice the predominance of females in a gender-flip exercise.

    Shows like Firefly and Agents of SHIELD pass this fairly well, I think. Gender-flipping the main Firefly cast changes the 5/4 ratio to 4/5. Gender-flipping SHIELD gives you — exactly the same ratio. Gender-flipping Star Wars, not so much.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Was not that your response to the recent remake of Clare Booth Luce’s The Women, MaryAnn? :)

  • Danielm80

    The earlier films had quite a few female characters with almost no lines. (You can find the actresses signing photos at conventions.) Maybe the new cast member will just walk around in a tiny outfit, shooting her space gun at characters with speaking parts. There will be a whole series of comics and tie-in novels about her adventures, and then Lucasfilm will announce that, officially, none of them really happened.

    But I’m still holding out hope that Boyega and Ridley will turn out to be the main characters, will appear in almost every scene, and will inspire generations of cosplayers.

  • Froborr

    True. There has always been some liberal pushback, but really it’s not until the beginnings of New Wave that you start to see progressive views becoming more widespread in the mainstream of literary science fiction. Heck, even today you have a strong paleoconservative faction in science fiction (especially in “hard” SF), as witness the current Hugos controversy.

  • Karl Morton IV

    Yes, that is exactly what I meant. And next time you see anything innovative from a narrative or a character standpoint with the name Lucasfilm on it, you guys sing out and let me know.

    I can only assume none of you has ever seen a “Star Wars” film before.

  • Jurgan

    What the hell are you talking about?

  • Mr. E.

    Actually, John Boyega isn’t the “only non-white person” in the cast. Oscar Isaac is a Latino of Cuban/Guatemalen heritage.

  • Bluejay

    “That is exactly what I meant” — that MaryAnn *should* stop complaining about Hollywood entirely? Maybe you’re right that we shouldn’t be surprised at Lucasfilm/Hollywood’s lack of innovation and cultural progress, but you seem to be saying there’s no point to criticism and discussion.

    How long have you been coming to this site, Karl? Did you miss the entire purpose of it for all that time?

  • Tonio Kruger

    I think it’s safe to say that that bird has flown, that ship has sailed, that bus has departed, that rocket has left the launching pad, that Elvis has left the building, in short, that statement has been disproved a long time ago.


    Of course, if Sally Ride and the others on that list didn’t disprove it, then nothing we can say here is going to help…

  • Tonio Kruger

    The prequels were disappointing enough as action-adventures. The idea that they would have been better as political thrillers seems laughable.

    And if Lucas and company did not have enough imagination to make the mother and spouse of the trilogy’s most infamous character all that memorable, it seems depressing to imagine how a female supporting character would have fared.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I suspect he meant to be sarcastic. At least I hope he did.

  • Bluejay

    It didn’t seem over-the-top enough to be obviously sarcastic. We’ll see.

  • Bluejay

    If they’d been political thrillers about the rise of Palpatine

    You mean three entire movies of this? No thanks! :-)

  • Randy_Michigan

    How about judging the director and the movie based upon the quality of the writing, acting and story, instead of the color of the characters’ skin or the contents of their pants?

  • I’m not judging the movie. I’m judging the casting.

  • But he looks white.

  • No, it wasn’t. What do you mean?

  • I’m saying they shouldn’t do it as a thought exercise, but in fact. Unless a character is required to father a child or get his dick stuck in a beer bottle or something, that character can easily be female. And some of them should be.

  • Karl Morton IV

    Thank you, Tonio – you win a cookie! :)

    The rest of you clowns who have decided to be Shocked and Dismayed that Hollywood cast a bunch of white dudes cannot be that stupid. (White dudes except for one Lando stand-in and one Leia stand-in, of course – and they would all be YOUNG white dudes had they forgotten to add an Alec Guinness stand-in to the mix, but they didn’t – Max Von Sydow can rock this kind of thing in his sleep in half a dozen languages, but I digress.) As I was saying, you cannot be that stupid. You seem like an uncommonly bright bunch who’ve been around a while and seen a thing or two, but is it possible that you have no idea how Hollywood has worked over the last hundred-odd years? Are you entirely unfamiliar with the Disney brand – no need to go half as far back as the 1940s, even, if that makes you uncomfortable. No clue about the TV and cinema adaptations of things like “Earthsea” and “The Last Airbender” and what was done to the lead roles to even out the casting color wheel?

    It’s not like the new “Star Wars” films are being undertaken by the BBC who has been making more aggressively diverse casting decisions in their flagship shows than anyone on this side of the pond for twenty years. Or doesn’t any of that count, now that they cast Peter Capaldi as the lead in “Doctor Who”? ANOTHER white man! O THE INJUSTICE!!!! Are we going to pretend that just a few years ago George Lucas’ own film about the Tuskegee airmen struggled like few other action-packed war epics to find a distributor?

    How can any of you be surprised at this development? Honestly, not that you asked for my opinion, it sure doesn’t speak well of the intelligence of the “Star Wars” audience that this caught you by surprise. No wonder they didn’t go out of their way to push the boat out when making casting choices.

  • Bluejay

    Agreed! I’m saying the thought exercise can help prod them to MAKE it fact.

  • Bluejay

    What the hell, Karl? Of course we’re aware of the history you’re talking about. This isn’t about being shocked and not expecting this to happen at all, this is about pointing out and criticizing problems. Since political corruption is not surprising, should newspapers stop reporting on corrupt politicians? Since it’s not surprising that the US is falling behind in education, does that mean no one should talk about education reform? This is about starting conversations and making sure that these problems are in the public consciousness, so that eventually things DO change.

    it sure doesn’t speak well of the intelligence of the “Star Wars” audience that this caught you by surprise. No wonder they didn’t go out of their way to push the boat out when making casting choices.

    So they didn’t diversify their cast BECAUSE we expected them to diversify their cast? You need to check your logic there.

    And now you’re calling your fellow commenters “clowns” and disparaging our intelligence. If there’s anything that’s surprising to me, it’s what a dick you’re turning out to be.

  • Bluejay

    Also: “get his dick stuck in a beer bottle or something” — Hee! That would be interesting if every testosterone-heavy movie had to justify the maleness of its cast that way; like if the entire cast of The Expendables got their dicks stuck in beer bottles as a crucial plot point in the story.

  • Danielm80

    As Bluejay said: How long have you been reading this site?

    None of us are surprised that there’s racism and sexism in the film industry, but we have a choice: We can make sarcastic comments about how we’re shocked, shocked that there’s gambling going on in this establishment. Or we can say: This is a new Star Wars movie with a new director, released roughly forty years after the original film, and if we protest loudly enough, maybe the new team will start to pay attention.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    MaryAnn, “There’s more than one non-white guy; there’s two!” is a very weak rebuttal. No reason to respond beyond that. It’s dangerous to engage in debates as to what constitutes a “race” versus an “ethnicity” and which is more valuable than the other. And it’s incredibly unwise to suggest to a member of a minority that their presence doesn’t count because they “look white”.

  • Tonio Kruger

    The remake of The Women, like the original, was set in a world where men were constantly mentioned but never actually present. In your review, you seemed to find this premise a bit creepy. Of course, that was not your only problem with the movie but still…

  • Arthur

    And well you should be, *especially* given how influential any STAR WARS film is. I agree that the opprobrium this casting has earned is well deserved.
    My point was simply that the illustrator was reflecting what would sell to the fifties/early sixties mindset; sixty years from now, people will scoff at our clear-eyed extrapolation. While the choice of that illustration is appropriate for your point, I think that to the predominant SF audience of the time (male adolescents) the all-male satellite would seem plausible, and the crew of EUROPA REPORT would seem weird or salacious.

  • Until I just saw the comment you posted on my review from 2008, I thought you were referring to *The Other Woman.* Six years is a *long* time for a film critic. That’s more than a thousand movies ago.

    But no, *The Women* literally has no male faces in it. Even movies dominated by men have, you know, random half-naked pole dancers or hookers in them.

    And anyway, my response to Bluejay was meant to be sarcastic. A movie wouldn’t have to go as far as *The Women* did in ignoring men to be perceived as weird by audiences. Flip the genders of *everyone* onscreen in 80 percent of wide releases — so that there are myriad women and a few token men — and many people would find that bizarre. And yet no one thinks the opposite — that is, the status quo we have now — is odd. It seems normal.

  • Come on. I’m not saying anyone’s presence doesn’t “count.”

    But would you consider a movie starring Cameron Diaz and Martin Sheen to have a nonwhite cast? After all, they’re both Hispanic/Latino.

  • bronxbee

    *some* of us DW fans did actually express a bit of dismay and resignation that the new Doctor is, once again, a white male. much as i like PC, i would have been delighted with a dark skinned male (if we’re going to assume that the Doctor’s gender always remains the same). Naveen Andrews for instance, would have been awesome… Colin Salmon. and at least a half dozen other mixed race or other than white male. it is, as it seems, still a “default” assumption in the BBC that the Doctor is white.

  • Bluejay

    I think Karl is mocking complaints like yours. According to his argument, the Doctor’s always been a white man, so why are you surprised? There’s no point in complaining.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    How would you classify the phrase, “But he looks white”? And how would it be different from the backhanded “You don’t look Jewish” I’ve heard more than often enough to get the point?

    Sheen’s father was Spanish and his mother Irish, thus he’s thoroughly European. Diaz’s father is Cuban, but evidently claimed predominantly Spanish descent, while her mother was mixed European. I’ll let someone like Tonio Kruger here make the determination if Sheen or Diaz is Latino.

    Look, if you want to go down this road, you’re welcome to it. I’m just trying to warn you that you’re running what I would consider an unacceptably high risk of appearing hopelessly clueless about minority racial identity, at best. There’s no reason to risk that, when it’s abundantly clear that the announced cast of this movie is overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male.

  • David

    “The most depressing thing about science fiction — always — is how conservative it is.” Actually, historically speaking conservatives have been in favor of equal treatment for different racial groups while liberals were in favor of segregation. Hollywood is filled to the brim with democrats and yet it is the most racist and sexist industry in America. Seriously, the entertainment industry is the only business that is allowed to openly practice racial and gender discrimination. Studios can put out casting notices that specifically state that only white males will be offered leading roles. Could the much demonized Halliburton or Blackwater get away with posting job notices that only white males will be offered executive positions?

  • David

    It depends on how you define progressive. Woodrow Wilson was considered the father of modern progressiveness even though he was an avowed white supremacist.

  • David

    In all fairness though, the expanded universe was pretty stupid.

  • David

    I would like to point out that Firefly takes place in a future with heavy Chinese influence and yet no actual Chinese people.

  • Was Woodrow Wilson a science fiction writer or editor? I don’t see how this connects to the discussion.

  • Small “c” conservative.

    And Abraham Lincoln was a Republican! And George Washington owned slaves!

    You are off topic.

  • Bluejay

    I was talking about how Firefly deals with gender balance, not race. There are other commenters here who are talking about the race thing; go here if you want to join in.

  • David

    What I’m trying to get at is that I don’t like that the term “conservative”, small or large “c”, is often seen as a synonym for words like “racist” or “sexist”. Most of my Republican friends find the same things appalling about the movie industry that you do.

  • Sorry, but “conservative” in the nonpolitical sense (ie, non horse-race politics) *is* about conserving the status quo… which includes sexism and racism.

    My usage of the word was entirely appropriate.

  • David

    I disagree but in the interest of not getting bogged down in a lengthy semantic argument let’s table this and get back to the point of your article. Hollywood consistently refuses to represent a significant portion of humanity, so the question becomes: how do we change this? I propose a boycott of major Superhero and summer releases until you start seeing more diversity. You’ve written for various feminist publications, I assume you have contacts with certain people who could put the word out and maybe send a strong message to the film studios. I give you my solemn pledge that if there was such a concerted effort to boycott blockbuster films that star white males in the lead role until we get more diversity that I would comply with it.

  • Bluejay

    If you sincerely feel that a boycott is the best way to address this issue, you could go ahead and lead by example, regardless of how many or how few people join you.

  • You’ve written for various feminist publications

    I have?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    If you’d like the Republican party to not be synonymous with racism and sexism, I suggest you… yes, you… go out an do something about that. Preferably something more substantive than making whiney tu quoque arguments on movie review websites. You might start with figuring out how it got to be that Republicans were so poorly thought of something close to half the country. I’d suggest looking up the “Southern Strategy” as a good beginning.

  • Lady Tenar

    You can “disagree” all you want but words still mean what they mean.

  • Lady Tenar

    Limiting the story to a small subset of humanity speaks does</i< affect the story, certainly how others experience the story. Ask anyone who isn't a white dude about how meaningful it is to see someone like you represented in any great story, SF or not, to be actually counted in the human experience that forms the basis of great stories.

    Also, paraphrasing MLK to whine about people talking about race and gender equality? *yawn*

  • Lady Tenar

    Woohoo, I’m not alone! :-P

  • Randy_Michigan

    You’ve got to love it when someone challenges one of their notions and it’s called whining. Methinks the vast majority of whinage comes from those complaining about the casting.

    And I’m sorry that MLK makes you sleepy. Sleep tight!

  • Lady Tenar

    MLK doesn’t make me sleepy. People who know nothing about his life and words except the oft-quoted ones that they can conveniently bastardize to push a message that goes completely against the spirit of MLK’s life’s work but still lends them the supposed credibility of “look, I’m referencing a black guy! I’m totes not racist!” make me sleepy. The point,you are missing it. Buh-bye.

  • David

    I thought I read an article of yours on this topic somewhere else.

  • You’re “challenging our notions” that movies need more people who aren’t white and male?

    Aren’t you the rebel!

  • Beowulf

    Man, I’m having to say this too much on this site: Go Away!

  • Beowulf

    We should all count our blessings.
    When SW and Lucas tried to work in minorities, they were cringe-worthy stereotypes. And, yes, many people can be “conservative” without being a “Conservative.” I’m practically a socialist, but I’m quite conservative about many things near and dear to me.

  • When SW and Lucas tried to work in minorities, they were cringe-worthy stereotypes.

    That’s not a reason for the movies to continue pretending that anyone who isn’t white and male barely exists. It’s a reason to get better about how anyone not white or male is depicted. Like, maybe, by hiring some writers who aren’t white and male.

  • David

    I’m a follower. Truth is, I was just spit balling.

  • David


  • Tonio Kruger

    Yes, for every person who conforms to the conventional stereotype of conservative or liberal, there are many more who fall somewhere in-between. Some people are liberal on some issues like abortion and conservative on others like gun control while others are just the other way around. Indeed, even some conventional conservatives are more complicated than they appear at first glance which might explain why the one female co-worker I knew who fought hardest against a male co-worker who was a sexist jackass was also the same woman who listened to Rush Limbaugh on a daily basis. (I’m not going to pretend that all Limbaugh fans are like her but she was definitely different than what I had expected.)

    That said, liberals historically tended to be more pro-active at fighting against racism, sexism and the like while conservatives rarely participated in such fights. Granted, there were exceptions like Lincoln and Eisenhower but even these were more often than not reacting against a situation. For example, Truman took it upon himself to order the racial integration of the military while Eisenhower’s decision to support the integration of Little Rock was more a reaction to events than a pro-active decision.

    As for Woodrow Wilson, I would like to believe that he too was an exception since he chose to expand the limits of Jim Crow during his time in office despite his reputation as a very liberal president and not many presidents on either side of the aisle did that. Then again it was not unusual to find many Democrats — especially in the South but also in the North as well — who were not exactly in favor of integration.

    Indeed, many of the “moderate” civil rights views that some conservatives like P.J. O’Rourke take such pride in today were once considered very radical as recently as the 1960s. For that matter, I can say the same thing about certain “moderate” views concerning feminism.

  • Allen W

    Not much to add to the main discussion from a month ago, but a nit-picky point of order about 1960’s Colliers illustration: I think you’re incorrect about “only white men.” The fellow in the upper left, lying on a couch with his face half-hidden by a pole, sure looks non-white to me. In fact, I take the fact that his face is half-hidden as further evidence that he *is* non-white (because it allowed the artist to maintain plausible deniability if challenged).
    Not that this affects your main argument, of course; I just wanted to give the artist possible credit for sneaking in diversity when he could get away with it. Plus, right below that crewman, there’s some ogle-worthy male nudity. :)

  • LaSargenta

    You’re right.

    Fuck plausible deniability.

  • Tonio Kruger

    And no doubt some of those “white” guys are only passing for white…

  • Jim Mann

    This is the first time I’ve ever seen mention of race in the Campbell/Asimov discussion. I’ve read Asimov’s account of it and what he said was that Campbell did not like stories in which alien races were better than humans (no mention of better than white men, though that may have been implicit since most stories at the time were focused on white male characters). And he may have said things about race in other contexts, but I don’t believe that was part of the Asimov discussion.

    This isn’t to say that Campbell didn’t have his problems. He did. And they got worse as he reacted to the liberal swing in the US in the 1960s (as evidenced by a number of his Analog editorials). But while there are some areas where his impact was negative, there were many where it was positive, as he helped pull SF away from the shallow pulp space opera (often poorly written) that was predominant before 1939.

    As a side note, the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode “Far Beyond the Stars” is centered on this issue (and features and SF editor that is clearly based on Campbell and his attitudes).

  • publius

    I’m sorry that you are ignorant, but every single person portrayed in that top image has a name. They are all space enthusiasts & rocketry researchers — “white men” such as Wernher von Braun & Willy Ley, whom Bonestell put into the illustration because that was where they wanted to be, what they were working towards.
    The plain fact is that women, people of colour, or whatever groups you want to be concerned about are not represented because they weren’t there to be represented. We can spend all kinds of time talking about why that might be (Dr. Chien-Hsue Tsien, one of the founders of the field in the United States, had been expelled by the Eisenhower administration), but it is the cold hard fact.

  • Bluejay

    Can you cite any sources confirming that it was Bonestell’s intent to represent real people, and ONLY real people, in that image? The naked guy in the bathroom is supposed to be a real researcher? The guy in the kitchen with his head obscured is a real researcher? All the guys with their backs turned and faces half-hidden are real scientists?

    It’s also debatable that women “weren’t there to be represented.” Mary Sherman Morgan, for one, was there, and her contributions were essential to the space program, and she is not represented. Which is typical of the pattern of women’s contributions in various fields being ignored by historians and the culture at large.

    In any case, nothing in your argument takes away from MaryAnn’s point — that we aren’t in the 1960s anymore, and there’s no reason a science fiction film being made in 2014 can’t reflect the diversity in our society today.

  • You underscore my point beautifully. There was — and remains — a serious flaw when it comes to our collective imaginings of the future: The future was (and is) always going to look exactly like the present in the demographic makeup of the Powers That Be.

    Even if you’re correct about Bonestell, it says something sad and small that he could only imagine white guys going into space.

    And you’re the one who is ignorant: it is a plain fact that people beyond those who are white and male have always been involved in all sorts of vital historical and scientific moments, and they’ve gotten erased from history. Bonestell’s art is but one factor in that erasure.

  • Danielm80

    Lise Meitner was one of the first scientists to explain nuclear fission:


    A breakthrough in their work came at the end of 1938, just months after Meitner fled Germany. At Meitner’s direction from afar, Hahn and his assistant Fritz Strassmann more closely analyzed the byproducts of the neutron-bombardment experiments. To their amazement, the elements weren’t heavier than uranium, but lighter. “Perhaps you can come up with some sort of fantastic explanation,” Hahn wrote Meitner. “We knew ourselves that [uranium] can’t actually burst apart into [barium].”Within days, collaborating with her nephew Otto Robert Frisch, also a noted physicist, she worked out a theoretical model of nuclear fission.

    Hahn published the chemical evidence for fission without listing Meitner as a co-author, a move she understood given the tinderbox that was Nazi Germany. In The Making of the Atomic Bomb Rhodes wrote that Hahn had always hoped to add Meitner’s name to this historic paper; Sime tells a different story. She builds a strong case that Hahn was distancing himself from his longtime collaborator even before Meitner escaped. More tragic was Hahn’s conduct after the war; he maintained the fiction (or convinced himself) that his chemical experiments verifying fission had never been inspired or guided by Meitner. And, over the years, this version of the tale lived on. Meitner, Hahn’s equal partner at the Institute for 30 years, came to be mistakenly known as his junior assistant.

  • Lamont Cranston

    >and yet early literary SF — let’s call it pre late 1960s
    >This is how entrenched the presumed dominance of white men is in our culture

    Are we talking about our culture, or early pre 1960s? Because there is a distinction as you yourself noted

  • Both.

  • setnaffa

    This is exactly #shirtgate. How quaint to be so gormless.

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