Perhaps the most anticipated film of last year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, starring Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn, opened to huge popular and critical buzz.
Fans and film critics were not disappointed in the seventh installment of the Star Wars series, which marked a turnaround from the widely panned prequels that came out in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
At the same time, cultural critics pointed to the significance of a film whose two main protagonists were a woman and a black man becoming one of the most successful movies of all time.
Many action films centering on a female or minority lead have notoriously been stuck in development hell, with studios refusing to green-light them. They cite the rationale that audiences simply don’t want to see a different type of action movie, or that similar films have been unsuccessful.
Female driven films are considered risky investments, and since previous woman-led action movies, like Catwoman starring Halle Berry, have been horrible flops, studios can point to the female star as the reason for failure, instead of the film’s poor quality or lackluster script. The new Wonder Woman film, slated to be released in 2017 has been in development since 1996, while five Spider-Man movies have been released in that same timeframe.
The record-breaking success of The Force Awakens is important for a number of reasons, and hopefully it is a sign of things to come for the future of film diversity. Not only was a major adventure film with both a female and black lead made, audiences turned up in droves, some going to the theater again and again to re-watch it. The excuse that films with diverse leads will not be successful has now been stripped of its teeth. It has been conclusively disproven, despite the best efforts of certain “men’s rights activists” to boycott the film (yeah, that really happened).
The online men’s rights publication A Voice for Men encouraged their readers to boycott The Force Awakens, which they identified as “propaganda” and claimed, doing some extremely fuzzy math, that their efforts cost the film $4.2 million. However, the movie was making that amount about every 1.5 hours during opening weekend and went on to become the highest-ever grossing film in North America. Worldwide, the film became the third highest grossing film of all time.
Although there is still a very loud racist and sexist minority of consumers, the blockbuster success of the movie proves that they are just that – a minority. People are continuing to throw tantrums about the prospect of female ghost busters and the idea that Harry Potter’s Hermione could be black, but it seems that the public at large cares mostly about the quality of their entertainment, and is beginning to care about the role of diversity in their entertainment as well.
The commercial and critical triumph of The Force Awakens bodes well for diversity in media. People are starting to think critically about the entertainment they consume and how gender, sexuality and race are represented. The public is questioning the idea of white and male as the default, as evidenced by the conversation around this film and around the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, which also gained steam this year. Hopefully, we will soon reach a point when a movie led by a woman and a black man is not so far outside of the norm and can pass without comment (and certainly without an attempted boycott). But for now, it surely merits discussion and celebration, and cautious optimism about the future of diversity.