It seems that no matter what, Black Star Wars fans have to separate themselves from the online fandom discourse as a means of mental health preservation.
By Monika Estrella Negra
Following the removal of Gina Carano from the hit Disney+ series The Mandalorian, a chapter in the massive Star Wars saga, old conversations involving the state of the Star Wars Fandom and racist toxicity came to the forefront again. It is not a secret that the fandom has endured its share of toxic discourse but it has managed to maintain a solid base of Black fans. Though the lines of anti-Blackness have been clearly drawn by white and non-Black POC fans in many fandom spaces, Black people have loved all things Star Wars in our own ways, creating our own “safe spaces” to enjoy the sci-fi epic in peace. Some have simply chosen not to engage with the internet and its antics and, personally, I don’t blame them.
As a Star Wars fan and a Black, queer woman, my interaction with fandom spaces has been limited because I quite simply am terrified of the internet at times. It can be brash, and white supremacy often goes unchecked and one “wrong” tweet could have you receiving death threats. The anxiety, the constant fear of being doxxed—all of these things have kept me from delving deeper into anything more than fan fiction and harmless retweets of fan theories. But I did notice a couple of people who had eye catching profiles that deemed them ‘figures’ in fandom and some of them were Black or People of Color. I wanted to know what their secret was, in obtaining their own autonomy in a space that could be quite alienating if you have opinions or different perspectives that differ from an average, white man.
Star Wars is a political franchise, though some will argue against that. The premise of an inter galactic empire run by a blood thirsty former Jedi with an army of corrupt politicians seems to point to our own inept and corrupt governmental systems. Forming a fictional resistance against the empirical overlords thrusts the films into the hearts of viewers who might find the similarities to our own reality eerily transparent. Despite this plot, some people are hesitant to find that they replicate the same repressions seen in the canonical universe onto those who are oppressed in real life.
John Boyega, who famously brought FN-2187 “Finn” to the new Star Wars trilogy in 2015 brought intrigue and rage to the fandom when images of him with a lightsaber were released to the public. Speculation surrounded the new film and rumors spread that there would be a Black Jedi headlining the trilogy. A sector of ‘lifers’ were absolutely appalled by the fact that a non-Skywalker would be a main character of the continuation of the series. Some were blatant about their discomfort of having a Black man lead the initial film. Boyega, who was fairly new in the industry but a genre star in his own right (Attack The Block), was soon berated with trolls and people questioning his legitimacy in the fandom. It didn’t stop there either. Kelly Marie Tran, who starred in The Last Jedi fell victim to members of ‘Fandom Menace’ and other trolls who criticized her character, her appearance and ultimately forced her off of social media for good.
Disney was shockingly quiet on the treatment the two stars received. Outside of the obligatory social media mentions of not ‘tolerating any type of racism, sexism, etc’, the pivots taken on the last installment of the film trilogy The Rise of Skywalker made some speculate that the fanboys and their toxicity had won afterall. Tran was removed from the majority of the film and Finn, despite being shown with the lightsaber in The Force Awakens was reduced to a character whose development was sidelined in order to make way for a problematic love story between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
This brings the question to the forefront: does Disney placate to racists in order to retain their fiscal gains in the world of genre film? Disney is a super corporation and that answer should come as a no brainer to most. But in the age of Black Lives Matter squares on Instagram pages and real life consequences handed to Black and POC in these spaces, how can fans support such a flimsy dedication to ‘diversity and inclusion’?
I had the pleasure of interviewing three Black fans of Star Wars who told me their own experiences within the fandom and outside of it.
Che Broadnax, a filmmaker based in NYC, was born in 1977 and is a part of the original trilogy fanbase. He had never gotten directly into the fandom, partly due to him missing out on the age of “social media fandom wars.” Instead, he found solace in being inspired by the original trilogy films and furthering his admiration within his own creations. Che never read the books and didn’t get into the ancillary stuff. Ultimately dismissing the prequels, when he saw the teaser for The Force Awakens and saw John Boyega with a lightsaber, all bets were off the table. He didn’t care to be a part of the fandom because it was overwhelmingly white and could only cite Lando Calrissian as a child. “Star Wars was always my own thing to begin with anyway. I had action figures… [and] a lot of my adventures had some kind of Lando centricity to it.”
While J.J. Abrams dropped the ball on catapulting John Boyega to Jedi status, it was Rian Johnson who brought the real deal to screen. The Last Jedi brought a wave of an emotion to him because, “Here is Last Jedi, we are getting back to the Yoda era force stuff, we are getting some mysticism, we’re talking about legacy, generational trauma, cycles, we are really getting into this ideas of life in movement. Even though it’s not quite there, it’s about change,” Che explained, then noted the parallels with Finn being a revolutionary character. “Black Finn, White Masks… the poeticization of Finn, or the decolonization of Finn… FN… Fanon… come on!” he exclaimed with laughter. Shortly after the film was released, John and Kelly Marie Tran began to see the real-time resentment of those in the fandom via the internet. Between creating racist, Asian caricatures to mock Kelly or accusing John Boyega of using drugs, the fandom took a turn for the darkside. Che wasn’t having it. “That was when I was like… I guess I’m not going to call myself a Star Wars fan anymore… cause if that’s being a Star Wars fan… I don’t want to be involved in that community but it’s impossible to pull yourself out [of the franchise] if you’ve grown up with it.”
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Stitch is a writer for Fan Service, a part of Teen Vogue. Their scathing rebuttals of anti-Blackness in the Star Wars fandom have earned them daily harassment, attempts to deplatforming them, and threats of having them removed from places of employment. Despite these attacks, Stitch has remained one of the most pivotal voices within the fandom. It was not easily earned but their tenacity and dedication to creating safer spaces for Black people persisted. In 2015, they started their website, Stitch’s Media Mix, and immediately received backlash from the usual subjects—redditors, white dudes with chips on their shoulders—but then they also began to encounter damage from white women in “ship culture.” After expressing concern about the overwhelming whiteness of “queer ships,” Stitch was berated with consistent comments of “dividing the fandom” by calling out anti-Blackness. Regardless of what has come their way, they have continued to offer their unapologetic dissections of fandom. “I can’t be gaslit and the reason I can’t is because I keep receipts,” Stitch told me. Their defiance to give into the mindless prejudice of racist fans can be seen as a form of self-care. Unfortunately, a form of self-care also includes removing yourself from the online fanverse. “A lot of my Black friends in the Star Wars fandom have also been run out. A lot of Black fans from Star Wars that I know, that I am friendly with. It’s very hard to talk publicly [so] we’ll screenshot our tweets, and then we talk in private… it’s just a lot of commiserating over years of harassment. So for me, what I’ve found as my safe space is K-Pop fandom which is again very hilarious because K-Pop fandom is notoriously anti-Black.” And so the struggle carries on, their torch held high.
Mark O. Estes is a horror content creator who dabbles within multiple fandoms, including Star Trek and Star Wars. While he has had his share of undesirables while coasting online, he has become quite selective on who he allows into his space as a means of “protection.” When asked why he doesn’t participate in some spaces he explained, “I hate inviting someone (i.e., white) into my space who has common interests and then finding out that, one, they feel that I’m not as knowledgeable about the subject as they are. Two, they try to gaslight the issues that are prevalent in the fandom when it comes to inclusiveness, which leads to, three, they think they can argue with me about blatant fuckery on my page, or in other words try to shut me up.” He also admits that it is not only white people in fandom that push the SJW narrative, citing a Black mutual who “swears that [Kathleen Kennedy] is the reason the franchise is suffering from the “feminist agenda”. Misogyny is the basis of what some cis male fans weaponize in order to further silence women, and ultimately chase them out of online spaces. This insight proves the levels of social hierarchies that exist in order to alienate marginalized people within the fandom.
It seems that no matter what, Black Star Wars fans have to separate themselves from the online fandom discourse as a means of mental health preservation. There haven’t been any attempts at Black Star Wars conventions or anything of that matter, to my knowledge, and so it would only be a test of time to see if Disney has the gall to renounce the toxic elements of their franchise. As most Black people have continuously shown, we will always find a way to remain invested in the stories that we love in the safety of our own communities. However, the question still remains, should we remain loyal to a fandom created by corporations who don’t give the proper attention or respect to its fanbase? Should we commit to only supporting fandoms that care about marginalized peoples within the circuit? While the “commitment to inclusion and diversity” trends in Hollywood, we will see if it is just another source of capitalistic entrapment or if they are truly dedicated to the cause of liberation and safety for their consumers.
Monika Estrella Negra is a freelance journalist, filmmaker and curator of all things radical in media. Her first short titled “Flesh” is about a Black femme serial killer navigating the Chicago DIY punk scene (of which was included in the ‘Horror Noire’ syllabus). She has directed three additional shorts, ‘They Will Know You By Your Fruit’, ‘Succubus’, and the in production ‘Bitten, A Tragedy’. A writer, a nomadic priestess, spiritual gangster and all around rabblerouser – Monika has written essays for Syfy Fangrrls, Wear Your Voice Mag, Black Girl Nerds, Grimm Magazine, Black Girls Create, Black Youth Project, Rue Morgue, Fangoria and is the author of a zine series (Tales From My Crypt). In addition, she is the creator of Audre’s Revenge Film and Black and Brown Punk Show Chicago, a GRRL Haus Cinema Resident Filmmaker (2019) and editor for Decoded Pride. Twitter: @negramonika1. IG: @audres.revenge.film
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