After an abortive attempt to mount a boycott for The Force Awakens last year (all a big unfunny, racist joke apparently), the far-right denizens of Twitter and Reddit are striking back this year with a fully operational protest for Rogue One. Though there were disturbances back when the first trailer debuted earlier in the year, the threat of boycotting Disney’s second foray into the Star Wars universe has gathered momentum and become increasingly extreme, scattershot, and incredulous over the last month.
Whether it be Felicity Jones as the film’s lead, fake news about anti-Trump scenes, safety-pin adorning Rebel Alliance symbols, or Disney CEO Bob Iger’s Jewish heritage, the so-called ‘alt-right’ have taken aim at Rogue One with all the skill of a stormtrooper who forgot to put his contact lenses in. As laughable as their attempts are, we’ve analyzed their attack and there is a risk.
While it can be counter-productive to give these misguided views any scrutiny whatsoever, it can be useful to explore their methods, show how wide of the mark they really are, and the inherent irony of their intentions. Because if 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that thin-skinned blowhards posting furiously and spuriously online can get pretty damn far in the world today…
IN A PATRIARCHY FAR, FAR AWAY…
One of the first things to upset reactionary right wingers about Rogue One was the revelation back in April that it had a female lead. Cue much gnashing of teeth about feminazis and liberal agendas before these views eventually gained enough to traction to be picked up one by genuine alt-right commentators. In this video by the ironically named ‘Rebel Media’, Gavin McInnes claims that Star Wars has been ruined by political correctness and mocks the futility of Disney putting a female lead into a film that only males want to watch. Now, the idea that only boys like Star Wars is more old fashioned than the haircuts in A New Hope but we decided to do some actual research to find out if it is genuine.
We asked the analysts over at audience intelligence company, Entsight, to determine if the Star Wars audience really is a strictly Y-chromosome affair and they kindly provided us with this statement and data:
“According to social media conversation data from the past six months: while males saw an audience share of just under a third more, females actually demonstrated more positive sentiment towards Star Wars. Therefore it cannot really be argued that females ‘don’t like’ the franchise, they are actually more positive about it than men and talk about it a great deal on social media and the web.”
So there’s a valid and extensive vertical slice of the Star Wars audience share which shows, ostensibly, that one in every three Star Wars fans is female, and therefore a demographic that Disney is hardly unwise to cater for.
Of course, most people wouldn’t bat an eyelid at a female lead in almost any genre these days and it’s ironic that the attempts of those who don’t want it to be a “thing” are making it a “thing” all over again. As contradictory as this sounds, though, there is a method to this madness.
As the stories about the boycotts have started to circulate on entertainment sites around the web, there has been some depressing reading in some of the comment sections. Posts reading along the lines of “I’m not a white supremacist, but…” have appeared with alarming regularity and goes to show that the far-right are managing to poison this well in some cases.
Their intentions aren’t to form well-rounded arguments to win people over, they’re instead trying to undermine, to agitate and cause discourse to push their agenda. The attempts last year to make John Boyega’s Finn illegitimate based on the idea that there can’t be a black stormtrooper because all they are clones is a prime example of this. At first glance, it seems a convincing argument because the first wave of the Imperial foot soldiers are indeed cloned from Jango Fett in Episode II and there are many who haven’t been exposed to peripheral Star Wars media that explained why the Empire abandoned the clone program long before A New Hope.
However, anyone with a modicum of critical thinking should have realized that throughout the original trilogy the stormtroopers all had different voices and were different heights (how else did Luke stroll through the Death Star while conspicuously being half a foot shorter than the rest of them?) so, therefore, they were obviously recruits now and not clones. Even trying to shrug this off as a lack of foresight from George Lucas doesn’t hold water either since he made no attempt to rectify this in any of his alterations to Episodes IV-VI.
Unfortunately, outrage often takes priority ahead of logic and while it was a blatantly incorrect point of view, it didn’t stop the idea creeping out that positive discrimination had been at play in the casting of the then relatively unknown black actor and undermined Boyega’s considerable talents in bringing a healthy dose of personality to a role that was designed as little more than a plot device.
But this is the far-right’s Jedi mind trick, and while it may only work on the weak-minded, it doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. With the white supremacist movement becoming embolden and galvanized over the last 18 months, they are increasingly likely to start targeting entertainment products that either celebrate diversity or demonize the far-right’s ideologies and Rogue One‘s filmmakers could have dealt with them better.
As the fetid tweets and subreddits started to circulate opposing the “liberal agenda” that Rogue One was apparently “trying to ram down our throats” (as the alt-right is so, suspiciously, fond of saying), the writers of the movie took to Twitter last month to nobly exclaim that “the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization.” and is opposed “by a multicultural group led by brave women”. Although well-intentioned, these now-deleted tweets were inherently ill-advised.
There’s never been anything subtle about the Empire being an allegory for far-right organizations: its soldiers are called “stormtroopers”, it exterminated an entire religion, and it uses fear to keep its citizens in line. Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta hardly needed to point this out but, by doing so, they engaged with the trolls and that’s exactly what they wanted. They became part of the conversation and now had clear evidence that the filmmakers were pushing an agenda, which created a fertile bed for the anti-Trump re-shoot rumor.
Surely it would have been far better to let Rogue One itself do the talking since there’s nothing revelatory or perceptive about the criticisms the far-right were alluding to, which is surprising because there is plenty of material for them to work with when it comes to protesting against Star Wars.
After all, would it be that much of a stretch to say that Star Wars is pro-terrorist? The overall plot of the original trilogy revolves around a farm boy with anti-establishment sentiments who becomes radicalized by an outlawed religion, frees a political prisoner, destroys a vast piece of infrastructure, and then spends the next two episodes trying to assassinate government leaders. Now, there’s a reason to boycott future installments of this clearly insurgent franchise… from a certain point of view, of course.
This article was made possible by the kind collaboration of the audience intelligence analysts at Entsight. Check out the fascinating work they do at www.entsight.com and you can follow them on Twitter @TheEntsight