As is the apparent norm for inspiration for new posts for me — I stumbled upon something someone said on the internet. I say I stumbled upon, but I rather mean a tweet popped onto my tweetfeed. The tweet featured a picture of a man in Mandalorian armour, which obviously attracted my attention. Then I saw the face also in the picture. Then I read the text.
I won’t quote directly, because 1. I’ve lost the tweet completely and 2. I don’t want to give it attention. But the gist of it was “rooting for Cumberbatch for Boba Fett!”
The moment I saw the tweet I lost myself in a moment of blind rage. Tweets in allcaps were tweeted. To my credit, I didn’t reply to either the original tweeter OR the retweeter. I didn’t want to start a fight — I don’t like fights, especially over Twitter or over fandom issues. I like to get along with people, and I usually do! I’m pretty damn chill about just about anything.
Except the overt racism displayed in this tweet.
There are two main reasons everyone should have a problem with the idea of Benedict Cumberbatch as our favourite (non-)Mandalorian:
- the idea of it even happening is a consideration of white-washing a character, which is utterly racist
- it’s erasing pre-established canon
We know from Attack of the Clones that Jango Fett — played by the ever amazing Temuera Morrison — is a Māori actor. Definitely not a white man, not in any way, shape or form. This leads onto all of his clones also being Māori. None of the clones are white. Including Boba Fett. His son-clone. The kid with a pretty damn strong kiwi accent, whose actor goes on to voice the Māori Boba Fett in The Clone Wars. Heck, Boba was even re-dubbed in a later release of Empire to reflect his now canon non-whiteness.
So we’ve got all of this pretty indisputable canon evidence to show us that our dear Boba is not white. What is Cumberbatch? Very, very white. He’s already been cast in a white-washed role with Khan, and it’s not something that should happen again.
This tweet and subsequent retweets show that there are fans of Star Wars who are ignoring continuity and canon to put a white actor in a non-white role, just because it’s Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m not one to argue that he is a good actor — because he is indeed a good actor — but talent can also be found in people who aren’t extremely white.
The whole idea of Cumberbatch playing Boba Fett completely destroys a prominent role for a Māori actor within a massive franchise that spans the world. We’ve already experience a similar problem with Ender’s Game, which already had enough controversy without casting Mazer Rackham wrongly. Ben Kingsley is of Indian descent, but we cannot just act like people of colour are interchangeable when casting. Mazer is half-Māori, and instead we’re presented with this non-Māori man with an accent that sounded so Australian that my cinema actually laughed when he stated his heritage.
Of course we find it ridiculous here, but the wider world doesn’t understand that this is not true-to-life. I’m actually thoroughly disappointed in this whole situation, because the movie was rather good diversity-wise (at least compared to other recent films) until Mazer walked onscreen.
As with basically everywhere, races within New Zealand are not equal. I am a white girl (oh, so white) and I recognize this completely and utterly. I was taught a white-washed history in school about how “peaceful” our colonization of this country was. I look back and shudder at how inherently racist our school system is. We largely, as a nation, refuse to admit that colonialism was awful, and that we stole land that we now refuse to give any recompense for. We’re not as bad as other countries, but we have a lot of problems that need to be faced before we can properly move towards equality.
My point? Racism is everywhere, despite what anyone says. We don’t need to aid this already predominant racism by having a hugely recognizable character from a hugely influential franchise turned white for the sake of Cumberbatch’s fans. We already have far too many problems without the constant white-washing and stereotyping that happens so regularly onscreen and ends up perpetuating racist ideologies.
That’s not to say that Star Wars isn’t without its racist stereotypes and cultural appropriation.
It totally and utterly is. There are others who can talk about this much better than I, and I will leave it to them to do so — I am relatively uneducated with a lot of the cultural appropriation within the franchise itself, though I recognize it happening.
But this doesn’t ever excuse future films from fixing the problems of the past. Star Wars Rebels is already proving this fact — the three human members of the main cast are people of colour. There are no white main protagonists. Added with the rumour of Billy Dee reprising Lando in the series, we’re already getting a cast more diverse than most mainstream Western media. The Clone Wars was also doing better, with amazing characters like Steela, Katooni, Mace Windu, Boba Fett, all of the clones, Adi Gallia, and more.
Now, another huge part of this whole argument is canon. As of the news of the Expanded Universe becoming Legends, the canon has become a lot more condensed. On one hand, this is good! It allows the future of Star Wars to grow into something new and completely unseen, all while having material to influence and draw inspiration from. On the other hand, this kind of sucks. There were a lot of amazing female and non-white characters from the EU, including my self-dubbed “space girlfriend” Juhani — a canonical lesbian (despite a bug that apparently made her bisexual, which to me is just as awesome!).
You see a lot of people throwing around phrases like “I don’t like it, so it’s not canon.” That’s like me saying I don’t like how cold winter is, so it has to be warm now. You can control your own headcanons, and you can shape your own Legends canon now (which I fully do myself!), but you cannot deny that what is officially canon is the true way of the Star Wars universe.
I wish I could deny canon. I wish Padmé had survived Revenge of the Sith and gone on to become the leader of the rebels — while having to still split Leia and Luke up to new families to protect them. Being the estranged wife of Darth Vader isn’t the safest role in the galaxy, obviously. And obviously, I’ve put too much thought into this idea. Either way, as much as I wish, it’s not canon. Padmé is essentially fridged and Jango Fett is (apparently) not a Mandalorian. Which is not an argument I’m willing to get into, ever.
Look, I’m not saying Star Wars is perfect (representation or continuity-wise), but it has done good things — I mean, just look at Leia! What an amazingly strong icon she was and continues to be. Star Wars has the opportunity to continue to grow from what was largely begun in the EU and The Clone Wars and become something hugely important for minorities.
But first, we need to make sure that Cumberbatch never becomes Boba Fett.
disclaimer: I am white, and therefore do feel it’s not so much my place to talk about these issues, but I also strongly feel that these are things that need to be said. Some of my wording may be problematic, and if so I apologize in advance and please feel free to correct me and/or give me sources pertaining to anything I have said.