June 24, 2022
WRITTEN BY: AMARÚ
With Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi finishing up this week, it has elicited as much division as any piece of Star Wars content of the Disney era (division with Star Wars content? Wow…). Some people, this writer included, consider it one of the best pieces of Star Wars lore since Rogue One, while others have panned it for lazy writing and low stakes. As with much of fandom today, fans are yelling at each other from the social media rooftops, unable to respectfully deliberate with those they don’t consider “real fans.” The ever-escalating discourse got me thinking about Vanity Fair’s June 2022 cover story. The cover? Ewan McGregor decked out in his Jedi robes - hood on, full Obi-Wan beard – holding a lightsaber that is casting a celestial blue light behind the words “Star Wars: The Rebellion Will Be Televised.” The image alone is exciting for a Star Wars fan, but what caught my attention even more was the fact that flanking Ewan’s left and right were actors named Diego, Pedro, and Rosario.
Upon seeing that three highly anticipated Star Wars series, which feature arguably some of the franchise’s most popular characters in recent memory, are being headlined by a Mexicano, a Chileno, and a Boriquena Afro-Cubana, I was simultaneously hyped and terrified. I have long been waiting for the Latino side of my geek heart to be recognized in the same way that my Blerd (Black Nerd) identity was led to swell with pride when I first saw Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, and Danai Gurira don Wakandan garb. Up and down my Twitter feed were three separate representations of the vastly diverse Latinx community, each being showcased as the lead of their own Star Wars series: Andor (Diego Luna), The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), and Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson). This kind of visual has been a rarity in my life.
Growing up, I found out very quickly that America is often not interested in differentiating the world’s more than 20 distinct Latin American (let alone Spanish speaking) countries. Being half Argentine, I grew up being called Mexican or Puerto Rican, and nothing else. Even today, I watch as my Latinx students have to educate their classmates that Honduran people don’t really eat Mexican cuisine. But looking at that Vanity Fair cover, I was looking at two Latinos and a Latina in the form of a native-born South American, a native-born Central American, and an American-born Puerto Rican who is also Afro-Latina. The thought of this one picture reaching millions of eyes and maybe, just maybe, being able to illustrate both the talent and diversity of my community was inspiring. “That cover brought me to tears… it still does,” lauded film reviewer Rosa Parra, proud Chicana and co-founder and host of the Latinx Lens podcast. When the magazine dropped, she tweeted, “My heart… This little Latina’s heart is filled with joy. Never thought I’d see a cover of a major franchise with mostly Latinos heading it. My kids get to grow up seeing this… and I couldn’t be prouder.” While her sentiments certainly summed up the pride I felt, those joyful thoughts were not at the forefront of my mind. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I thought back to the initial reactions to John Boyega’s head popping up in the trailer for The Force Awakens. I thought back to the hate that Kelly Marie Tran received after The Last Jedi, which forced her to deactivate her Instagram account. I was waiting for the scary side of the fandom to rear its ugly head, causing me to doom-scroll for days on end. This, more than anything, overwhelmed that initial sense of pride. Minutes of preconceived rage passed, turning to hours of anxious dread. Days with my Twitter fingers ready to fire off responses at anybody who wanted to spew ignorance and intolerance came and went. But alas…. Nothing. No racist comments. No prejudiced Reddit calls of wokeness akin to when Dominican actress Leslie Grace was cast as Batgirl. No moronic rants about a Latina woman taking over a role voiced by the white, blonde-haired, Kentucky-born Ashley Eckstein. Even more curious, however, was that outside of the small pockets of celebration I saw from my Latinx circles, there wasn’t much congratulatory fanfare for the cover either. The largest positive representation of Latinos in any sci-fi, comic book, or fandom-driven franchise in my lifetime, and little to no attention was being brought to the fact that one of the biggest IPs in the world was being shepherded into its future by a minority group. Specifically, a minority group that has yet to get its due in the current era of film and television. Instead, most social media comments expressed excitement for the characters, the shows, and at the idea that the future of a galaxy far, far away were in good hands. But, in a way, that made the lack of acknowledgement feel a little inauspicious.
What did it mean? Were we finally moving in the right direction? Were we stepping closer to the day when “normal” is seeing a majority Latinx Star Wars slate? What about the sequel to a black-led superhero movie that got nominated for Best Picture while making a billion dollars, is that normal? Or a $465 million television prequel to one of the highest grossing (and mostly white) sci-fi franchises of all time finally featuring people of color as elves and dwarves? That’s the dream, right? To see any and all races, genders, sexual orientations, and identities represented in our entertainment, running parallel to the melting pot “dream” this country is supposed to be, and for it to be nothing more than another piece of content for us to enjoy. The day when it’s no longer considered progress, it just…is.
To be fair, Disney is making an effort to get there. Turning Red and Raya and The Last Dragon, two animated Disney films released in the past year, have female Asian-American/Pacific Islander leads, while Encanto, the Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature, revolves around a multigenerational Colombian family. Temuera Morrison (Māori) and Ming-Na Wen (Chinese) just led The Book of Boba Fett, and two of the MCU’s most interesting Phase Four origin stories are Chinese (Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings) and South Asian (Ms. Marvel). Still though, with each chipping away at the status quo of science fiction stories being predominantly white and male, I see Instagram Reels celebrating dark skin children with curly hair recognizing themselves on screen and Hakas being performed by indigenous Tusken Raiders. So, what was it about this cover that possibly generated a silent normalization? Maybe we should be happy that three Latinx leads on a major magazine cover was met with nothing more than geeky excitement, absent of racial motivations and politicalization. But, of course, that isn’t reality.
Look again at the title of this article. You’ll see that the word “was” is in parentheses. Just 10 days after the Vanity Fair cover’s release, I changed the word “is” to “was” because my questions about representation being normalized were answered with a violent “Hell No.” After Obi-Wan Kenobi’s premiere, the official Star Wars Twitter, and even Ewan McGregor himself, had to respond to racist comments aimed at Obi-Wan Kenobi co-star Moses Ingram regarding her casting in the show. That shoe I was waiting for had finally dropped; it just fell into a different racist bucket. It confirmed that with every leap forward, we often find a way to take giant steps backwards. Even more importantly, it confirmed that race, ethnicity, and identity can never, and should never, be taken out of the conversation when it comes to representation in this country. For better or worse, that individuality is what sets us apart. Seeing that booming Latinx pride quietly vanquished to the voids of the Twitterverse reminded me that celebrating your culture, your community, and your heritage isn’t done to appease others. It’s done to allow others to feel comfortable in doing the same. It’s the light that shines through intolerance’s darkness as a beacon of unity. So, here I am, yelling in the face of fandoms everywhere: The future of Star Wars is Latinx, dammit! Viva La Raza y Viva la Rebelión! Because we’re gonna be on your screens for a long time to come, whether you like it or not.
Photo Credits: Photo 1 - Vanity Fair; Photo 3 - Disney