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Is the new ‘Star Wars’ film cast a throwback to discrimination?

John Boyega of sci fi comedy movie "Attack of the Block" is one of the "Star Wars Episode 7" core cast members that were announced Tuesday April 29.
Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Lucasfilm announced Tuesday that the cast for the upcoming installment of the “Star Wars” saga of movies, “Episode 7”, has been confirmed. Besides cast members of the original trilogy (Episodes 4 - 6) which include Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, new members of the main cast include the following: John Boyega (“Attack of the Block”); Daisy Ridley; Adam Driver; Oscar Isaac (“Sucker Punch”, “Ex Machina”); Andy Serkis (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”); Domhnall Gleeson (“About Time”, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2”); Max von Sydow (“Minority Report”, “The Exorcist”). However, the selection for the main cast has made people suspect that there may either be a discrimination agenda behind it or simply an overlooking of discrimination. It has already been pointed out by “io9”’s Annalee Newitz that the cast consists of mostly males (as with the previous movies). As she mentions, the only new major female character is one to be played by Daisy Ridley. And even though Newitz does not point out that only one black male has been added to the new cast, John Boyega, she still raises the question of discrimination between gender and race: “Are we seriously pretending that the universe is comprised almost entirely of men (and mostly white men at that?)”

Even though past “Star Wars” films have consisted of a mostly white male cast, they have starred people of color in heroic roles. It started with the second film in 1980, “The Empire Strikes Back”, with Lando Calrissian played by black actor Billy Dee Williams who continued the role in “Return of the Jedi” in 1983. Beginning in 1999, a black actor, Samuel L. Jackson, played Jedi Master Mace Windu in the prequels.

The near-all white, male cast of the new movie seems to imply a throwback to a time when fewer women and minorities of color were given heroic or strong character roles. But this was a standard that was actually, in many ways, broken by creator George Lucas’s casting of the past “Star Wars” films. Regardless of the mostly white male cast, Leia had a relatively strong character role, two black men played heroes between the second film of the original trilogy and the prequels and Leia’s mother, Padme, is portrayed as a strong character in the prequels.

Perhaps the upcoming movie’s cast is not as white bred as it appears. Andy Serkis is part Armenian, a Semitic ethnicity. Also, although his last name connotes Judaism, Oscar Isaac was born in Guatemala and so is of Latino origin. However, because his maternal grandfather was a Frenchman, Isaac looks Caucasian. It has also been debated that Semitic peoples are classified as Caucasian since they are from Asia Minor (which borders Europe) as opposed to Asia itself. So is Disney or Lucasfilm trying to get by with their own racist/sexist agenda even within affirmative action?

And what happened to the actress of color that Lucasfilm was searching for to fill the role of a heroine, a heroine said to possibly be a descendent of Obi Wan (“Ben”) Kenobi at that? Disney and Lucas film have seemed not to say much about it since announcing it last month. However, at the time of this writing, it was reported by “The Hollywood Reporter” that director J.J. Abrams is still in the process of filling another major female role although details aren’t yet known. Could the role be the one for that actress of color? Perhaps or perhaps not. The “Reporter” implies that role may have been edited out. If it has, should we wonder why?

The original “Star Wars” movies (both original trilogy and prequels) have depicted social progress in real life much like the “Star Trek” franchise has of which Abrams also directed the last two films. There seemed to be no discrimination issues in those two movies.

Time can only tell how progressive this new installment in the “Star Wars” saga will be. But let’s not get too hasty for conclusions. Even though Abrams claims shooting of the movie will begin sometime this month, the casting isn’t complete yet. In fact, according to “The Wrap”, Disney and Lucasfilm had originally planned to reveal the cast this Sunday, May 4, which has been named by fans “Star Wars Day” (A.K.A. “May the Fourth Be With You”). So there’s a big possibility that we’ll be given more information about who’s in the cast this weekend.

Stay tuned for more news on “Star Wars: Episode 7” which is due to release December 18, 2015.

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