Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Flack Over Finn & Racial Spidey Sense

British actor John Boyega as Finn in 'The Force Awakens'
Earlier today I read an interesting article by blogger Martin Reese about the mixed reactions by some black and white fans to the character Finn in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' who's played by British actor John Boyega (pictured left).

Fan-generated controversy over the casting of people of color in major Hollywood film roles continues to offer fascinating insight into the complexities of race in this country.

Oh and speaking of which, kudos to actor Michael B. Jordan for all the accolades he's received for his role as Adonis Creed in the latest film in the 'Rocky' franchise, 'Creed'. Especially after all the grief he got for being cast as The Human Torch in last summer's critically-panned 'Fantastic Four' - check out my blog from August 12, 2015 if you missed that particular cinematic drama.

Before I dive into this, let me first mention that there's been a lot of positive reaction to Finn, including a very insightful commentary in the December 18th issue of The Hollywood Reporter by the creator of ABC's 'Black-ish', Kenya Barris - who discusses why Finn is a real positive for young kids of color.

In some ways the negative reactions to diverse or 'unconventional' casting choices serves as a gateway that permits us to look closer into the ways ingrained perceptions of race (or racial identity) affect the deeper levels of the collective American psyche.

The aforementioned Martin Reese is a self-described engineer, director, screenwriter and who, as the subtitle description to the title of his blog "Martin's Theory of Relativity" says, "Blogs about topics in science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics specifically as it pertains to people of color."

Back on December 26th, he posted a blog that posed some interesting questions about why some black and white Sci-Fi fans (specifically fans of the Star Wars series) populated social media with a flurry of negative comments.

As Reese observes on his blog, "members of Black Social Media are complaining about the Finn character. Seems Finn was not the Black Jedi they were looking for. There have been comments like: "He’s cooning.";"He’s Jar Jar Binks all over again,";  "It’s the emasculation of the Black male to prop up Rey,"; "He’s just a janitor."

Okay, very minor spoiler alert - in 'The Force Awakens', it's made clear that at some point early in his Stormtrooper career, Finn worked for a time as a janitor on a major Empire installation / base.

Some black folks found that racist, which baffles me.

Pre-Jedi Luke Skywalker looks to the future in Star Wars
I mean Luke Skywalker was basically a dirt-poor hick farm boy in the original 'Star Wars' which came out in 1977.

I saw that film eleven times in the theater (really) and I don't recall people of any race complaining that Luke was some kind of galactic version of a redneck just because he worked on his Uncle Owen's farm.

(By the way I'm still not really sure what Uncle Owen was actually farming in the deserts of Tattoine in that movie?)

Just look at some of the complaints (see above) about the character Finn that Reese cited as examples from some disgruntled members of Black Social Media.

There's a sense that some people of color have projected onto Finn (consciously or unconsciously) a hypersensitivity to various ingrained racial stereotypes that have been used to paint African-Americans in this nation for generations; on and off the screen.

People of color in this country have what I describe as a "Racial Spidey Sense", it's like an antennae that detects the presence or intent of prejudice or racism in social situations or public spaces.

As an African-American, you sort of get used to having to constantly be on guard for racism in certain situations. Life is tricky enough, but if you let your guard down racism can sneak up on you in a situation where you least expect it; and it can really throw you off balance.

Racism in America can be very sneaky
Thus "Racial Spidey Sense" is hypersensitive, but it has to be - because racism in these United States can be very, very subtle.

So my sense is that the negative comments about Finn found on Black Social Media are a mix of overreaction, sarcastic wit - or just "Racial Spidey Sense" tingling at the sight of a major black character on the screen in a Star Wars movie.

Now I realize that some of you who may have read this blog before might be thinking, "Dude, seriously, you're like the last person who should be accusing black people of being hypersensitive about anything..."

But I've been quite open about the fact that one of the reasons I began this blog was to have a place to record my thoughts and experiences in order to step back and examine them as written words.

Simply so I can ask myself, Was I being oversensitive? Did that really just happen? Am I wrong?

I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong.

I know I'm oversensitive and sometimes I interpret things incorrectly or misread mixed signals - but as a person who actively devotes time to observing the human condition I'm experienced enough to know that I'm often right about some of the things I observe or feel too.

Many times I've had people email me or leave comments on the blog telling me they felt I was misreading something that I knew I was right about.

Jamaican bobsled team's Olympic helmets. Hmmm....
Like back in February, 2014 during the last Winter Olympics in Russia where I blogged about the Jamaican bobsled team's helmets being painted like watermelons being imagery based on racial overtones - someone commented that I was wrong and that's cool, we can agree to disagree.

Or the time back in 2009 when I blogged about an experience I had at a TD Bank branch on East 43rd street in Manhattan - I had people comment that I misread what happened.

As the title of that blog post suggests, I was admittedly a bit pissed off when I wrote it, but more people commented that they'd experienced the same thing - that blog was written seven years ago and I still get hits on it.

(By the way, being a black person in a bank in America could literally be an entire blog unto itself.)

So let me just wrap up by saying we all have a right to our opinions.

Even though I respect people (both black and white) who had negative things to say about John Boyega's character Finn in the new Star Wars, I disagree with them.

I'm a film fan and a writer and I felt the Finn character was well-written, multi-dimensional and flawed in a way that made him human.

Some people don't like to talk about it, but there are film fans who were a little uncomfortable seeing an attractive leading white female character forming a bond with an attractive black male character onscreen.

But that's okay. The Force Awakens has made more than $1.51 billion worldwide since it opened back on December 18th and is on track to be the highest grossing film in box office history; and it just opened in China today.

So it's probably safe to say that the fans who had negative things to say about the character Finn are dwarfed by those around the world by those like me who liked him.

And that's okay too.

After all, Finn and Rey are just fictional characters in a story that took place "A long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away" from America.


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