October 08, 2014

Lucas's prejudices in Star Wars

In 2012 I posted the following article and comment:

George Lucas cut female X-wing pilots out of Return of the Jedi at the last minute

Can we call Lucas a sexist and a racist for his film choices?

This led to the following discussion with Brad:I think the article says it best that we'll probably never know. However, I'll say two things that aren't exactly defenses of Lucas.

One is that if he WERE sexist, it would have been an easy casting decision just not to screen female actors for the parts in the first place. I don't think anyone would have given that a second thought especially back then, although we might have more to talk about now. Lot of male characters had lines cut too, so I'm not seeing an indictment here.

The second is that Lucas has done a lot of squirrely things with these films for a lot of squirrely reasons. Sexism almost seems TOO EASY of an explanation for why he changed something. More likely that it had to do with some inane, esoteric minutia that would never have occurred to anyone but him.
Whatever the reason, there was no excuse for one woman and no minorities among the main characters in Episode IV.

People can always come up with excuses--er, reasons--for their beliefs. Like, "Muslims may be hiding bombs in their robes, or I can't understand what they're saying, or they give off a bad vibe."

What matters is outcomes not, intent. If you're thinking of reasons why a universe doesn't have any significant women or minorities, you're thinking along sexist and racist lines. Whether you realize it or not.In singling out Episode 4, I think you may be placing blame on Lucas that belongs on FOX studios. Star Wars was only Lucas' second major film and he had a tough time selling it to begin with. It's a mistake to think that he had the final say over casting for the film. His only real concession from the studio was permission to use less famous white people. You do remember that this movie was made in the mid-'70s right?

I also think you might be giving Lucas a little too much credit in the creativity department. Much of what Star Wars is was drawn from archetypal medieval literature, Japanese B-movie mysticism, cowboy spaghetti westerns, and WWII combat pictures none of which were particularly big on diversity. If you want to say that Lucas wasn't very enlightened, sure, but I'd say his tropes are more a product of his times than they are bigoted.
Fox cared about the race and gender of minor characters such as X-Wing pilots? Thirteen years after Star Trek pioneered an integrated starship crew? Unlikely.

And why did Lucas dismiss the criticism of the first movie before backtracking and casting some minorities in Episode V? If Fox made the decision, Lucas's response should've been, "I totally agree with your criticism, but the studio had the final say on casting." Unless I'm sadly mistaken, that isn't close to what he said.

Lucas had more power when he made the Indiana Jones movies, but his depictions of South American Indians and Asian Indians were stereotypical and arguably racist. So no, I don't cut him any slack for his alleged lack of clout.

The "product of his times" argument applies to any older person who feels uncomfortable around blacks, gays, Muslims, et al. Hence my posting about Person X and the roomful of strangers. Either Lucas and Person X are both racists, or neither are.

"Discomfort" with strangers

Here's the "Person X" posting I mentioned, with comments from people:

Suppose Person X feels uncomfortable in a room full of one type of person: women, blacks, gays, Muslims, old people, the disabled, children, burn victims, CEOs, prostitutes, movie stars, undertakers, televangelists, drug users, nudists, ex-convicts, etc.

You could say X is prejudiced and needs to get over it, but I wouldn't be too harsh on him. Most likely his discomfort comes from ignorance and will fade as he gets to know the people.

I wouldn't necessarily use words like "racism," sexism," "homophobia," or "bigotry" to describe X. He's not saying these people are bad or inferior, only that he's not used to them.

What do you think?Judy
Will X make an effort to get to know them?

For me, that would be the test. ;-)

He's probably a bigot/sexist/racist/homophobe or whatever. I never met anyone who said "I'm not a racist, I just don't feel comfortable around those people" who wasn't a big ol' racist. This is one of those things racists say so I'll shut up about race.

If I go so far with my preferences as to avoid an entire group of people, you can bet I don't see them as individuals and do not have positive thoughts about them.
I agree, Laurel. But my inclusion of nonracial groups shows it can happen whether race is involved or not.

And I agree, Judy. The first time it happened, I'd be charitable toward X and not condemn him as a bigot. But if he continued to avoid them, refused to learn about them, and kept hinting something was wrong with them, I'd move toward condemning him.Laurel:
I can't think of a roomful of ANY type of people I would be that uncomfortable in except one full of armed terrorists or rapists or something, although the "Laurel in a roomful of televangelists" scenario would probably devolve into a bunch of yelling pretty quick.

It is probably usually a good idea to give a person the benefit of the doubt once, though.

I think Laurel hit on the key issue--the generalizing of people by a characteristic. If "X" is referring to any group of people collectively when making derogatory remarks about them (i.e. "those people"), I think that indicates a ingrained prejudice that goes beyond simple discomfort. People who do that clearly have bias against the characteristic that "those people" who they are whether we're talking about gays, blacks, women, or CPAs. That goes beyond a simple dislike of an individual or singular behavior. I wouldn't hesitate to label that held belief or expression whatever -ism or -phobia that applies.

And to further the point, I don't think even just a willingness to learn about the group in question and potentially change their attitude is enough to make a difference. While it's possible "X" COULD do that, I don't think they get any credit for it until it actually happens.
Comment:  As I said, I'm not sure that we could say Person X is necessarily prejudiced. But yes, prejudice will explain his responses most of the time.

If Person X never met a CPA and has no idea what to expect, I guess you could call his discomfort "prejudice." He's prejudiced against the unknown--thinking a whole class of people will have some harmful or unpleasant trait. But unless the group is murderers or sociopaths or people who never take a bath, that probably won't happen. The group will have the same variety of people as any other group.

Now that Brad made the case that discomfort usually means "ingrained prejudice," go back and apply that to George Lucas and his evident discomfort with casting women and minorities. Lucas's "product of the times" feelings qualify as prejudice.

For more on the subject, see Star Trek vs. Star Wars.

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