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Bill Potts died for your sins, or, Even more ways in which the previous season of Doctor Who is a flaming turd

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Now that I have had time to concentrate my rage into the long-smoldering core of righteous fury that burns within my core, fueling both activism and fixit fics, I would like to mention two more ways in which Season 10 of Doctor Who was horribly wretched.


It’s especially shitty, particularly in in World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls.

Think of the Cyber people as people with disabilities: difficulties in communicating, in gross motor control, in feeling/connecting with their emotions, and/or people with chronic pain. You will soon understand how disgustingly they are portrayed.

A. They look dead. They are shown at first as motionless figures in wheelchairs. Their white costumes and head masks recall either body bags or bags over people’s heads when they’re going to a firing squad; either way, they carry connotations of death.

B. Their voices are silenced and treated as irrelevant. The first Cyber person who does have a voice, saying, “Pain, pain,” with their communications device, is treated as an annoyance; the nurse deals with them brusquely. Even further, Bill turns down the device’s volume so she doesn’t have to hear the disabled person speak. Her action suggests that the disabled person’s voice as scary and objectionable.

C. They do not want to live; they all want to die. After the pain Cyber person, we hear two other Cyber voices in the hospital. One person says, “Die me.” The other says, “Kill me.” Viewers are expected to take this death wish as applicable for all Cyber people; even Bill, in The Doctor Falls, says something like “If I can’t be me, I don’t want to go on living.” In this case, “me” means the entirely organic, able-bodied person that she was before. These statements from Cyber people imply that life with a disability is so hopeless and miserable that even those with disabilities don’t want to continue living.

D. They’re treated as cannon fodder. The Cyber people look dead, have no voices [according to able-bodied people], and say that they want to die. It’s very easy to jump from these observations to the conclusion that they are not people, but mere objects. Their deaths don’t count as deaths of people because they’re subhuman and…well…they were essentially dead already, right? As a result of this dehumanization, we get torture porn of the people at the orphanage blowing up Cyber people because killing nonpersons isn’t really killing, so it’s not a real problem or anything. It’s so kind, brave, noble, compassionate, admirable, and heroic for the Doctor to indiscriminately slaughter crowds of disabled people. This show really sends the message that we should respect all people’s worth, dignity, and integrity. I love it in shows and movies and books when all the disabled people die. I find it inspirational and uplifting.

For another ableist treatment, refer to the depiction of Eyeliner Master, as played by John Simm. Last time we saw the dude in the End of Time, he was insane on account of the Drums. Yup, that counts as being disabled. When he reappears in the Season 10 finale, he acts more like Roger Delgado’s Master: mentally disturbed and disordered, but much more restrained in speech and action. He presents as being sane[r]. Notably, he makes no reference to the Drums that so deranged his earlier life and plot arcs. What’s going on here? The character gives no explanation for the change, and all supporting media portray Eyeliner Master as a return of EoT Master, which leads us to conclude that they’re the same person. So EoT Master = Eyeliner Master – disability.

What the hell, fuckos? You can’t just wave a Magical Wand of Disability Deletion! After years and years of making the Master’s Drums and consequent Insanity a key part of his character, you can’t just remove them because you feel like it. The cheating is especially transparent because there’s no in-story explanation for his reappearance, his changed behavior, or indeed what the hell he was doing circling the drain in a Mondasian colony ship in the first place. An in-story explanation could have made his personality change more plausible and acceptable. For example, maybe he’s still insane, but he has learned how, at great mental and physical cost, present as “sane.” Or maybe he adapted some Cyber technology to partially inhibit his explosive rages and so restore some measure of his beloved self-control. However, without an in-story explanation, we are left with a deus ex machina Magical Disability Deletion. The form of the character remains, but not the content. In a way, disabled EoT Master was dehumanized and discarded just like the disabled Cyber people. The character is lost, and so is his [highly problematic] representation.


Those squealing with unalloyed joy over Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor should note that a white woman came on as the Doctor just as Pearl Mackie, a woman of color, departed.

@stardust-rain points out that the timing is no coincidence:

also everyone ignores the fact that we are getting a female doctor in the expanse of getting rid of an amazing black lesbian character. that’s right, this is the reason why Bill Potts isn’t coming back, bc having a female doctor AND a black lesbian would have given a heart attack to the bigoted fans all at once. they had to make a sacrifice and Bill was it.

When I say BILL POTTS DIED FOR YOUR SINS, this is what I mean. The show has had an overall craptacular history of representing women and/or queer people and/or Black people and/or disabled people. Attempts to make the show more accurately reflect the demographics and identities of the viewers have been piecemeal and insultingly small. Bill, as a queer Black woman, had the potential to significantly improve the show and make it more relevant, interesting, nuanced, and overall better. But she was done in by a poorly organized conception [seriously, what’s her backstory beyond chips, Moira, and a mum about which we know nothing, not even her fucking name?] and horrible, stereotypical writing.

Bill became a liability to the show, not because of her underdevelopment and shitty lines, but because she was a queer Black woman. Here’s the thought process at the BBC: “Whoa there! That’s just way too much representation; the straight cis white dudes won’t stand for it! If we stick a white female Doctor in the mix along with a queer Black female character, the straight white cis dudes will pitch shit fits. We need to think strategically and make it look like we’re actually representing our audience when we’re not. So Bill’s gotta go. There aren’t that many queer and/or Black people who watch this show, so it won’t be a big deal. We can just turn her into LITERAL SLIME and send her off with her space stalker and call it a happy ending. THEN we’ll have a female Doctor. We can’t have a queer Black female Doctor because that would be too much representation. But we can have a straight white female Doctor. Yeah, that’s just enough representation. We’ll look edgy without really making substantive change. [Plz fanboys don’t hurt us. D: ].”

Bill Potts was too real for the BBC to handle. Thus they killed her off, making her the scapegoat for their cowardice.

The Doctor Falls is a flaming turd of misogynoir, aka Bill deserved so much better, but she was never gonna get it

The Doctor Falls is a flaming turd of misogynoir, aka Bill deserved so much better, but she was never gonna get it published on No Comments on The Doctor Falls is a flaming turd of misogynoir, aka Bill deserved so much better, but she was never gonna get it

Oh look spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The latest season of DW has treated Bill shittily, both as a WOC and as a lesbian, and The Doctor Falls was just the diarrhea sauce on a crap sundae of disappointment.

If you think it’s a “happy ending” that Bill, the first lesbian COC [companion of color] on Doctor Who, suffered medical violation for ten years by the Cyber conversion team and ten years of mental violation by Eyeliner Master, then ended up condemned to the equivalent of TOTAL NARRATIVE DEATH, flying off into the universe with a personalityless dead wet white chick with whom she had no substantive relationship just because the DWWC had been stalking her for a decade, go read something else.

If you feel like partaking of my rage, stay with me. Other people, I’m sure, will direct their rage, frustration, and sense of betrayal into far more eloquent and exhaustive essays than mine about how this entire season failed Bill. I’m only going to focus on two moments from the beginning of The Doctor Falls that epitomized for me just how racist, sexist, and anti-Black women the narrative has been.

Note: I’m quoting from memory here because I have better things to do than to go back and watch the show torture Bill.

Both moments of quintessential misogynoir occur early on in the episode when the Doctor is telling Bill about her Cyber conversion and its consequences.

1) The Doctor says to her something like, “You’re so strong,” then lists examples of Bill’s mental strength, including her survival of physical and mental rape for ten years. He then adds something to the effect of her having to resist her programming.

So the Doctor blows off Bill’s stated fears of both dying and of Missy [see World Enough and Time], then proceeds to get her thoroughly perforated and DEAD, tells her to wait for him, doesn’t come for her, leaves her to a decade of medical torture and mind-fucks from Eyeliner Master, then has the audacity to say that she’s so strong for having survived despite the fact that he failed her on multiple levels.

This is the equivalent of straight and/or cis and/or white and/or dude-type persons treating queer and/or Black women like subhuman objects for years and then saying that they’re so impressed by how the queer and/or Black women handle adversity. It’s the Strong Black Woman stereotype: the idea that Black women’s fortitude is an individual choice of personal responsibility, rather than a trait often developed out of the necessity of surviving in an oppressive society.

2) The Doctor also says to her in this conversation, “You’re a Cyberman now. You cannot get angry.” Of course, Bill, having been raped and tortured for a decade, then pulled out of hell too late by the Doctor, does become angry, so her blaster fires and something burns. “Because of that,” the Doctor says.

Right…so…here we have a straight cis white dude lecturing  a queer woman of color. The QWOC has just spent  a decade of her life being abused, raped, and tortured in ways that queer and/or Black women have been particularly vulnerable to now and throughout history. The QWOC is full of rage, pain, and sadness. The straight cis white dude tells her not to feel her entirely understandable emotions.

This is playing directly into the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman whose wrath scares white people [especially dudes] so shitless that they must prohibit it. This also plays directly into the tendency of straight people to do tone policing on queer people, claiming that, if queer people weren’t so loud/flamboyant/outraged/“openly gay,” they would attain their goals of equal rights more effectively.

Bill deserved so much better than all the objectification, humiliation, and cancellation she suffered, but she was doomed from the start. The story tied up her arc and identity in losing and then ultimately finding that dead wet white chick with no personality. However, there’s a stronger case to be made that Bill’s arc and identity may more accurately be linked to an anxiety about her identity, her parentage, and being seen for who she truly is. [I am indebted to irascible bogtrotter’s thoughts on the subject.]

But the narrative didn’t give a shit about that, so it deprived the character of a significant chance for true development and flourishing. Add to that all the flaming racism, sexism, and homophobia that the showrunners et al. heaped on Bill, and you can see why the way in which she was constructed as a character gave her no hope of any satisfaction or satisfactory development in-universe.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m never watching the new DW again. I’m going back to play in my Shalkaverse sandbox, where it is quite possible that Alison Cheney, the Master, and the Doctor will vworp over to an alternative timeline and extract Bill from that shitshow to help her achieve the dignity, respect, and happiness that she was never able to in her season.

To the Bat Fax IV: posting about Black Lives Matter VT

To the Bat Fax IV: posting about Black Lives Matter VT published on No Comments on To the Bat Fax IV: posting about Black Lives Matter VT

Posted on Facebook and Tumblr about Black Lives Matter Vermont and tagged some locals on Facebook.


The fledgling Black Lives Matter Vermont group has hit an obstacle. They have spent recent months renovating their space, coordinating actions, recruiting and training volunteers, obtaining merchandise, etc., and now they have unfortunately reached the extent of their resources.
BLMVT needs our support more than ever now. Vermont is one of the whitest states in the nation, so BLMVT might seem irrelevant to some folks, but that’s not true. We absolutely need a diversity of social justice groups like BLMVT if we are going to make this state respectful of human rights and dignity for ALL people.
You can empower BLMVT to continue the important work for which they have built a foundation. The best way is to head on over to BLMVT’s Web site and become a sustaining member for $23.00 a month: That way, we can guarantee the financial stability that BLMVT needs to flourish.
If you cannot give monthly, you can make one-off donations here: Every little bit helps!
There are other ways to get involved as well. Check out BLMVT’s Volunteer page:
Here’s the Events calendar:
And here’s the store:

Thanks in advance!

Women’s March on Washington DC ignites “contentious dialogue” — a.k.a. “white people whining”

Women’s March on Washington DC ignites “contentious dialogue” — a.k.a. “white people whining” published on No Comments on Women’s March on Washington DC ignites “contentious dialogue” — a.k.a. “white people whining”

The New York Times misses the story yet again. In a piece about the Women’s March on Washington movement, Farah Stockman focuses on white women whining about having to deal with the intersectional feminism propounded by women of other races. The white women become upset when the women of other races tell them that their racial privilege inures them to trials that women of other races face, so they take their toys and go home. God forbid they take the opportunity to learn anything about their privilege, how to acknowledge it, how to speak and think about it, and how to use their unearned powers for good. No, their individual hurt feelings matter more than the systemic, programmatic, societal, wholesale oppression of entire colors of people.

I don’t care about the whiny white women. I want to hear the story of this event developing from a narrowly focused, exclusive event, to a more intersectional one, with a broader base. The white feminists should not be the focus of coverage. The women of other races should.

On a personal level, I’m not sure how I feel about this event. Participation on some level would certainly bring me together with other people who feel similarly impassioned and wish to change the world, as I do. But it’s still a Women’s March, and I don’t care how inclusive their principles say they are, because it still looks to me that it privileges people who are white, and/or non-disabled, and and/or women over people who aren’t one or several of these things.

“Thank you for not being racist” and the distressing anomaly of decency

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Marketing for digital models at Daz, Renderosity, Renderotica, and the ilk trades heavily in stereotypes. For example, there are the stereotypes of empty, objectified, conventional white cis femininity. There’s also the perennial portrayal of WOC as primitive and bestial, as well as the broken English that appears along with ads for Asian characters. And there’s the sexism, racism, ableism, and transphobia built into the programs we use to make our art. In conclusion, it’s pretty racist out there.

That’s why FeralFey’s products attract my attention. This vendor specializes in realistic poses for figures and regularly does packages associated with particular cultures/ethnicities. To see what’s so refreshing and respectful about FeralFey’s stuff, check out their V4 and V5 Voodoo Magic Poses; compare and contrast this package with Capsces Digital Ink’s  Madame Mojo Poses for Monique 6. Both sets are linked to WOC characters, V4 Mama Brijit for the Voodoo Magic, G2F Monique 6 for the Madame Mojo, but they each treat their subjects differently.

  • FeralFey’s promo shots depict a WOC as active, confident, and powerful, while Capsces’ promo shots depict a WOC as dehumanized, lacking in power, and pointlessly sexualized. FeralFey’s product promos have Maman Brijit dancing, invoking, drawing, and tipping her top hat in dramatic, full-body poses reminiscent of dancing. Her intense gaze and the strong angles of her posture demonstrate strength; even in poses named Entranced and Enthralled, her stances remain solid, balanced, and compelling. By contrast, Capsces’ promo shots show Monique pretty much naked, with goofy body paint. The near nudity combines with the character’s arched back and high-heel foot poses to place her in the pinup category. More subtly, Capsces’ decision to roll Monique’s eyes back in her head and open her mouth for many of these poses connotes an altered state of consciousness that may or may not be orgasmic. Plus there’s a snake or two in there for some reason. In other words, with unintentional double entendres like “parent snake[s] to Monique’s hip before applying pose,” Capsces’ promos show the tired old conjunction between a WOC and a transgressive, excessive, bestial sexuality.
  • FeralFey’s product shows the results of accurate research, while Capsces’ does not. FeralFey’s promo text uses the correct vocabulary of Voodoo, and the product even includes accurate veves [diagrams] used to summon various loas [interceding spirits between people and deities]. Meanwhile, Capsces’ product bills itself as “voodoo and witch doctor inspired,” which is code for “based on imaginary stereotypes.”
  • Finally, FeralFey’s promo text describes Voodoo differently than Capsces’. Capsces’ text settles for evocation of a stereotype, with “Monique…cast[ing] some dark mojo,” blah blah blah “voodoo,” blah blah blah “witch doctor inspired,” blah blah blah. Note the equation of Voodoo with “dark mojo,” which most consumers will probably translate as “incomprehensible black magic,” and “witch doctors,” most readily translatable as “evil wizards.” Basically Capsces says that Voodoo = evil magic. By contrast, FeralFey says only that “…the magic of voodoo enthralls the curious and ensnares the imagination.” There’s a distinction made between Voodoo itself and how outsiders perceive it. It might seem like puzzling sorcery to the clueless, but the information in FeralFey’s promo text reveals that Voodoo contains, in part, rituals to call on intercessors and/or deities so that people can gain advice and help. In other words, practitioners of Voodoo do what many other people in many other religions do. In implicit rebuke to Capsces’ exoticizing portrayal, FeralFey’s text insists that Voodoo is a religion like any other. Sure, it’s not perfect; FeralFey does use the adjective “visceral” in the description, which is code for “primitive,” but, overall, FeralFey’s Voodoo Magic Poses demonstrate respect and realism in opposition to Capsces’ stereotyped, demeaning cliches.

I was so overjoyed when I noticed the distinction between FeralFey’s stuff and everyone else’s that I sent a thank you note to them, saying much of what I noted above. In a sea of lazy, sloppy, unresearched, and racist characterizations, their [much more] respectful illustrations stand out as an example of what people should be doing. I get so sick of calling out racist bullshit that I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to congratulate someone for respect and inclusivity. I can tell that FeralFey works meticulously on all aspects of their creations, carefully crafting them for realism and respectful portrayal. I wanted to let them know that I recognized and encouraged their efforts. They wrote back and thanked me, which made me happy.

At the same time, I have the same sort of meta-reaction toward FeralFey’s poses as I do toward Dead or Alive’s gender-unmarked love songs or Queen’s respect for women. In all of these cases, the respect and decency of the artists toward their characters is really rather basic. And yet, because we live in a societal cesspit of racism, heteronormativity, and misogyny in which people are denied basic humanity because of their race, sexuality, and/or femininity, a modicum of authorial respect is mind-blowing. I don’t want to be surprised by Dead or Alive’s gender-free love songs. I don’t want to go into raptures over the love and equality in Killer Queen. I don’t want to write a thank you note to a digital artist for treating WOC like people. I want gender neutrality and equality of the sexes and respect between the races to be the standard, not the exception. And yet they aren’t, so my momentary happiness is outweighed by a greater structural disappointment.

Lupita Nyong’o, embodiment, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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I recently held forward at length about the frustrating representations of women and/or people of colors other than pasty in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. One of my criticisms discussed Lupita Nyong’o’s character, the mocapped Maz Kanata. I interpreted it as a literal erasure of a Mexican-Kenyan woman and thus a very problematic maneuver with imperialist, colonialist overtones.

A December 13th, 2015, Buzzfeed interview with Nyong’o complicates my interpretation. Nyong’o explains her choice of the mocapped Force Awakens role as a calculated assertion of agency in a racially charged environment. Having recently won an Oscar for her performance as the enslaved [and much abused] woman Patsy in 12 Years a Slave, Nyong’o made the following remark:

“12 Years a Slave was a film that was so much about my body, and Star Wars is not at all. There was a liberation in being able to play in a medium where my body was not the thing in question,” Nyong’o told BuzzFeed News. “The acting challenge I was looking for was completely different, a complete departure from 12 Years a Slave.”

Let’s break her comment down a bit. 12 Years a Slave film centralizes the brutal violence to which black bodies are subjected in the form of kidnapping, rape, assault, and other kinds of torture. Thus Nyong’o’s performance as Patsey contains a crapload of racialized and sexualized suffering that the character experiences precisely because she is poor, black, and female. Patsey’s characterization thus becomes hyperfocused on her body, especially when she is hurt and violated. Nyong’o’s comment that it’s freeing to play a character like Maz Kanata where “my body was not the thing in question” implies that her body was “the thing in question” in 12 Years a Slave. Notice how she talks about her body as a “thing,” rather than part of herself. This leads me to suspect that she found her performance as Patsey objectifying to some degree, thus exhausting and disturbing. I think “acting challenge” underestimates the significant physical and emotional difficulties Nyong’o experienced in 12 Years a Slave.

Nyong’o’s description of the role of Maz as a “liberation” suggests that she found it a respite from the role of Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. Patsey is an enslaved woman who experiences physical, mental, and emotional abuse, all with the ultimate effect of making her blackness, femaleness, and enslavement the most salient things about her. In contrast, Maz Kanata is neither black, nor enslaved, nor a victim of onscreen abuse. As an old, wise character and owner of a popular intergalactic watering hole, she has a certain agency and independence denied to Patsey. Nyong’o acknowledges an “acting challenge” in doing a mocap performance for the first time, but I’d hazard a guess that, absent the history of degradation and mistreatment weighing down the role of Patsey, the role of Maz was less emotionally and physically taxing.


Nyong’o obviously does not see her portrayal of Maz Kanata as a racist effacement of a woman of color. In fact, she sees it as an escape from and alternative to the race-obsessed, body-obsessed, and emotionally exhausting work she did for the role of Patsey. So who am I, a white person, to insist that there’s racism and sexism at play here?

Well, there is. Nyong’o, as a woman of color, experiences a double bind created explicitly by the confluence of racism, sexism, classism, etc., in the movie industry. She can play a role like that of Patsey, which foregrounds her blackness, femaleness, and enslavement, and win awards, but suffer emotional and physical aftershocks. When she seeks to avoid physical and mental stress by playing a role like that of Maz Kanata, which is much less strongly determined by race, sex, and even physicality, then people go, “What the hell? Black erasure!” While Patsey and Maz do not represent all the roles available to Nyong’o, they do represent the ways in which racism, sexism, and classism limit her options. Cultural expectations of women of color reward highly sexualized, racialized, classed roles like that of Patsey and look down on less sexualized, racialized, classed roles like that of Maz. The variety of roles available to women of color may be slightly larger than it was 75 years ago, but the racism, sexism, and classism of the movie industry still literally reward them for playing poor, abused, enslaved victims of violence.

The Force Awakens and Smug White People Feminism

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While many media outlets are covering Star Wars: The Force Awakens with glee, one reason for the excitement is the way in which female characters and characters of color are treated. Rey, a white woman, seizes a primary protagonist role, kicks general ass, fights her first cousin to a standstill despite no formal training, avoids a metal bikini, and [surprisingly enough] doesn’t get railroaded into a bullshit romantic subplot with Finn — awesome! Finn, a black man, also features as a protagonist and gets to be goofy and heroic, and no one makes a stink about his skin color — yippee! Poe, an arguable secondary protagonist and brown man, is a totally hot dude whose origins on a Guatemela-like planet seem to pay homage to the actor’s own nationality — nifty! Princess Leia, a white woman, is a general now, leading the Resistance — finally! Captain Phasma, a white woman, intimidates everyone, also avoiding metal bikini — aw yes! Maz Kanata, an alien voiced by a black woman, does a wise, wry, insightful female Yoda impression — woo hoo! There’s a female Resistance pilot [I think she’s Asian] with lines — and she doesn’t die — party party! There are actual women, including Asian women, African women, and women of color, in bit parts and extra roles — sometimes they too have lines, and sometimes they don’t die either — ZOMG1111! From the way that general media interpretations are reacting, you’d think that this film was a historic landmark in progressive portrayals of women and/or people of color.


Mmmm…nah. It’s only a stupendous achievement if you’re looking at it from the limited lens of Smug White People Feminism. Otherwise, it’s not.


You see — if we were really going to have a super cool Force Awakens with novel and progressive treatment of its female characters and/or characters of colors other than pasty, the movie would address these aspects of characters’ identities in their stories. I do not care how irrelevant one’s sex and/or one’s race are supposed to be in the sci-fi universe of Star Wars; in the present day, on this planet, these highly salient characteristics inflect pretty much every aspect of one’s daily existence. Thus, The Force Awakens, as a movie that was created in the present day, on this planet, must reckon with the cultural truths that sex and race significantly define our lives.

What might such a realistic consideration of the characters’ sex and race look like in The Force Awakens? Perhaps Rey, having heard so many “myths” about the predominantly dude-based Jedis, could have some serious questions about her ability to use the Force like them. Maybe Finn’s revulsion at serving the Empire could include his unwillingness to support an overwhelmingly Aryan elite that sends brown people to do their dirty work. Maybe Maz could attribute her watering hole’s thousand-year tenure to the toughness she’s had to develop as a single woman running a huge business. Maybe the whole movie could stop gendering its primary conflict as “sons and their extremely boring Daddy Issues” and reconceptualize it as “people and their struggles with legacies, broadly construed.” In any event, a truly insightful treatment of sex and race in The Force Awakens would have the characters actively discussing such salient traits from which many aspects of their identities arise.


So…does The Force Awakens contain any self-consciousness for its characters about the sex they were assigned, the color of their skin, how these traits are negotiated in their cultures of origin, anything, anything? No! Of course not! Then we wouldn’t have enough time for Daddy Issues Part VII: A Lost Hope!


Seriously, though, The Force Awakens tries to update itself for modern liberal interests, but its treatment of female characters and characters of color shows the update as superficial at best. For example, let’s look at Captain Phasma, storm trooper leader of Finn’s regiment [and apparently the only woman in any position of power anywhere in the Empire]. Her character was originally male, explains Force Awakens cowriter Lawrence Kasden, but then was changed to female at the last minute. The Vulture article in which Kasden was quoted strongly implies that this change occurred in response to fan disappointment with the lack of women in the movie. The ecstasy with which actress Gwendoline Christie, who plays Phasma, receives this information — “…For that evolved thinking to be in a Star Wars movie, I think people love that!” [also from the Vulture article] — seems to represent the general joy with which The Force Awakens’ “evolved thinking” has been received.


A closer look at the example of Captain Phasma, however, reveals absolutely no “evolved thinking” of any kind. As Kasden explains, she was originally thought up as a man, but then her sex was swapped out as almost an afterthought. In other words, nothing changed about the character except that she would be played by a woman, rather than a man. In practice, this means that no one in the movie notices the novelty of a female storm trooper captain, despite the fact that they’ve been male in all previous films. I’m not asking for a soliloquy in which Captain Phasma reveals that she has impostor syndrome [although it could be really cool if done right, which it wouldn’t be]; I’m just saying that a truly progressive and insightful portrayal of a female character doesn’t just slot her in where a male character would have been. Instead, it considers how her experience, perspective, and personality are shaped because she’s a woman and, more specifically, a woman in a society dominated by men. In the same way, Finn’s story does him no justice as a black man because it refuses to let him engage with the reality of being a black man in a society dominated by people who look like the upper echelons of the Empire.

For further proof of lack of “evolved thinking,” let’s consider the example of Maz Kanata. Her character, who presides over a bar where characters go to get Luke’s light saber, is a small, four-fingered, hairless orange humanoid with super-powered glasses. She is played by actress Lupita Nyong’o, who identifies as Mexican-Kenyan. She has also won an Oscar, as well as acclaim in 2014 as one of People’s Most Beautiful. In other words, she’s an extremely skilled and talented performer who considers her embodiment as a brown-skinned woman with kinky hair important. In fact, in her commentary on being chosen as one of the magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful, Nyong’o implicitly contrasts her own features with the “light skin and long, flowing, straight hair” that formed her template for attractiveness when she was growing up. Force Awakens, take note — Nyong’o’s self-consciousness is just one example of the way that sex and race impinge on one’s self-concept and development.

The Force Awakens may give a brown woman a strong, crucial role, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. In fact, it’s pretty racist. This Entertainment Weekly article points out why: “Maz is one of the few creatures in her court who is not a real-life, practical effect…” In other words, there were plenty of people and puppets in Maz’s set, but the director specifically decided to omit Nyong’o bodily and entirely, her presence only available as mediated through motion capture. While Nyong’o is performing in the movie, she’s not performing as a brown-skinned woman with kinky hair. She is instead performing as an orange-skinned alien with [unlike most of the bar patrons] no tangible presence. The Force Awakens literally disembodies Nyong’o, whose body and beauty are inseparable from her personality, identity, acting style and success, and public reception. The long [white, male] colonial project of reducing, distorting, and suppressing the [brown, female] Other continues unabated.

Anyone who thinks that The Force Awakens is an amazing win for representation of women and/or people of color should temper this analysis with two observations. First, representation is more than just a superficial numbers game. Authentic representation requires an engagement with the ways in which sex and race affect one’s life, especially if one isn’t white and/or male. Unfortunately, The Force Awakens lacks such character development. Second, we can’t just take as our measure of success, for example, Lupita Nyong’o playing a character who actually does stuff and performs integral, interesting plot functions. We have to examine how such a character is portrayed. And, if she’s not only deprived of a backstory that addresses her experiences as a person of a non-dominant sex and non-dominant race, but she’s also deprived of physical, bodily presence, then we have to recognize the sexism and racism at play here. Then we have to call it out, criticize it, and work against it, ’cause that’s the only way anything will change.

P.S. I actually really liked this movie.

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