When Star Wars The Force Awakens premiered last year, people were excited to see a black Stormtrooper and a white female as the leads. While the film wasn’t perfect, it provided some representation that blerds wanted to see. Of course, some representation is never enough, especially when the Star Wars films have yet to provide any for black women.
Despite the excitement for the upcoming Star Wars Rogue One movie, black Star Wars fans are already feeling disappointment. Given how fantasy and sci-fi tend to fail women of color onscreen, you can’t really blame them. Fortunately, some Star Wars fans have done what Hollywood can’t and created fan films that give us the women of color we need to see.
One recent fan film, Hoshino, has a blind Asian female building her own lightsaber and reminiscing about her time with her master. The film is a short, poignant piece of work that shows a personal journey anyone can admire. Yet it has struck a particular chord with women of color who have wanted to see themselves reflected. Jessica Lachnachel, an Asian writer for The Mary Sue, wrote that the film took her back to her childhood days of pretending to be Jedi.
Another fan film, Star Wars: Exile, gives black women and men the black Jedi they need. While it is gorier than any film in the Star Wars franchise, it still manages to tell a story with actual human characters that aren’t covered in CGI makeup. Together, Hoshino and Exile have given us two women of color and one black male as leads, displaying creative power that Hollywood would do well to pay attention to.
Fan films are just one way that marginalized identities can give themselves the representation they want. Fan fiction does something similar by taking a fictional material and reinterpreting it through written stories that suit the writer’s needs. For example, the site Black Girls Create has a section called Hogwarts Black Student Union, featuring Harry Potter fan fiction that is told from the perspective of black Hogwarts students.
Since the Harry Potter franchise has a lack of inclusion that is similar to Star Wars, Hogwarts Black Student Union is a necessary space for black Harry Potter fans. By creating their own black Hogwarts students or reinterpreting canon characters, black Potterheads write and draw the characters that should be in Harry Potter’s magical world.
In my story “Am I A Witch Or Not?” I had a black Hermione Granger confront her personal demons while destroying a Horcrux created by Voldemort. Although I’ve outgrown Harry Potter, contributing fan fiction to Hogwarts BSU allowed me to reclaim Hermione by writing the Hermione I wanted to see in the books.
While some creators are supportive of fan interpretation, other creators are not. After YA author S.E. Hinton ranted on Twitter after a reader asked if two of her characters were gay, one wonders how a fanfic writer of her work might feel. Imagine the shame a fanfic reader or writer might feel for wanting to see two of Hinton’s male characters kiss.
Once you create a fictional work and let others consume it, then you no longer have control over how people will view it. Even if you say these characters are meant to be straight or white, there will still be people who will interpret it differently. Instead of putting down different interpretations of a work, creators should learn to respect them even if they don’t agree with them.
In addition to the creators respecting the fans, the fans should also respect the creators. While it is okay to demand better representation, it is important to do constructively. Being upset over the lack of representation does not give you the right to harass the creators until they give you want. In August, some of the fans for the animated series Steven Universe caused an artist from the show to quit Twitter. Instead of harassing the artist over characters, they’ve could’ve just written fan fiction.
Whenever marginalized identities call for more representation, one of the typical responses is “Go make your own stuff.” Through fan films and fan fiction, marginalized identities make the fictional worlds they love their own. Fan interpretation can provide a way for fans to channel their frustrations over the lack of representation without taking it out on creators. Fan interpretation matters because it not only shows appreciation but also provides the representation we want to see.