Many of us have waited with baited breath for more details to emerge about Lupita Nyong’o’s impending role in Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens. According to Variety’s article that reveals new publicity photos of the set, characters, actors, and crew; we have come to learn a few new things about who and what kind of role will be expected of our Academy Award-winning favorite. Nyong’o will play the role of Maz Kanata, a rogue pirate (quite possibly a queen) that leads a band of intergalactic voyagers, thieves, and other disreputable individuals as seen in the Variety photos. It is uncertain at this point which side of the resistance she is indeed fighting for or against, but one thing is for certain is that many of our concerns as to why Lupita Nyong’o has been MIA from teaser trailers, promos, publicity photos and the like is because she’s not playing a live action character.
Maz Kanata will 100% be a CGI motion capture character.
This is disconcerting.
My knee-jerk reaction to finding out this news was shock and denial. I thought that perhaps she’s only CGI throughout part of the movie and the remainder is live-action. My second thought was that this was a rumor and that my undying hope for Lupita to play a Sith Lord—the way I had it planned in my head was in fact the real news story of the day and not this CGI bull. As it turns out this is not a rumor, and audiences will see the incredibly gorgeous and stunning actress concealed in computer graphics and animation.
On social media, there were some strong reactions from fans who articulated their disdain on both sides of the issue. Many fans believed that this was just another way that Hollywood is once again marginalizing Black women in science fiction. Other fans believed that this was a great opportunity to see Lupita stretch her range as an actress and have the opportunity for more animated roles. Others were just happy she was in the movie period and were grateful that we even have a Black woman in a Star Wars film.
Here is my issue with this, and yes I know it’s a bit premature right now to scrutinize the CGI problem with respect to Nyong’o but I can’t help but wonder why there is such a large disparity when it comes to imagery of Black women in science fiction? Most importantly, why cast an Oscar-winning actress with an extraordinary amount of notoriety, who is the face of Lancôme–a massive international cosmetics company–in a role where we never see her in physical form? I will say again it’s too soon to know what Maz Kanata brings to the Star Wars universe and how substantial this pirate will be to the cast of characters, but in the one film where we as Black women and women of color finally get to see someone who looks like us it is hidden underneath the veil of a computerized processor image which is left to the interpretation of someone else.
It gets worse– as I was writing this article, I was sent a barrage of tweets from followers about the inspired image for Maz Kanata. Indie Revolver, who has been known as a credible source for Star Wars exclusives, revealed the first photo of the concept art for the pirate queen. This is the character that Lupita Nyong’o will portraying:
This has still not been fully confirmed, but if the image above is in fact the Maz Kanata that will be depicted by Lupita Nyong’o, then it is pretty clear how Hollywood sees Black women. I’m not jumping to hyperbole either by making this statement, but I think Hollywood should seriously take to task its problem with its imagery of dark skinned Black women. I’m not the only person that has an issue with this. Social media has also had some strong opinions on Lupita playing a CGI character as well:
Some twitter users believed that there are flattering images of aliens for concept art that would befit a pirate queen:
I did a google search for “beautiful aliens” and everything posted is better than this concept art. http://t.co/bGv5ojfYfK
— J. Skyler (@jskylerinc) May 12, 2015
Others believed that although the Lupita casting was a great start, that lack of women of color in the Star Wars universe is troubling.
And many were frank and direct about their feelings to both concept art and the franchise as a whole.
— Son of Baldwin (@SonofBaldwin) May 11, 2015
George Lucas himself according to The Daily Mail, had already been planning to make a seventh Star Wars film before he sold his company Lucasfilm to Disney. When the Star Wars creator sold his iconic franchise to Disney for 4 billion, he also gave the studio his plotline for Star Wars: Episode 7. Disney, however, did not use any of the 70-year-old filmmakers ideas for the new installment. Lucas decided to step away from Star Wars, to make time to spend with his daughter and wife Mellody Hobson. I am curious to know what Hobson– who is the chairman of the board at Dreamworks Animation and is also a Black woman– thinks about the recent role of Lupita Nyong’o playing Maz Kanata. I am also curious to know how Lucas himself feels now that he is raising a Black child, (who I’m sure will grow up to be a Black Girl Nerd) that the very universe he created show no women who look like women his daughter Everest could look up to.
Little white girls will always have Princess Leia and Padmé Amidala to look up to, but what about little Black girls? The one opportunity we could have had to finally see a Black female character we can aspire to be is not only in CGI form, but quite possibly an unattractive alien that looks monstrous.
One concern that came up as I discussed this issue on social media was the issue of colorism. The colorism conversation stirs up quite often when Lupita’s name is mentioned, because let’s face it—there are very few roles offered to dark skinned women. This has been such a controversial topic, that it inspired a documentary directed by Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry called Dark Girls. No one wants to talk about Hollywood’s history with colorism and how it is more prevalent among women than men. The colorism problem however, is not the only subject of concern for fans. Many of us in geek culture who feel underrepresented want to see women who look like us.
It is so easy when you are not Black and female to come up with a myriad of excuses as to why settling for a CGI representation of character portrayed by an African American actress is acceptable in a world where there are so few us depicted in this fictional genre. I am so grateful for the literary world, which brought us women like Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, and Sherri L. Smith to show us that there are in fact science fiction and fantasy characters that do look like me. There are beautiful Black women who are protagonists with strengths and weakness who carry a story. I am grateful that the women in these stories are not defined by their race nor their gender and their motives good or bad, are just like everyone else’s.
Reading books like theirs for the first time opened my literary eye to see that white is not the default and that when a character is described in a book, they can in fact be a character of color. This is why representation matters. As for the breaking news with Lupita being CGI’d, I’m disappointed, but I am hopeful that more content creators will push forward SFF stories that depict Black women, especially since many of us in the geek and nerd subculture have a ravenous appetite for this kind of imagery. We simply just want to see someone cut from the same cloth as us so we can feel some sense of belonging.
Because at the core of it all, isn’t what we all desire as human beings is to simply just be able to be recognized and seen?