As of January 2016, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the fourth highest-grossing film at the worldwide box office; raking in $1.54 billion and is projected to overtake “Avatar” at $2.89 billion, “Titanic” at $2.19 billion and “Jurassic World” at $1.67 billion. The big-screen often lacks diversity and representation of women, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens enhances both the strength of women and representation of minorities.
Guatemalan-American actor Oscar Isaac and British-Nigerian actor John Boyega as Finn have received wide acclaim for their roles in the film. Isaac received recognition for his role in the 2013 black comedy-drama Inside Llewyn Davis. Isaac is often noted as part of the next generation of great actors, garnering comparisons to Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Jon Voight. Isaac’s rise to fame and increasing importance in Hollywood is a step towards equal representation of people of color in film, since he subverserses Hollywood’s expectations for Latino actors by avoiding being typecast.
“The people that cast films and TV shows, hopefully they will able to see past their limited ideas of what ethnicity is,” Isaac said in a backstage interview after his Golden Globe win. “There’s not a lot of us and it’s difficult for people that look not like the status quo in this country to get great roles, and it’s happening a little bit more and I feel humbled and honored and blessed to have the opportunity to do that.”
Although not a Latina, actress Daisy Ridley deserves recognition for her role as Rey. Ridley provides much needed female recognition in big budget blockbuster action films. Unlike other females in actions films, Rey is not meant to be a supporting character to a male lead, but rather she is her own character: steadfast, strong, resilient, self-sufficient, and smart. While her character could use further development, it is important to note that this is only the beginning of Rey’s journey, the audience expects to see her character grow and mature as the trilogy goes on.
Nonetheless, it is Nigerian-Mexican Lupita Nyong’o who also deserves recognition in her role of Maz Kanata. Nyong’o lends her voice to the thousand-year-old sage pirate that has a mysterious connection with the force and helps our heroine, Rey, through her journey.
Nyong’o was born in Mexico City to Nigerian parents. Although raised in Kenya, Nyong’o spent time living in Guerrero and studied at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico at the Learning Center for Foreigners. Nyong’o lays claim to her Latinidad through her Mexican nationality and brings much needed recognition to the 1.38 million Afro-Mexicans who were just officially recognized by the Mexican government this past December.
Nyong’o’s breakthrough performance was in 2013 in the critically acclaimed historical drama Twelve Years a Slave. Her role as Patsey earned her an academy award for best supporting actress; she is the first Kenyan and the first Mexican actress to receive an academy award.
“I’ve seen the quarrels over my nationality, but I’m Kenyan and Mexican at the same time,” Nyong’o said in an interview with El Mañana. Furthermore, Nyong’o talks about the difficulty and racism she faced while living in Mexico. People are quick to disregard Nyong’o’s Latinidad by claiming that just because she was born in Mexico City that does not mean she can be considered Latina. It is time for Nyong’o’s complex and hybrid Latina identity to be embraced by Latinos just as Latinos should embrace the large community of Afro-Latinos who have been subjugated, underrepresented, and oppressed for too long.
Whether you are a die-hard Star Wars fan or not, seeing strong female characters (who can forget Leia) and the inclusion of minorities in the big-screen is noteworthy.