Like many kids, I would escape from the trials of ordinary life through fantasy and science fiction books and films. One of my favourites was the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis. To discover that a typical wardrobe chest contained a doorway into another world of young knights and lion kings was a thrill, even as I disappointedly began to recognize that this fantasy world didn’t include any Black people like me
With the recent passing of beloved STAR TREK actress Nichelle Nichols, many retold a famous anecdote about her attempt to quit the 1960s TV series after its first season. She wanted to be on Broadway but was urged to stay by Dr. Martin Luther King, who told her Lt. Uhura was a TV role model to his young daughters. “You are reflecting what we are fighting for,” he said.
Uhura was mostly alone out in space. When STAR WARS became a global phenomenon in the summer of 1977, a Black actor named Raymond St. Jacques wrote an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times titled “The Great White Void,” noting how it and the era’s other big science-fiction films like LOGAN’S RUN and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY featured all-white casts. He wrote:
“If ever there is to be a time that we can create without having to worry about acceptive norms of our present racist society, it must be the future…by not acknowledging us at all, the film creator is worse than any racist.”
George Lucas heard these criticisms and responded, creating a large role for Billy Dee Williams in his next STAR WARS movie and casting more diverse actors in later sequels. But when actor John Boyega appeared in a lead role in the trailer for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS in 2015, there was a backlash from some older fans, condemning his inclusion as “woke forced diversity.”
“I’m in the movie, what are you going to do about it?” Boyega shot back in an interview, “I’m not saying ‘get used to the future’ but what is already happening. People of colour and women are increasingly being shown on-screen. For things to be whitewashed just doesn’t make sense.
The kind of racist online attacks Boyega endured have continued with social-media hate towards other Black and especially female actors like Moses Ingram and Leslie Jones, and now seem to have reached a feverish pitch with the introduction of singer/actress Halle Bailey as the star of a new version of THE LITTLE MERMAID. Grown men have been composing essays and YouTube speeches explaining how, “scientifically,” a mermaid cannot be Black, with similarly silly arguments made about elves and hobbits in the new LORD OF THE RINGS series and Westeros royalty in HOUSE OF THE DRAGON. As comedian Mateen Stewart recently quipped, “British people are so good at colonization that people speak in a British accent in fantasy worlds that don’t exist.”
It’s exhausting and distracting to have to fight for equity in our fantasy worlds on top of our real one but, as Toni Morrison wisely explained, that’s the point of racism — to exhaust and distract. What really matters is that Woke Marketing works. These newly-diverse fantasy movies and shows are reaching ever-larger audiences. HOUSE OF THE DRAGON scored HBO’s highest ratings for a premiere ever, Amazon says THE RINGS OF POWER was streamed by 25 million people, and YouTube views of THE LITTLE MERMAID trailer reached 104 million in one weekend. Most important, however, is the impact Halle Bailey's introduction had on young Black girls. The TikTok reaction videos flooding the internet are reflections of the future Breakfast Culture is fighting for. It’s already happening.
Learn more about Breakfast Culture’s “3 Bees” of Woke Marketing (Be Authentic, Be Present, Be Prepared) at BreakfastCulture.ca.
Let’s break some eggs! ~ Jefferson Darrell, Founder and CEO