'Star Wars' trailer, race and the ugly forces of Twitter

Story highlights

  • Sally Kohn: A twitter hashtag apparently started by handful of racist, white-supremacist trolls in reaction to Star Wars trailer release
  • She says director J.J. Abrams may have intentionally chosen diverse cast to upend good (white)/bad (black) stereotypes in film

Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" doesn't come out until December, but it's already stirring controversy -- among anti-diversity white supremacists. No, I'm serious. They appear to be angry that in the newest film in the "Star Wars" series, the lead heroic characters aren't white men.

On Twitter Sunday night, after the latest trailer for "The Force Awakens" was released, what appears to be a handful of explicitly racist tweeters started the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII.
Sally Kohn
"#BoycottStarWarsVII because it is anti-white propaganda promoting #whitegenocide," read one tweet promoting the hashtag. Another tweet called the film "a social justice propaganda piece that alienates it's [sic] core audience of young white males." And one tweet, according to the Hollywood Reporter, charged that "SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) complain about White artists 'misappropriating' culture created by blacks but then celebrate a non-White Star Wars." Tweets also went after director J.J. Abrams for being Jewish and anti-white.
    It seems that the force may not be all that this new "Star Wars" awakens.
    In fact, while there are plenty of excellent (and insanely thorough) analyses of the combined revelations of "The Force Awakens" trailers so far -- for the record, my favorite is by the brilliant Alyssa Rosenberg -- it seems obvious we can analyze the film as a metaphor for the real life fight that its trailer has, paradoxically or even deliberately, enlivened with a sci-fi twist.
    In the trailer, there appear to be two protagonists: Finn and Rey. Finn is played by John Boyega, a black male British actor. Rey is played by Daisy Ridley, a white female British actress. (Note that the racist and sexist trolls don't seem to have a problem with the apparent British colonization of the "Star Wars" franchise -- they're not particularly xenophobic in this sense, at least when it comes to Brits as opposed to, say, Mexicans.)
    Rosenberg points out that the new film positions Finn and Rey as "the inheritors of Luke's role." As anyone born in the last 40 years or so should know, Luke Skywalker is the hero of the original "Star Wars" trilogy -- the one we all root for unless we're psychopaths or something.
    What did we learn from the new 'Star Wars' trailer?
    new star wars trailer debut orig vstop_00004809

      JUST WATCHED

      What did we learn from the new 'Star Wars' trailer?

    MUST WATCH

    What did we learn from the new 'Star Wars' trailer? 01:11
    Fundamentally, Luke's nemesis is Darth Vader. And though we learn in "Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back" that Vader is Luke's father, he wears a black outfit and a black hood and his voice is performed by black actor James Earl Jones. The Millennium Falcon and the rebel fighter planes are white. The Death Star? Black. Yes the storm troopers were white and Jedi master Mace Windu was played by Samuel L. Jackson, but generally, especially in the first three original "Star Wars," good was white and bad was black. A mirror image of society's historical racial biases.
    No wonder white and black kids today still favor white dolls over black dolls, just as they did 50 years ago. Our script hasn't changed.
    Enter J.J. Abrams. In a podcast in 2013, Abrams recounted how he wanted to make the cast of a pilot he was directing more diverse. He talked about going to the Emmys:
    "You look around that room and you see the whitest (explicative) room in the history of time. It's just unbelievably white. And I just thought, we're casting this show and we have an opportunity to do anything we want, why not cast the show with actors of color? Like, not for sure -- and if we can't find the actors who are great, we shouldn't -- but why don't we make that effort?"
    That show (it was unrelated to Star Wars) didn't work -- Abrams doesn't blame the cast, but himself. But clearly he was determined to try again and one can imagine the same sort of thinking in casting "The Force Awakens." The script is flipped. Rey and Finn are the sympathetic heroes and now the villain (still wearing black just so we're clear and because change is slow anyway) is played by a white male actor, Adam Driver.
    In the film-as-metaphor version, Abrams is aligned with the forces of good. The sexist and racist trolls that sprang up this week? They're not aligned just with white men in defense of white male privilege or even just white maleness. After all, the trailers show plenty of white dudes also fighting alongside Rey and Finn -- including the return of Han Solo, who is as "white dude" as they come. No, the sexist and racist trolls are fighting for the dark side.
    So then in this context, what's "the force" -- you know, the mythical energy that fuels Jedis and represents the essence of goodness in the "Star Wars" world? The force is inclusion and equality and freedom for all -- everything that humanity is when it's at its best, in real life and in "Star Wars." In creating a "Star Wars" that reflects our best values, J.J. Abrams has used the force and stood on the side of good with Luke, Finn and Rey and invited us all to fight for a more inclusive future.