It’s been a while since GeekGirlCon, but I have a good excuse for not getting the Star Wars panel recap polished and posted. Important things were said, and I will be talking a bit more about them in an upcoming post. This year’s panel happened on Star Wars Reads Day and we had a lot of positive discussion, but interestingly enough, the topic of reading and Star Wars was one area where this year’s panel felt like the franchise has come up short. Panelists included Lisa Granshaw (Daily Dot, Star Wars Insider), Meg Humphrey (Far Far Away Radio, GeekGirlCon), Linda Hansen-Raj (FANgirl), and Kay Serna (Hyperspace Theories, FANgirl).
Lisa explained New York Toy Fair rollout of Rebels toys, when female characters seemed to take a back seat to male characters, and the discussion it triggered across fandom and media. I noted observing disconnects between licensing rollouts and what storytellers are trying to do.
Linda is reviewing the young reader books coming out for Rebels, recently reported on Ezra’s Gamble, and interviewed Ryder Windham. When asked why no female characters appeared in the book, his answer was that the book was all about Ezra. Lucasfilm is releasing books on Chopper, Zeb, several on Ezra, and one on Kanan – but Hera or Sabine took a backseat in early book material.
“I did find this really cool book called Star Wars Rebels: Head to Head. It lists all the characters and it gives you their stats. For the stats on Hera, her Intelligence level is an 8, compared to Kanan, whose Intelligence level is a 6.5. And then there’s also Sabine, whose Intelligence level was a 7.5, compared to Ezra, who was a 5.5. … It was interesting to me that there are these great characters, very strong female characters, that there are no corresponding books.”
~ Linda Hansen-Raj
Meg talked about the demand for Star Wars products from female fans. Men also like these female characters, and people will buy merchandise with those characters on it – it’s not just women. Kay shared how fashion or clothes help an individual wear their fandom proudly. I observed that in the opening sequences of Rebels, Hera and Sabine are the two characters who are competent in doing their jobs in the mission.
The discussion turned to the #WeWantLeia campaign aimed at Disney Store. It went all the way up to TIME magazine, who asked Disney Store why Leia wasn’t included.
“I think we’re seeing a response, but it’s still that we have to wait and see. The response is, ‘Oh, it’s coming, but you have to wait.’ It’s this idea that they’re paying attention to the women characters, but they’re still second because they see it primarily as a boys’ franchise. I think Disney lumps it with Marvel in that respect; they want to target it to boys. The response that we’ve seen I don’t think has indicated that they’re changing their idea on that.”
~ Lisa Granshaw
Kay noted that a lot of Disney merchandising in general, and the Disney Store layout, is gendered: princesses on one side, Star Wars on another. Even for adults, the Star Wars shirts are all in the men’s section. Linda noted it’s true in Target and many other stores, as well.
“There was a pair of flip-flops that said, Star Wars flip-flops for boys. I’m pretty sure a girl’s feet could fit into those flip-flops. But they keep going to the gendered split right away, and I think they’re going to have to start moving away from that. Even though a little girl could easily wear a boy’s thing, you go into the store and it tells you, ‘you go to this side and you go to that side.’”
That discussion led naturally into the Episode VII cast photo. It appears the powers that be thought the big news would be Carrie, Mark, and Harrison coming back – but months later the conversation at major news sites was still about how there was only one new woman in the cast. Meg agreed it was a rough week to be a female Star Wars fan, because female fans speaking up got a lot of blowback from some male fans. Lisa felt the blowback too, being told to stop complaining. Female fans wanted to be really excited about new Star Wars, but were disappointed with what came out. Kay noted a contrast with how many great female characters had been produced in the Expanded Universe, and only two in the cast photo.
“We should worry about it. This is going to be our Star Wars, and it should be representative of its fanbase and of what we love. All of us as fans want to support it and be fully behind it, but it’s hard when you only see one or two people of color or you only see one more woman. Especially as a woman of color, I want to see more people like me.”
~ Meg Humphrey
“Aliens do not count as diversity. We’ve actually heard people in Star Wars refer to aliens’ presence as having diversity in representation, and it’s not. It was disappointing, exactly as Meg said – where are people who look like me. The message not just for us as adults, but for children and the next generation of Star Wars fans. And the international market, it’s missing out.”
~ Linda Hansen-Raj
“The sad thing is, this is the beginning of the cast list announcement: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis. Those are the first five names. Based on reporting in the industry, Adam Driver is likely the villain character. So that means John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac are likely the top three characters. But it wasn’t really discussed that it would be such a diverse makeup compared to the past, because it got overshadowed with the other problems. Women were speaking up, and there were a lot of men film bloggers who came out and said there’s a problem here.”
~ Tricia Barr
I brought up Geena Davis’ visit to Bad Robot, which was followed by a later cast announcement with Gwendoline Christie and Lupita Nyong’o. Female fans were lectured that they should have remained patient and shouldn’t have spoken up because this news was coming. The panel agreed we can only judge on what we know at the moment. Linda noted that if we hadn’t reacted, maybe we wouldn’t have had the announcement.
“It’s always women or diverse groups who are told ‘wait and see.’ How long do we have to wait? If we don’t speak up, when is it ever going to change?”
~ Lisa Granshaw
Next, I highlighted the interview with Kiri Hart, the head of the Lucasfilm Story Group, in the Wall Street Journal as a good sign for the future of Star Wars for female fans, then asked the panelists if they had additional positive signs to mention, or if they are still waiting. Lisa replied that she is waiting to see more women writing books or scripts, or directing movies. Meg noted the first four new canon novels are about men. Kay also answered that she is still waiting for more positive signs of change. She explained that marketing teams can get wrapped up on a narrow target market and lose sight of everything else.
“The first four books slated for the new Star Wars canon are basically mostly about men. Hera plays a big role in A New Dawn, which is the first one that’s already out. She has a great role in it. There are a lot of other women in that book in various positions, throughout the galaxy and throughout the Empire. That was nice to see. But right now it’s really hard because everyone’s being really secretive, and we don’t know where it’s going yet.”
~ Meg Humphrey
At the New York Comic Con Star Wars Books panel held on the same afternoon, those panelists were asked when we will see more Star Wars novels with female characters. It is a problem that it has been years and that question still has to be asked. This feedback loop creates the anxiety and frustration from fans, which we also saw expressed during the cast photo fallout.
Linda pointed out that Disney needs to make a profit and explained that is our weapon, the green lightsaber fighting for more respect for female fans from the franchise. Women make most purchasing decisions for families, including for the little boys. She encouraged fans to vote with their money. Disney has to listen if they want to make a profit.
Tricia explained her start in blogging; it was her mission to make sure female fans were visible and heard. With new Star Wars movies on the horizon her mission has been adjusted to promote more women in creative positions. Then she asked what each panelist felt they could do to make a difference? Meg focuses on trying to reduce or end gatekeeping in the fandom. Lisa wants to promote licensing merchandise, especially fashion. Having female characters on shirts for boys, and having options for women and girls sends a message that they are fans too. Linda believes fangirls should think globally and act locally; she encourages girls to do things that are not considered girly. Her daughter hosted a Star Wars Reads Day event in her class to encourage girls to express their fandom. Kay would love to see female writer or director working on a Star Wars movie, as well as more balance in merchandising.
The panel was then opened up to questions from the audience.
When asking about the ways The Clone Wars might influence Star Wars Rebels, the audience member noted the lack of products from The Clone Wars for female fans. I reminded the audience of all the amazing female characters from the first show, including Ventress, Ahsoka, Talzin, and Satine. She believes that legacy will only be better. Linda brought up the important point that Ahsoka’s outfit changed because of Ashley Eckstein and others speaking up. She noted that the clothing in Star Wars Rebels seems to reflect this sensibility.
Audience member Maggie Nowakaska explained that back in the early days of Star Trek fandom, women organized so they couldn’t be ignored. She asked about the organization of women fans today to get the emphasis to people who see the numbers, rather than individuals. Meg explained that it can be hard because so many people start projects and groups. She used the example of Legion of Leia started by Jenna Busch as a wonderful mission to showcase women in scifi and fandom. I recalled the earliest videos after Lucasfilm was sold to Disney, where in one video Kathy Kennedy told George he could retire and become a blogger. Social media is very powerful, just organized in a different process than before, such as utilizing tools like hashtags to spread a message.
An audience member asked about the announced hosts and emcees for Celebration Anaheim, which are all men. She wondered if there was any discussion about that. I brought up a post I had written about the ripple effects of major Star Wars events in reaction to Reed Pop’s Book Expo Young Adult fiction panel that originally only represented all white men. The discussion about Celebration has been going on, but probably not loudly enough. It’s possible Celebration will roll around and people will realize there aren’t enough women. She believes as more women work creatively in the franchise more women will as a matter of course be sitting on panels, but that the franchise should be more proactive right now.
Another audience member suggested the solution is female lawyers insisting on a clause that says equal representation. Kay noted that the marketing via licensed products for Rebels hasn’t aligned with what the story is doing with its female characters.
When the panel was asked about the Expanded Universe, which added a lot of great new female characters, there was a lot of concern expressed around the room. The panel was asked if they felt any sense of mourning for these characters and if we believed Episode VII and future Star Wars stories will take cues from them to create new characters for us to cosplay and appreciate. Meg didn’t mind the parting of ways with the Expanded Universe when it came to new movies, but felt that Star Wars needs to understand the popularity of Mara Jade, or at least that kind of character.
It was obvious from the discussion that each of the panelists had been inspired by Star Wars, but each of these amazing women also felt the franchise hadn’t embraced them with an equal passion. So I went back to them and asked how they felt after #TheForceAwakens teaser. Did they believe Star Wars was heading in the right direction?
Their answers will be coming soon…
Tricia Barr’s novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library’s successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena’s Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.