Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of the Skywalker is the focus for the cover story for Vanity Fair’s Summer 2019 issue and readers were “blessed” with dual covers – one with Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and the other with Daisy Ridley’s Rey. Written by The Magicians’ author Lev Grossman and interspersed with photos from Annie Leibovitz, this massive article was the talk of the Twittersphere for days after its release.
Grossman’s Vanity Fair article is… alright. It doesn’t really focus on Finn, but I gave up on folks remembering that Finn was supposed to be the male hero of the franchise – and just as heroic as Rey – back when The Last Jedi came out.
In the article, there’s a particularly stunning photograph of John Boyega’s Finn and newcomer Naomi Ackie’s Jannah sitting astride a pair of orbaks – an equine adjacent species new to audiences. It’s an iconic photo as well because Jannah is only the third Black female character with dialogue in the franchise – and the first to be in a main trilogy – and this is the first time that the Star Wars franchise has had two Black characters interacting like this.
It’s something that clearly belongs to Finn and to Jannah –
So, of course, someone had to make it about
Kylo Ren Ben Solo.
I have a currently scrapped What Fandom Racism Looks Like installment dedicated to this thing the Star Wars fandom has been doing since John Boyega was announced as starring opposite Daisy Ridley: cutting him out of the focus of a scene or still and replacing him with Adam Driver.
This is technically not that because Finn isn’t literally being cut out here the way he often is by Kylo Ren’s photoshop-happy stans.
But it’s still shitty because of what it represents: a need to center Kylo Ren in everything and to decenter Finn across as many possible avenues.
At first glance, if you know nothing about what Black fans of Finn and John Boyega have been witnessing and experiencing in the Star Wars sequel trilogy fandom, this isn’t a big deal.
Because fan artists can create what they want.
Or something like that.
Problem is, that this fun and fantastic image of Kylo is in and of itself a red flag thanks to how it serves to center whiteness and remind fans that once again, Finn isn’t the hero they wanted. (And that it’s got a lot more to do with his skin tone than most folks are willing to admit to.)
Did the artists go into this intending to erase Finn or piss off Black fans?
But that’s definitely what I and other Black people in the Star Wars fandom keep having to deal with in times like this: a selfish centering of white people and erasure of Black characters that leads to us being called selfish.
Kylo Ren had one of two Vanity Fair covers, he’s written about really well in the article and has a smidge more text time than John Boyega – who was again, treated like the male lead in The Force Awakens press stuff – does. He’s been the focus of tons of speculation and expectation from fans and media people alike. He’ll probably wind up with a major narrative focus in Rise of the Skywalker that feeds their hunger for a white villain redemption arc.
And with all that Kylo gets from the canon –
The fandom still has to take something that is Finn’s.
Because that’s what the Kylo Ren fandom does: it takes things (experiences, friendships, backstories) that Finn has or the very nature of his character and passes them on to
Kylo Ren Ben Solo.
Finn’s deep relationship with Rey, his origins as a child soldier brainwashed, abused, and forced into the First Order, his heroic personality and innate goodness, his CLOTHING at one point, and now this –
Finn is literally not allowed to have anything for himself in this fandom.
Everything that he has or is, the Star Wars fandom seems to think Kylo Ren deserves more.
And generally, when Black fans point out how Black characters in fandom spaces get rewritten or literally erased in order to center white characters instead, we’re framed as selfish.
Even as white fans take the little bits of representation we get and aspects of nerd media’s few Black characters and erase them wholesale or give those things to their white favorites like Kylo Ren.
It’d be great if Black fans could just enjoy things. It’d be wonderful if Black fans didn’t have to fight tooth and nail to defend Black characters from fandom.
However, we live in a world/are in fandoms where Black people are given crumbs for representation and white fans will still sweep said crumbs onto their own plates for their white favorites.
And when Black fans point out what they’re doing, that they’re taking something from Black characters – and, trying to take it from Black fans – by erasing them or giving their accomplishments, backstories, or plots to white characters, we’re called selfish. We’re accused of overreacting.
Twice before this, I remember other times Black fans have been accused of being selfish/overreacting when it came to defending Black characters from fandom. Both times it’s been FROM ANTIBLACKNESS.
Black fans were accused of being selfish and gate-keeping when we demanded that fandom treat the characters and setting of Black Panther with respect when writing fic and headcanons. (And considering how much of the fandom zoomed on ahead to write/draw racist fanworks… we were definitely not in the wrong.)
We were also accused of overreacting and policing fans when we talked about how John Boyega’s character in Pacific Rim Uprising was treated like a blip by half of the fandom and turned into a big ole black brute by the other.
I know folks out here have decided anti-Black microaggressions don’t exist in fandom, but like…for the past three years, the second Finn gets something Kylo stans go “what if Ben had it instead” and gives it to him. Often while vilifying Finn in the process.
How is that not a microaggression? How is that not anti-Black on ANY level?
It’s messed up that Finn is not allowed to have ANYTHING that the fandom thinks Ben Solo deserves instead.
On the surface level or to outsiders in the fandom, it may seem like such a small thing to be concerned about when there’s “real racism” afoot in the world, but it’s indicative of a huge problem in and out of fandom spaces:
Black people aren’t seen as valuable enough as people or as characters to be treated with respect and not have aspects of ourselves/characters that look like us distributed piecemeal to white people and characters.