When I was a kid, most of the little girls I knew liked to play with Barbies, but I much preferred my Star Wars action figures. I wanted to be Princess Leia so badly. I mean she had it all. She was brave, she stood up to Darth Vader, she could crack jokes, she had amazing confidence when it came to men. She was my complete role model.
I never stopped admiring Leia, but as a sci-fi and action movie fan, it got harder to find similarly great female characters as I grew up. Sure there was Ripley in the Alien franchise and Sarah Connor in Terminator, but for the most part, those characters were exceptions to the rule.
Perhaps that’s why I got a little thrill when Disney unveiled the new poster for the upcoming Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. The movie’s plot has been kept under wraps, but it’s clear from the poster that Daisy Ridley’s Rey is going to play a huge role. She’s featured front and center looking very tough.
The same day Disney released the poster (at its Comic Con-like D23 event in Anaheim, Calif.), it also released the first image from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This will be the first standalone Star Wars universe film that doesn’t feature the protagonists we knew as kids.
And again, front and center in the image is a woman — in this case Felicity Jones.
In one fell swoop Disney landed two women at the top of its biggest franchise bet. (The studio now owns Lucasfilm and will be giving Star Wars the Marvel universe treatment with at least one new movie slated for every year.)
We talk a lot about what a terrible job Hollywood does when it comes to women. The latest statistics from USC’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative show that in 2014 only 28% of characters in the top 100 films were female. That’s not even one-third, for fuck’s sake.
And despite the protestations of Marvel guru Joss Whedon, Disney has done basically nothing to include women in the Marvel movies. Yes, Scarlett Johansson is awesome as Black Widow, but she’s a constant sidekick to heroes like Captain America and Iron Man. Gwyneth Paltrow got a fight scene in Iron Man 3, but she’s still just a foil for super cool Tony Stark.
Here’s hoping we see some real inclusion in the Star Wars movies. Coming out of D23 it certainly looks like Disney is making a good-faith effort and we should give the studio some props for that. But it’s still just a drop in the bucket of change that needs to occur in Hollywood. Disney has yet to tap a female director for a Star Wars (or Marvel) movie. And Disney is just one studio. The entire industry needs to be doing better. But at least the Star Wars announcements are a start.