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Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka and Black Actresses Appearing in Their Own Skin

Just when I’m done with Star Wars, it seems Star Wars is never done with me.

How else can I explain still checking out the teaser trailer for the upcoming Ahsoka series?

Y’all don’t know I have watched nary a Star War since The Rise of Skywalker.

Not a single minute of any of the TV shows, no comic books, none of it.

I didn’t even watch the cartoons, Clone Wars and Rebels, back in the day. I know, they’re all considered to be quite good, gauging by knowledgeable fans and critics. (Which is harder than ever to parse now.)

And yet … and yet … that 1 minute and 51 seconds of our fan-favorite Jedi warrior on the run, walking up a dusty temple, closing in on some Empire-looking droids with her pair of lightsabers.

I still felt something.

When Ahsoka Tano namechecks Grand Admiral Thrawn, says the words “heir to the Empire” and we see the slow-mo behind-the-head shot of that black hair and pointed ears, a part of me rushed back to 15-year-old me reading Timothy Zahn’s books.

But this column isn’t exactly about my complicated relationship with Star Wars and what it has wrought with fandom since 1977.

Instead, it’s about seeing this live-action Ahsoka Tano being played by Rosario Dawson, after she turned up in The Book of Boba Fett. (Which, again, I have not seen and don’t plan on seeing, but folks were jazzed to see her.)

I like Rosario Dawson. You like Rosario Dawson. We all do. What’s not to like? She has a fun screen presence that exudes a bit of wickedness. She’s gorgeous and likes nerd/geek stuff. She may have been the best part of the Sin City movies. And, hey, she’s single again.

So I am happy for Dawson getting this series. And, at the same time, it’s another instance of Black women not visible in sci-fi and fantasy films.

What do I mean by visible?

Simply put, when a Black actress is hired and cast in a role where you can actually see them as such. They’re not playing a non-human whose skin is covered up in makeup, namely, or not only a voice part.

In Star Wars specifically, the lack of visible Black women in any notable roles continues. There are none in the original trilogy, or the prequels. When The Rise of Skywalker shunted Finn into a different storyline, we did get Naomi Ackie’s Jannah and her sick space horseback riding in the middle of a water battle.

That’s one!

One!

Look, I remember Black nerdery’s excitement when it was announced Lupita Nyong’o – just a year off her Oscar-winning turn in 12 Years A Slave vaulted her into stardom – was joining The Force Awakens. And then the disappointment when Maz Kanata wound up being an CG alien. Folks, particularly women in Black nerdery, wanted to see Nyong’o on screen. I, for one, felt swindled.

None of this happens in a vacuum.

It’s built on byproducts of racial segregation and hierarchy that said white audiences are turned off from Black people onscreen, or that something seen as Black is for Black people only, but white-led entertainment is called mainstream.

But we don’t even need old history for this.

We’ve seen a decade-plus now of ginned-up “fan backlashes” that target Black women and women of color extra hard. Think about Star Wars to Ghostbusters to The Little Mermaid to The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. At times, studios even appear to capitulate to these responses if they think there’s money in it. (Hello, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, which turned out to have had a lot of online bots.)

Of course, this extra vitriol can be overall racist misogyny given the abuse Kelly Marie Tran endured, or the dumb waves of “downvoting” on the Ms. Marvel series and the supposed fanboy apoplexy already around all-female team-up The Marvels.

All this also has a downstream effect in the current state of industry with a focus on streaming and repurposing, rebooting and reviving old shows and movies. If most of those beloved franchises were built on white, male protagonists that become synonymous with those franchises, it’s another hurdle to overcome. We’ve seen that in comics for decades.

You can even include the poorly received and reviewed TV adaptation of Kindred and the quick cancellation of Y: The Last Man within this environment of visible Black women and fantasy not getting a fair spin.

The fact Paramount stood by Star Trek: Discovery is an exception that tests the rule.

So it’s always a little suspect when two Zoe Saldana’s most notable roles had her in greenface and blueface.

Or double-suspect when Paula Patton, a Black actress of two-race parentage, plays a half-orc with green skin in the Warcraft movie. Even when they were exactly the right people for those roles.

I don’t discount the actresses and their performances.

It’s about the overall picture, the macro-level trends and forces that allow for Black women to have space to appear in their own skin.

 

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