Where are the rest of the women in Episode VII? Just “be patient!”

Today’s casting announcement was indeed very welcome. Finally, we have a confirmed cast, or at least the biggest part of one. We have a group of familiar faces and new actors who come with glowing recommendations, and they’re not all white guys. (Just mostly.)

But there was one bit of fallout that we have mixed feelings about.

Where are the women?

Daisy Ridley
Daisy Ridley
We have Carrie Fisher, of course. But of the seven new cast members there’s only one other woman joining her. Granted, Daisy Ridley could very well be playing Episode VII’s main character. She could be the axis the entire film revolves around. Or, she may not be. We don’t know, and they’re probably not going to tell us any time soon. And there could be other women in the cast but again: We’re not seeing them today. In any case, this is the core cast. The leads will be drawn out of this group – or so we’re led to assume.

I’m not the only one who noticed this, or remembered the casting call for two new female roles. And may still be? Though two out of eight isn’t much better, depending on the size of both roles. Three female characters is still only hitting the bare minimum. In addition to the virtual stream of comments on Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr, we have pieces from Annalee Newitz, Amy Ratcliffe, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, Devin Faraci, Eliza Thompson, Julie Hammerle, Bonnie Burton, Rainbow Rowell and Tricia Barr. And, from back in February, Laura Hudson’s Leia is not enough.

But, you know, “be patient.”

We’ve had two trilogies with exactly one woman each taking the lead. We had the prequel trilogy, where, finally, there were enough women that they actually talked to each other sometimes. When their scenes weren’t cut, anyway. (Sorry, Padme’s mom and sister. Sorry, Mon Mothma.) Still, Padme talked to her handmaidens, to Shmi Skywalker, to Queen Jamillia, to Beru Whitesun. And remember: The Bechdal test is (again) the bare minimum, not any sort of ultimate measure.

Outside of the movies, we’ve embraced the addition of characters like Mara Jade, Jaina Solo, Ahsoka Tano and even newcomers Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren, whose show hasn’t even aired yet. Two women in the Rebels cast? We were enthusiastic, even if there are still some bumps in the road.

“Be patient,” they say.

They don’t seem to realize that we have been patient. We’re here. We’re fans. We’re ready. We’ve been patient for 30 years. It’s just that now, there’s enough of us visible that you can’t ignore us when we speak up.

“Be patient?”


Here’s a real question for you: Why do we keep asking? It’s not because we enjoy this outrage, I’ll tell you that much. It’s because of decades of being ignored, disrespected, and of our contributions being constantly downplayed, our concerns brushed to the side. And if we don’t ask, if we go back to being “patient?” That’ll just give them more reason to go back to the status quo, no matter how many Katnisses there are.

I’m sorry this casting announcement, this moment we’ve all been waiting nearly two years for, has been clouded by complaints. But I’m not sorry for speaking up as to why. I just wish we didn’t have to.

14 Replies to “Where are the rest of the women in Episode VII? Just “be patient!””

  1. Well said and agreed. It is disappointing on the level where it looked like we had two female leads at one point and now we don’t. The casting call requested two females about the same age that were polar opposites, unless that was a smokescreen to get people to read for the role in different ways.

  2. We don’t yet know what kind of story this is going to be. It very well might be a two hero tale, with a female and male character going on an adventure, and meeting many characters both male and female on the way, but my hunch is that Abrams is going to ape the original trilogy, with a duo or trio of dudes going on an adventure with a pretty princess in tow. Not saying this is the best idea, just that, if you look at Abrams’s track record, he tends to favor male heroes and he tends to play it safe and mimic existing story arcs and play to nostalgia. My gut feeling is that this film is basically going to be A New Hope but with the exotic look and hyped up action of the prequels. I’ve never really been comfortable with this whole concept of “fair balance” of sexes in cinema. If a male centric or female centric cast is best for a story, than I say go for it. Fair representation should never be more important than the story of a film, and when it is, it’s generally painfully obvious.

      1. Indeed. It is often assumed that the basic character for a story is a male — generally a white male. Any deviation requires “justification” — why is that?

        Doesn’t make any sense to me. Especially not in the Star Wars setting which theoretically doesn’t have our same hang ups. A film about a group of medieval knights might have trouble with female characters. A film about a group of Jedi knights shouldn’t.

        1. If the EU had never existed, I wouldn’t be nearly as disappointing with the representation in the cast. Even if it wasn’t actively helping alleviate the problem, that doesn’t mean it won’t be good.
          My misgiving lies in that we’re apparently trading a galaxy where women of every profession, age, appearance, temperament and morality are prominent and integral to events through their own agency (at least in the Bantam era I remember so fondly) for one where I guess we can have one girl, as long as she’s pretty and younger than all the men.

          Could that trade really help improve the story in any way?

          Caveat: I still hope to be proven wrong about this. Maybe the “unannounced main cast member” is the big female lead and JJ’s doing his whole “mystery box” thing. I doubt it.

    1. Good storytelling is fantastic. I’m equally happy watching a good story about a group of men as I am watching one about a group of women. Unfortunately, the movie industry has a tendency to make good stories about groups of men. That Abrams has a track record of going for white male heroes is a problem. That he is consistently making good stories with white male centric casts may mean we should lower our expectations, but it makes it even more important to be vocal about the problems inherent in the idea that a good star wars story is going to be white male centric.

      If we cannot have fair representation in a film set in a science fiction setting where women and men often have the same opportunities and access to power (at least in the EU), where are we going to find it? Part of good storytelling is showing your world. That means not having the vast majority of the key players being white males in a world that is fantastically diverse. (Admittedly, some of these white males may end up being neon orange. But still.)

  3. Bravo. While I don’t think this announcement precludes more female characters in the film, I share your sentiment. From Day One, Disney has said it considers Star Wars to be a “boys” franchise and has treated it as such (Disney already feels it has a monopoly on the little girls market with princesses). I don’t know how you change that mindset. Maybe if somebody had market research data on the number of female fans?

    1. Goodness, where in heaven’s name would a multibillion-dollar multinational corporation obtain market research data on the number or percentage of female fans of one of its franchises? It’s not like that sort of information is commercially available or anything! (I’m not being sarcastic at YOU, Dom.)

      It’s also interesting that you mention the princess demographic. “Frozen” kind of flipped that one upside down — deliberately so. I don’t suspect any of the top folks at Disney of other-than-commercial motives, but that movie did make it seem like the company was consciously taking a different tack after decades of profits based on “and then the prince kissed her and they lived happily ever after.” I guess this is negative evidence. Yes, maybe we’re all reading too much into this, but why shouldn’t we? Where’s the proof of good faith?

  4. I’m still hoping for Anna Torv (Olivia Dunham on Fringe) as Jaina. That should happen.

    1. Since they pretty much seem to have a Solo daughter, I would not count much on that.

      (Still a no-fancasting zone, BTW.)

  5. Caveat: I’m a white male (therefore I must be terribly biased).

    I remember when the Phantom Menace production got started. And there was excitement. Over any and all casting – the various actors were judged on their history, their pedigree. Whether it was Natalie Portman or Ewan McGregor, the reaction was being led by the basis of the individual – look at what this person could bring to Star Wars.

    Why isn’t that happening now? Yes, I understand the desire and push for more diversity… but where is the joy, the celebration? Where’s the delight in the folks who were cast?

    And this is the first reaction – this isn’t “We’ve had a week or two and now we analyze things” – this is almost like… well, the categories wanted weren’t checked off… so rubbish!

    I just find it sad that the lauds and praises of the folks brought into Star Wars are obscure sidebars (if present at all), and instead there’s lamentation over what (not even “who”) is not there.

    Where’s the joy?

    1. Well, it’s not the 90s anymore, for one.

      The culture has changed. And in a post-Hunger Games, post-Frozen world, we expect better. Women are more outspoken in fandom than ever, we have a bigger footprint, we’re more visible and more willing to say when things offend us. (See JJ’s last Star Trek and the underwear scene. Would that have been a big deal in, say, 1995?) And yeah, we expect filmmakers to do better in 2014 than we did in 1998. And 2005, for that matter. (Tosche Station did another good post on this today.) And because this kind of thing, in combination with all the other stuff going on, makes it feel like we’re right back at the beginning.

      The excitement is there, but that’s part of the reason we’re angry. It’s not just because we think we need to demand better, it’s because we EXPECT better to begin with.

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