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A woman hero the Star Wars way

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The Force Awakens given us an underdog who rose to become a believable and worthy hero while being a woman, says Yasmin Bathamanathan.

The force has truly awakened this year, hasn’t it?

Walking out of the cinema on Christmas Eve after Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I could not help but feel triumphant.

I had just watched a movie in which a woman kicked butt at every turn.

A woman who is flawless and imperfect at the same time, a fully fleshed out female character that does not merely pay lip service to women’s empowerment but embodies how women’s empowerment could look like without having to be packaged in a sexy and ‘ball-busting’ way.

Rey, the Chosen One, the one who is strong with the Force, is the hero our world needs. She is the hero I never thought we would be given.

As the Star Wars fandom (which is pretty much every one!) waited with intense anticipation for the release of the upcoming instalment in the Star Wars franchise, I was, surprisingly, not caught up in the frenzy.

I could blame it on the prequels, but deep down, I was just tired of watching movie upon movie in which women sit in the backseat.

Not in 2015, when the world of cinema gave us Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Ilsa Faust (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), it is not easy to swallow mediocre crafting of female characters, especially female leads.

So I went to the cinema not having much of an expectation on Daisy Ridley’s Rey, thinking she would be yet another Leia or Amidala.

What I was excited about was the black Stormtrooper – to see a person of colour play a leading character in Star Wars (or any major Hollywood production) is monumental in its own right.

Instead of letting me (and a legion of fans) down, what Star Wars did was blow my – our collective – mind. At each turn where I thought Rey would be pushed aside and made the sidekick or love interest, she stood tall.

She did not exert dominance but instead worked together with those around her. She fangirled over Han Solo and admitted her mistakes when she made them. She was fiercely independent and yet she was compassionate.

There was nothing about Rey that was overtly masculine or feminine. What’s more, as a strong female character, Rey was free from any traces of toxic masculinity.

She is good at everything she does, not because she “thinks like a man” or “flies the Millennium Falcon like a man” or “wields the lightsaber like a man”, but because she has learnt to survive on her own in a harsh world, is intelligent and is strong with the Force.

She was no caricature nor a mere strong female character trope.

Not only has Star Wars: The Force Awakens given us an underdog who rose to become a believable and worthy hero while being a woman, it has also given us a conflicted hero who is black (Finn, played by John Boyega) and a cool and dashing fighter pilot who is Latino (Poe Dameron, played by Óscar Isaac).

At a time when the push for diversity in Hollywood is meeting much backlash, to see Star Wars – one of the largest and influential pop culture empires – embrace diversity is a big deal.

And it has done so while breaking the box office and flawlessly breaking stereotypes.

Hollywood, your move.

Source: The Malaysian Insider

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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