Sorry about that truly terrible pun, but I must confess to being genuinely perplexed when I heard about the #blackstormtrooper controversy this morning. I had to dig around to find out just what people were complaining about. My first thought when I saw the trailer last week was “ooh, he’s wearing Stormtrooper armour”, my second was “I recognise him”, my third “is that Tatooine?”, my fourth “I wonder what’s startled him?”
Black? Yes of course I noticed, but I didn’t and do not care beyond thinking I recognised him, and it certainly did not jar me. I’m still not certain what the controversy is about, but I think it is largely two things: firstly that the Stormtroopers are clones of Jango Fett and he looks nothing like that Maori bloke that used to be on Shortland Street, and secondly that a racist government such as The Empire would never employ blacks at any level.
For me, the first hypothesis is a bit of a grey area. Firstly, though we know the Clone Troopers of episode II-III were clones, we do not know with any certainty that the Stormtroopers of IV, V and VI were also clones. The later books take it to the worlds still under imperial control and shows the Empire’s recruiting process – not clones, these were individuals. I am satisfied having read most of the books that Stormtroopers are not and were never intended to be clones.
The second has many problems. Firstly, and this is something that is fairly clear in the films and made much clearer in the later books, is that the Empire’s “racism” applies to non-humans – racism in the truest sense of the word. “Human”, “Dolphin” and “Chimpanzee” are races as the original word was intended, “White”, “Asian” and “Black” are not. There is no suggestion that The Empire divided humans according to colour and ethnicity.
From this perspective, it is perfectly reasonable that black-skinned human beings – and recognised as humans by the racist Empire – would have been welcomed into the Imperial Armed Forces. The fact that we do not see many black characters in the higher military roles of episodes IV, V and VI is a reflection of our social attitudes (especially those of the 1970s and early 1980s when these films were made), and not theirs.
Non-humans did make their way up through the ranks occasionally. Admiral Thrawn is one of the most recognisable characters to fans of the extended universe. He did not appear in eps I-VI but was so prevalent in the books, the graphic novels and video games (see left). If a blue-skinned, red-eyed Chiss could rise to become the Emperor’s most trusted military advisers and one of his top commanders, then there’s no reason a dark-skinned human could not become a Stormtrooper.
Let’s take it at face value for a moment… for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that the Empire was anti non-white during the peak of its power. There is the first problem there – they are most likely no longer at the peak of their power and can no longer be as picky as they once were. They wouldn’t be picky when it came to conscripts and remember, we never see beneath the helmet of a single Stormtrooper. Alternatively, perhaps this Stormtrooper is the exception to the rule like a black slave trader or a working class Tory voter.
The above only deals with the arguments that assume this man is a Stormtrooper and not on the side of the New Republic (or whatever it will be called in these new films). Like Luke and Han in episode IV, it could be a disguise. We’ll have to find out when it is released next year.
I want to wish John Boyega all the best. I thought he was great in Attack the Block and I’m pleased his talent is being recognised with a big screen outing.