So let's talk about Finn, our new Black hero in Star Wars who is played wonderfully by John Boyega. John Boyega, the awesomely badass lead of Attack The Block and the wonderfully charismatic Black actor who responded to his racist Star Wars detractors with truth bombs such as, "You guys got every single alien in this movie imaginable to man. With tentacles, five eyes. Aliens that, if they existed, we'd definitely have an issue... Yet what you want to do is fixate on another human being's color... I am grounded in who I am, and I am a confident Black man. A confident, Nigerian, Black, chocolate man...To get into a serious dialogue with people who judge a person based on the melanin in their skin? They're stupid, and I'm not going to lose sleep over people."
Arguably speaking, Finn had the most clear-cut character arc in the film and the character stands out... but depending on how you view it, it's either good or controversial. I liked Finn. Loved him rather. But the character isn't without his problems and therein lays the storm brewing between fans of the film franchise, particularly Black fans.
So like millions of others, I went to go see the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens this past weekend. Like many geeks, I felt a surge of excitement when the first trailer came out and showcased who would be our new set of heroes as they joined the old cast members to fight against the evil Empire and the Sith. Like many Black geeks, I was excited to see one of those new heroes was a black character holding a lightsaber firmly in his hands preparing to fight the new villain, Kylo Ren. Luke Skywalker's lightsaber at that! Oooh shit!
And let me say, as a Black geek involved in social media heavily, I can tell you the excitement of a Black Jedi was overwhelming. The excitement from fans on Facebook, on comic forums... The excitement was infectious and spread across the spectrum. This was something that many of us waited for since childhood. Sure, we had Mace Windu from the prequels, but he was more so a supporting character and we didn't really see as much of his bad-assery unless you caught the very first Clone Wars cartoon that was directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. But this would be the first time we get a Black lead who would be a Jedi. My fellow Black folk were posting and praising the trailers all over their pages and weeks later were all excitedly posting their purchase of the Finn action figures. The Finn figures were disappearing off the shelves in the stores. While Black fans welcomed Finn with open arms, stewing in the distance were racist fans wanting to boycott the film because of this potential Black Jedi being our new lead hero. It didn't help that our other leads were a white female and a Latino man. Somehow that translated to white erasure, but whatever...
Fast forward a few months later, before the film officially opened in theaters, I caught a commercial on TV for either an action figure or game for the upcoming film and noticed Rey using a form of telekinesis... so wait... Rey was to be the character with the Force... what did this mean for Finn? It was soon after a leak happened with an action figure and oh boy did the shit storm start. I started hearing a big uproar from some of my fellow Black geeks, afraid Finn would now be taking a backseat to Rey, who would be the true lead of the film and the true owner of the lightsaber.
Fast forward weeks later, the film is finally released... And Finn is now revealed to be one of the most polarizing characters in recent geek history. The film hasn't even been out officially for a week yet but all I'm seeing online in various groups, various sites, various comment sections are Black people completely hating Finn and trashing the character while other Black people are in full defense. Black comic creators from Hannibal Tabu, Joe Illidge, to Jamal Igle all writing their thoughts, positives and negatives about the character.
Needless to say, the reason for the back-and-forth concerning this character goes right to the main source, The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams and the marketing of the film. The creators of this film pulled a massive bait-and-switch concerning Finn. In almost every promo, Finn looked like an absolute bad-ass while holding and swinging the lightsaber with conviction, only to get the total opposite on film. Quite a few of the promos made it seem as if Finn was the lead character himself. He wasn't a badass nor was he revealed to be Force Sensitive, a requirement to being a Jedi nor the main lead. A lead, but not the main lead.
Therein lies the massive disappointment. The Bait-and-Switch hooked so many Black geeks into the theater who were praying for a badass lead hero of our own all these years. Instead we got a character who couldn't win one fight on his own, who repeatedly needed saving, who didn't get a "traditional" win and on top of that, we find out that before his first Storm Trooper mission, he was a janitor. (A quick aside, I get the frustration people have with Finn's janitor, but man do I feel bad for janitors with the suggestion of the job as a way to insult the character.)
Now before I continue on and get too far, as someone who was heavily disappointed with the comments and commentary of Finn before the film came out and lowered my interest and excitement, I have to say Finn really wasn't as bad as I was expecting the character to be. He actually ended up being my favorite character in the film, despite completely understanding the backlash with the character, although a lot of it is rather overblown and exaggerated. I've seen comments ranging from, "He's this film's Jar Jar Binks" to "He's useless" to "He's a complete coward." Watching the film on my own, the character was far from useless, he is nowhere near annoying as Jar Jar Binks, and his so-called cowardice was completely misread.
He wasn't the badass that was projected to us. We instead got a character who was completely unsure of himself and who was in constant fear for his life. Despite his first instinct being to run and not be killed, the movie is driven due to him. Without Finn, there would be no story. Poe, our fearless pilot, would be dead. Rey, our heroine, would not meet her potential of being a Jedi and at the end would also probably be dead and the villains would be the victors of this film. I can understand the frustration of a lot of the Black fandom with this character due to the marketing of this film, but I can say that it was because our expectations were so high that anything not reaching an ounce of that expectation has been clouded with nothing but criticism.
It doesn't matter that despite his instinct to run, he finally faces his fears and fights back and joins the Resistance and plays a huge part in the good guys' victory against the evil villains when they destroy their planet size headquarters. It doesn't matter that he actually shoots down various enemy pods and villains throughout the film and even stabs a Storm Trooper through the heart in one scene. For many people, we need to see more.
With that said, the argument that the character has no agency doesn't make any sense when he drives most of the film due to his decisions. The fact that he is the one Storm Trooper to break his programming and defect and join the good guys is an impressive feat in itself. But I can completely agree that fact that he wasn't the winner between his fight with that one Storm Trooper peer and instead needed someone to finish it for him was highly disappointing. Highly. Disappointing.
Another argument bubbling forward is the idea of Finn's portrayal being emasculating, especially as he doesn't get the girl who he is consistently fawning over. Due to Boyega's great chemistry with the various cast members, his scenes with Oscar Isaac's Poe has now caused internet shipping as some fans are now pushing for a Poe and Finn romance. Because of this recent push, some Black fans are now saying this will destroy the character even more and further his "emasculation." First and foremost, whether he's straight, gay, or bisexual, the character would be the same and the film has nothing that showcases the character having a lack of masculinity.
I don't think the creators of this film really understood the issues this character would have and matters were made worse due to the false marketing.... Nah, I won't let them off that easy, they fucking knew what they were doing. I can only hope that the following films in this particular trilogy fixes and further develops Finn. As of now, I find it rather unfair to really trash the character so much and claim he's useless and is unheroic when in fact the character was doing heroic deeds the whole film, from when he refuses to kill a village of innocents as a Storm Trooper and instead saves Poe from the First Order in the very beginning of the film to when he fights Kylo Ren, whom he KNOWS would outclass and possibly kill him, long enough for Rey to recover.
While I am defending the character, I can't at the same time say some arguments and disappointment with Finn are without some form of merit. I actually can't say I blame the detractors. It's not often we're given a Black lead in a sci-fi franchise and years and years of pop culture has not been kind when it comes to our portrayal. Usually we have to take a backseat and be the sidekick for our white friend who tends to be the main character or the one who is good at almost everything, like our home girl Rey. (Or we just end up dying.) Finn, in a way, represented a lot of tropes that many fans feel is prominent in a lot of portrayals in geekdom. The character has his problems and a lot of that is due to the misrepresentation of what we were "promised" to receive due to marketing and advertisement. I can also say, though, that I'm not going to let the hook go though... I do hope to see a more badass Finn in the next film, especially as he's officially with the Resistance at the end, despite sadly being left in a coma after getting slashed in the spine by Kylo Ren. Dear Loa, PLEASE don't turn him into a droid of sorts like so many Black geekdom characters who need something extra to be relevant! I can say, though, hopefully the scrutiny this character is causing does lead the filmmakers to take a pause and see what the issue here is and what they should probably be doing for the next film.
But anyways, while the argument rages on about Black folks in space and some of ya'll will continue to argue about whether Finn is a positive or negative portrayal of us, take the time to check out Yohancé, an upcoming Space Opera comic showcasing and using African Aesthetics for inspiration. Seriously, if we want proper representation and for us to be done right , don't you think it's damn time we start doing it ourselves and supporting ourselves? Just saying...