Star Wars fans are known for their passion, and one group of fans is channeling that energy into an online campaign designed to raise awareness about the importance of representation in a galaxy far, far away.
The #SWRepMatters initiative officially began on Twitter in October 2017 thanks to the efforts of fans, some of whom are from marginalized communities and all of whom wanted to lead smart, insightful conversations about why it matters for those who love the Star Wars franchise to be able to see themselves represented in it. To date, the #SWRepMatters hashtag has spearheaded conversations around topics such as the disabled community and mental health, as well as Black female, Latinx, and East Asian representation. They're also focusing on Middle Eastern representation in the franchise this month.
Swara, co-host of the Beltway Banthas podcast (which was part of a previous #SWRepMatters discussion with Book Wars Pod and Rebel Grrrl, organized by Book Wars Pod host Kate) and one of the hashtag's co-founders, believes that diversity behind the scenes will also translate to diversity on screen.
"Besides having more diverse actors, my hope is that LFL will hire diverse creators. Hiring people of color, LGBTQIA people, and women for the films’ production teams informs the dynamics between diverse characters on the screen," Swara said, mentioning the hiring of Victoria Mahoney as second unit director on the upcoming Episode IX as a "significant step forward." "Audiences are smarter on what media they want to consume, and they want more diverse content that can better reflect their experience. Unless Star Wars gets on board with that fully, it risks alienating some of its fans."
Ritz, host of the Wakanda IV Ever podcast, shared his own sentiments on the mission behind the hashtag. "Star Wars harnesses a unique magic that no other franchise, fantasy or fandom can quite capture. It’s this far away land in another time that allows us to detach from this reality while still connecting on a powerfully spiritual plane. ... I feel that, if this thing, this universe, speaks to all humanity, then all humanity deserves to be appropriately represented. Even the themes of Star Wars would suggest diversity, and the lack of it would only be a hindrance to its true potential. We want to know ... that this galaxy that touches our spirits on such an intimate level understands how to reflect all of us. We want it to represent us so that through that representation we can further express how it makes us feel. That’s why #SWRepMatters."
Box office numbers for recent tentpole films such as Black Panther have indicated that representation in front of the camera has an effect on a film's success, something several of the participating fans cited in terms of ways the Star Wars franchise can improve. "This hashtag is important to me because it lends me a platform to have my voice heard about the lack of women of color in notable roles on screen within the franchise, more specifically black women. ... We are versatile and beautiful, and deserve more than a few throw away lines or being covered and hidden away in makeup/CGI," said @southerncynic, another organizer for the hashtag. "When are we going to stop pretending that representation is not important? It has been proven to make money; just see Black Panther. So I’ll keep jumping on this tag we lovingly made to be shouty about it until the right folks listen. We will speak on it and hope to open eyes and change hearts. We aren’t going anywhere."
But Why Tho? podcast co-host/blogger and hashtag co-founder Kate said that the fan momentum behind #SWisagirlthingtoo in September of last year partially led into this new conversation: "I kept voicing my concern of WOC being left out, given the amount of abuse we face online and how left out we are from the franchise, and when that ended a group of us decided to start a sustained campaign highlighting the need for characters of color, as well as highlighting those existing in Star Wars already." Maia, who also writes for the But Why Tho? blog, added that #SWRepMatters has become a monthly discussion so that the issues continue to stay relevant. "There's a tendency to get complacent after any sort of diversity win, assuming that that's enough and either things will 'naturally' stay that way, or even chastising — 'be grateful for that one win'. The whiteness of media isn't natural, and combating that takes a concerted effort from fans showing that we notice and we care," Maia said. "Our focus is Star Wars but our words, more diversity in front of and behind the screen for all marginalizations, equity not equality, are for all franchises and media."
In essence, the #SWRepMatters campaign is intended to be a loving critique, a way for fans to recognize how far Star Wars has come while also spotlighting the places where it could make room for improvement. Jess, who co-hosts the Rebel Grrrl podcast for the Making Star Wars network, said that the "biggest franchise on the globe" is in a "highly influential position" to impact change. "We love this franchise and want more from it. We can also appreciate how far Lucasfilm has come since 1977. This hashtag is both commentary and celebration."
So how can fans get involved? Take a page from the hosts of the Book Wars Pod podcast, who have also been driving the initiative by boosting relevant tweets via their timeline, and join the conversation. "Our podcast is 2/3 queer ladies and 1/3 POC—how could we not be 100% on board with #SWRepMatters?" they said via a joint statement. "We joined this campaign because we love Star Wars, and we see all the ways the franchise's storytelling can be made richer with more diverse and representative talent, both in front of and behind the camera. What unique perspectives are we missing out on right now because Lucasfilm hasn't cast a wide enough net? And of course, even more importantly, every child should be able to see themselves in the magic of Star Wars, to put themselves in the shoes of a Jedi or a Resistance hero, to imagine that they could one day grow up to be a director or a writer or an actor. The future can be better, more inclusive. And that's why #SWRepMatters, well, matters."