A promotional image for Star Wars: The Force Awakens shows John Boyega as the Stormtrooper Finn.
I am fortunate to have a very strong relationship with my mom. We grew up in different cultures—she is from Kenya and had me after moving to Toronto in the 1980s—but there has never been a time in my life where we didn’t get along. That was true even during my nerdy adolescence when I was little bit overly obsessive about The Killers, Battlestar Galactica, and spending every waking moment with my high-school friends.
I know her likes, habits, and mannerisms as well as my own. So it was strange when a couple weeks ago she brought up going to see the new Star Wars movie.
At first I thought this had to be a joke. I asked her, rather patronizingly, what she knew about The Force Awakens. “Who is giving you this information?” I demanded. Since I was a young girl, I have loved magic, fantasy, and science fiction. I spent my summers reading Isaac Asimov, Neil Gaiman, and Orson Scott Card. I was a founding member of a Cardcaptors Sakura club at my school and I can still discuss in detail the mythos behind Merlin and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. But as far as I knew, my mom was completely oblivious and uninterested with anything taking place in fantasy worlds—let alone in a galaxy far, far away. For my Kenyan, Christian, country-music-loving mom, the real world is adventure enough.
In the past, whenever I made her to watch something even remotely related to the sci-fi and fantasy stories I love, she would either spend the whole time with a furrowed brow of concern or she would fall asleep before the end of the first act. To date, she has fallen asleep in two Harry Potter films, the latest Star Trek installment, and three episodes of Doctor Who. After the final Doctor Who incident, I gave up any hope of including her in this area of my life.
With every one of my new pop culture obsessions, my mom would shake her head and throw her hands up in resignation. She just had to accept the fact that she daughter was into strange, “unnatural” stories. We were never really able to bond over these types of movies, books, and TV shows that mean so much to me.
So, as you can imagine, hearing her speak excitedly about Star Wars was unexpected. But when I asked why she was so excited for The Force Awakens, her three-word reply made everything clear.
“Lupita and John,” she said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
John Boyega and Lupita Nyong'o are two of the feature stars of the movie. Both are Black, but—more importantly to my mom—they are both of African descent. John is a first-generation Brit, born in London to Nigerian parents and Lupita was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents. Seeing those two in one film is cause for celebration for my mom.
One of many amazing Star Wars photos from Lupita's Instagram feed.
“They could be my kids,” she states matter factly. “They remind me of you and your brother and of all the other kids in our community. We have to get excited and show support for our fellow Africans—especially in big roles.”
It's true, it’s not every day you see fresh-faced Hollywood stars with similar backgrounds to my family’s. There is a level of pride and hope that seems to grow inside when someone you can closely relate to becomes successful.
“It shows that us moving here wasn’t for nothing, that big things are possible, that our hard-work can pay off in really big ways. We can become anything—even a part of Star Wars,” says my mom, adorably. I’m not sure that anyone I know will be becoming a movie star anytime soon, but having John and Lupita front-and-center has exponentially increased my mom’s interest in the franchise.
“I probably wouldn’t even know that there was a new Star Wars, let alone care enough to pay to see it, if it wasn’t for their casting," she says. "And I know others in the community feel the same way.”
And so, a new audience is born. My mom is living proof that casting a diversity of actors in leading roles is good for a film’s bottom line.
In The Force Awakens, Lupita Nyong'o won't actually be seen on-screen—her character Maz Kanata is all CGI.
I’m a little worried about my mom being disappointed in the film when we actually go see it—especially when she learns that Lupita’s role as a 1,000-year-old space pirate named Maz Kanata is all CGI. While John Boyega plays a human stormtrooper named Finn, we’ll never see Lupita’s actual face in the film. Some fans have already discussed how they’re sad Lupita won’t be more visible on-screen and will miss the powerful representation she could provide. As Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds wrote:
“I can’t help but wonder why there is such a large disparity when it comes to imagery of Black women in science fiction? Most importantly, why cast an Oscar-winning actress with an extraordinary amount of notoriety, who is the face of Lancôme–a massive international cosmetics company–in a role where we never see her in physical form?”
Meanwhile, Lupita herself has been excitedly posting news and photos of Star Wars gear on her Instagram—maybe her genuine excitement for the film is enough to sustain us.
Although my mom’s new interest threw me for a loop at first, I’m looking forward to bonding with her on a new level. For the first time in my life, we will be able to get equally giddy as the theme music plays and the introduction text scrolls up the screen. Now, I can send her cute Youtube clips from John and Lupita on promotional tour, knowing she will actually watch them.
Secretly, I hope this interest in Star Wars will help us connect in more ways. Who knows? Maybe in a few years, my mom and I will be dishing on the nuanced relationships between the crew in Star Trek: The Next Generation or petitioning for a Storm to get her own solo X-Men film.
But for now, I’ll just have to enjoy seeing my mom fangirl for the first time.
Related Reading: Growing Up As a Feminist in an Immigrant Family