What would you say Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Ghostbusters have in common? I expect you could actually come up with a number of things, really, but the similarity I’d like to discuss today is that they all have been the object of ire from some privileged white men. The latest Star Wars film follows the story of Rey, an orphan who helps saves the galaxy and starts down a path to meet her destiny. The complaint some people have lodged basically boils down to: the protagonist is a woman. With perhaps the second protagonist being Black as a secondary complaint. A theatrical production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child recently cast Noma Dumezweni as an adult Hermione. The complaint some people have lodged boils down to: she’s Black. Ghostbusters, meanwhile, is undergoing something of reboot with a new film scheduled for 2016. The complaint some people have lodged boils down to: the protagonists are all women.
There is nothing in any of those stories that says the heroes have to fit a certain description, either of gender or race. The Star Wars and Ghostbusters films are using entirely new characters, and J.K. Rowling herself noted that her only physical details of Hermione in any of the books were her brown eyes and frizzy hair, which could easily be used to describe Dumezweni. So why are people getting upset? It’s not like Jennifer Lawrence getting cast in The Hunger Games, despite not having the olive skin Katniss is said to have in the books.
The issue comes down to fans feeling as if something has been taken away from them. The original Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Ghostbusters stories focused on white boys and men. There were women and Black people around, but decidedly cast to secondary status behind the white male heroes. Consequently, the fan base that gravitated towards those heroes reflected what those heroes looked like. Women and minorities saw these characters, and felt less of a connection to them—the implicit idea being that in order to be a hero, you needed to be a white male—and tended to gravitate towards other stories.
So now, after a decade or two or three, this pale boys club of fans is seeing new iterations of their favorite stories without the heroes they have gotten used to. They feel as as if something is being taken away from them, and given to someone else. “Sorry, Luke isn’t the hero any more; it’s Rey now.” That’s why there were no real complaints against Katniss being a female protagonist; she was the hero at the start. It’s in that process of losing ownership where fans get most upset.
Though it’s bullshit entitlement, of course. The fans never owned Star Wars or Harry Potter or Ghostbusters; they only own the narrative they constructed in their own heads, which is not the narrative put down in books or on film. Ghostbusters is owned by Columbia Pictures, and they can do whatever they like with the property. Fans can either support that or not. They can even support some things Columbia does with the Ghostbusters, but not others. But fans aren’t losing anything; those original stories that they loved are still there. They can revisit those stories any time they want. Anyone claiming they’ve lost something in their favorite franchise just because the creators decided they wanted to appeal to a more diverse audience than white guys is just being selfishly infantile by trying to claim that if it’s not exactly how they like it, then no one should be able to enjoy it. If that’s not one of the most egotistical, juvenile things I’ve seen from an alleged adult, I don’t know what is.