‘I’ve seen a lot of talk about the #blackstormtrooper outrage, but not a single example of anyone complaining’: The Force Awakens, canonical fidelity and non-toxic fan practices
Authors: Proctor, W.
Editors: Proctor, W. and Kies, B.
Journal: Participations: International Journal of Audience and Reception Studies
Abstract: In November 2014, Lucasfilm, now operating beneath Disney’s corporate umbrella, released a short teaser trailer online, offering an introductory glimpse at J.J Abrams’ The Force Awakens (2015), the first live-action Star Wars film in a decade. Running at less than two minutes, the teaser trailer swiftly became a hot topic on social media, with many fans uploading highly emotional reaction videos on YouTube, creating fan art, vids and Lego adaptations, and cheer-leading the Disney-era of Star Wars in earnest. Over on Twitter, however, the ‘dark side of geek culture’ was hard at work denouncing John Boyega’s appearance as a First Order Stormtrooper because of the actor’s race — or so we were told. In many press accounts, the hashtag #blackstormtrooper was cited directly as evidence of a racist-fuelled fan culture. This article examines this ‘controversy’. By conducting a discourse analysis on the hashtag in question, I want to show that the citation of #blackstormtrooper by journalists as unequivocal ‘proof’ that there is something rotten in the state of contemporary fandom is complicated by several factors — if not outright debunked as little more than gossip or ‘click-bait’. Firstly, the hashtag was not created to protest Boyega’s role in The Force Awakens, despite multiple press accounts claiming so. In actual fact, #blackstormtrooper was first activated in 2010 — four years before the teaser’s release and two years prior to the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney — to promote Scrub’s alumni, Donald Faison’s series of parody Lego films marked by the same title. Secondly, by scraping the contents of the hashtag to analyse the discourse in full demonstrates unequivocally there is no evidence of racism contained within, but a series of quarrels regarding the constitution of Star Wars canon, that is, what is deemed ‘factual’ within the imaginary world — or what I term ‘canonical fidelity’. These findings demand that scholars fully examine the veracity of press discourses more robustly, as opposed to reproducing journalistic chatter without question and query. In this article, I call for academic methodologies and protocols to remain high on the agenda for future research into hashtag publics, internet ‘communities’ and conflicts and, perhaps more urgently, to confront the way in which journalists ‘cherry-pick’ from social media platforms and end up manufacturing controversy, be it intentional or not.