Star Wars Has Always Been Pro-Women, So Why Bring On A New Feminist Director Who "Likes To Make Men Uncomfortable"?

A new day, a new Star Wars film. A new woke controversy in the galaxy far, far away.

By Jillian Schroeder5 min read
Pexels/Paul Rod

Will Disney ever learn its lesson? Late last year, Disney released a statement blaming its drop in profits on some of its woke production choices. This was probably inspired by their live-action production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which has been plagued with controversy since its star Rachel Ziegler suggested the film’s updated, feminist perspective. But Snow White is now taking a backseat spot compared to Disney’s newest disaster. Disney seems to have already scored their biggest flop of 2024 – and the movie doesn’t even come out this year.

During the Star Wars Celebration in April 2023, three new Star Wars films were announced to be in production, including a sequel to Rise of Skywalker that will be directed by Oscar-winner documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. But then an old clip of Obaid-Chinoy speaking at the Women in the World Summit in 2015 resurfaced, and it ignited a fiery conversation about the direction of the beloved franchise. The viral moment was Obaid-Chinoy saying, "I like to make men uncomfortable. I enjoy making men uncomfortable."

It’s absolutely true that these comments were made eight years ago, and journalistic integrity lies in not taking things out of context. But I think it’s fair to ask whether Obaid-Chinoy’s attitude of antagonism toward men has remained the same, especially since men traditionally make up a larger percentage of hardcore Star Wars fans. If the tables were turned and a male director made a similar comment about women, there would certainly be outrage and calls for a change.

Here’s everything you need to know about Disney’s new Star Wars director and the direction the franchise seems to be taking.

How Did Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Become the Next Star Wars Director?

Born Sharmeen Obaid in Karachi, Pakistan in 1978, Obaid-Chinoy worked at an English language paper before attending Smith College and Stanford University in the United States. Though she studied Economics and Government, she became a filmmaker upon her return to her home country, where she selected documentary subjects to film. Obaid-Chinoy’s goals as a filmmaker were clear from the beginning. “My passion is to bring the voices of minorities, women, and refugees from one part of the world to another,” she is quoted as saying in Stanford Magazine.

Obaid-Chinoy first came to Hollywood’s attention in 2012 for her Oscar-winning short documentary Saving Face, which depicts women in Pakistan who have suffered acid burns at the hands of their husbands and in-laws. Three years later, she won another Oscar for her short documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, which addresses the tradition of “honor killings.” In these honor killings, men kill women in their families who marry without permission or commit other acts considered disrespectful to the family, and there are no legal repercussions. Both documentaries caused waves in Pakistan, and A Girl in the River even led to their prime minister’s promise to outlaw honor killings.

Obaid-Chinoy has a very clear sense of what filmmaking means to her – it’s a direct line to influence a change she’s trying to achieve. In her TED Talk, she explains how she selected her films to “document violence against women” and hoped to spark change. And for these earlier subjects, I think much of Obaid-Chinoy’s work has served that purpose admirably. I’ve watched both short documentaries and found them both very moving. But this attitude toward filmmaking is also why I’m still concerned for Star Wars. There is a significant difference between a documentary which sheds light on real atrocities against women and a fictional tale that occurs in a galaxy far, far away. Pretending that the two require the same attitude and approach is simplistic at best.

Obaid-Chinoy has some qualifications outside documentary films, including her work on Marvel Studios’ Ms. Marvel. This Disney+ show, which introduced Iman Vellani’s Pakistani superhero Ms. Marvel, rated well with both critics and audiences. Yet, however charming the show’s star is, the series failed to anchor the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in a momentum that could prevent its Phase 4 from being lackluster and increasingly boring.

Does Obaid-Chinoy’s 2015 declaration that she “likes making men uncomfortable” state her intentions for the upcoming Star Wars film? Not necessarily. But as a director, her best work has focused on violence against women, and she’s open about her tendency to approach film as activism. If that attitude is no longer her intention, I for one would like a little reassurance.

This Isn’t Star Wars’ First Woke Scandal

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy has been a classic since the release of A New Hope in 1977. An immediate success on its release, the initial films launched film actors like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher to stardom.

I still remember the first time I watched Star Wars with my dad. For weeks afterward, my brother and I were stealing flashlights from the kitchen drawers to simulate lightsabers. It was an epic battle of good against evil, a Western set in space with science-fiction knights. But most importantly, there was never a moment that I felt like there wasn’t a place for a female fan in the galaxy far, far away. It was a story that filled the human need for epic stories, for both women and men.

Though the Star Wars stories do have a universal appeal, many of the films’ major fans fall into the demographic of young men, 14% more of whom consider themselves avid fans than young women do. This average demographic remained consistent through the release of the franchise’s prequel trilogy, which follows the adventures of young Anakin Skywalker before his transformation into the Sith Lord Darth Vader.

The first major woke controversy of the franchise occurred when The Force Awakens was released in 2015. Then unknown actress Daisy Ridley plays the protagonist – a female Jedi named Rey, an orphan from the streets who at times feels like a textbook of the oppressed victim turned hero. There was an outcry over the increasingly woke agenda that appeared to be behind the artistic decisions. J.J. Abrams, the director himself, claimed he designed the character of Rey to be “the ultimate outsider and the ultimate disenfranchised person, because that person has the longest journey.” 

The trend of giving into woke demands in the galaxy far, far away continued in 2021, when Disney fired actress Gina Carano from her role on the popular TV show The Mandalorian. Carano’s firing had nothing to do with her performance as an actress on set – it was solely due to outrage expressed online because she refused to cave to woke ideology about pronouns on Twitter. “[Carano’s] social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable,” said a Lucasfilm spokesperson addressing Carano’s firing. Lucasfilm studio head Kathleen Kennedy has stated her intention to “bring balance to the Force” in the world of Star Wars, but actions like this are clear-cut instances of bullying and bias, not balance.

We’re not the only ones who think Disney’s war to uphold a woke agenda has become so obvious it’s laughable. Popular satire show South Park has started to take hits at the decisions of Kathleen Kennedy and Disney Studios. In the clip Carano shared on her X account recently, South Park’s version of Kennedy enters into the “Panderverse,” devising ways to pander to every oppressed community. Seems like Disney’s agenda is so obvious, even mainstream media is beginning to get the idea.

Star Wars Isn’t Anti-Woman, and It Never Was

What I find most insulting about Lucasfilm producer Kathleen Kennedy’s crusade for gender equality in the new era of Star Wars is the assumption upon which that crusade is based. This presumes that Star Wars was anti-woman, a patriarchal system that has oppressed its female characters. But anyone who knows and loves the original Star Wars films knows that women have never been an afterthought. In fact, women have frequently been the beating heart of the fight for freedom and order throughout the galaxy.

The most obvious example of this is the franchise’s first heroine, Princess Leia. When we first meet Leia in A New Hope, she’s captured by the wicked Darth Vader, but she’s no damsel in distress. Leia is the leader of the Rebel resistance, a clear-headed thinker with a boldness to speak the truth. Leia is more than just a love interest, though her love for Han Solo is the stuff of cinematic legend.

Nor is Rey the first female Jedi. True fans of Star Wars know about Anakin’s padawan Ahsoka from the early 2000s, when she first appeared in the animated film The Clone Wars. Best known for her iconic double green lightsabers, Ahsoka is a powerful Jedi who is nevertheless compassionate and clever. Ahsoka’s popularity as a character has led to her continued appearances, leading up to her own live-action show released in 2023, Ahsoka

The insult doesn’t stop there. Obaid-Chinoy said in a recent interview that “it’s about time that we had a woman come forward to shape the story in a galaxy far, far away.” If this narrative is true, Obaid-Chinoy’s appointment is a historic victory for women and for the history of Star Wars because no woman has ever directed a Star Wars story before.

But here’s the truth: Obaid-Chinoy isn’t the first woman behind a Star Wars camera by a long shot. Actress and director Bryce Dallas Howard has been directing stories that take place in a galaxy far, far away on both The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. TV veteran director Deborah Chow directed several of The Mandalorian’s highest rated episodes, as well as the entire Obi-wan Kenobi series. If the goal of the new Lucasfilm team is to shine light on the work of women behind the camera, I fail to see how eclipsing the work of these female directors over the last several years is respectful or uplifting to women. If the significance of Obaid-Chinoy’s selection as director comes at the cost of recognizing the women who came before her, that seems like a major loss for women overall to me. 

Closing Thoughts

Disney wants us to think they are breaking new ground with their newest Star Wars director, but instead, they’re just isolating the demographic who most loves the franchise. To real fans of the Star Wars franchise, Obaid-Chinoy’s activist approach to filmmaking raises serious questions about the future of the franchise we love. Instead of taking the woke agenda to space, I wish we would focus on telling stories that speak to human beings – both men and women – in this galaxy right here and now and leave agendas aside. 

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