Hollywood Reporter reported on Friday that Lupita Nyong’o, the Academy Award-winning actress from 12 Years A Slave, might be talking to J.J. Abrams about a role in the upcoming Star Wars VII. Possibly even a lead role (the new trilogy’s equivalent, I suppose, of Princess Leia). Lots of fans have reacted positively to this news. And I’m mostly excited about it, too. Nyong’o is an amazingly talented and charismatic actress.
But here’s my problem: assuming these reports are accurate, she shouldn’t be in talks for this role at all. What she should be in talks for is the star role.
From all reports (and granted, a lot of this is rumor and supposition) the lead role is currently being contested over by – wait for it – young male actors. And if Hollywood’s history is any guide, the winner of that role will almost certainly be a white male.
That would be a mistake. For many reasons, the new Star Wars movie would be better served with Nyong’o as the star. It should be as much her character story as the original trilogy belonged to Luke Skywalker.
The first and foremost reason for that is simple. She’d be awesome. Her Academy Award for 12 Years A Slave was 100% deserved, as anyone who has seen the film can attest. And if you haven’t seen it? Go read the reviews – virtually all of them call out Nyong’o’s performance. This in a movie anchored by the amazing actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (my pick for the next James Bond, if Barbara Broccoli is reading this) and featuring great performances by Michael Fessbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard and many other immensely talented actors and actresses.
I like a lot of the people rumored to be in contention for the lead role of the next Star Wars. But none of them, in my opinion, are as talented as Nyong’o.
But there’s a second, and I think, far more important reason why Nyong’o should have the starring role in the next Star Wars. That’s because Star Wars is iconic. It’s part of American culture. Beyond American culture, in fact – all three of the prequel trilogy movies had a higher box office internationally than they had in the U.S. Even people who have never seen a Star Wars movie probably know phrases like “May the Force be with you” and could identify a lightsaber.
So taking that iconic part of American culture and making movies that tell the story of a young black woman is a cultural game changer. A game changer that’s very long overdue. When Star Trek first lanched in 1966, having a black woman as a bridge officer was groundbreaking. Uhura was an inspiration to a generation of young black people (including Martin Luther King, Jr.), who saw someone like themselves in a position of authority, working alongside people of other races in the future.
Fast forward nearly 50 years since Star Trek launched and little black girls who want to dream about being heroes in the future can turn on the TV and imagine themselves as, well, um, Uhura. Okay, there’s a handful of others, too. Zoe Washburne, Anastasia Dualla, Martha Jones… but the list is pretty painfully short. And all of them are in supporting roles in somebody else’s story (usually a white guy’s story). None of them have been a star or had their stories told in depth It’s not fair.
When I was a kid growing up, I didn’t have to look hard for heroes who looked like me – from Indiana Jones to Luke Skywalker to Superman to Batman to Han Solo to Captain Kirk to Sherlock Holmes. I could pick and choose. And that hasn’t changed in the years since.
Every kid deserves the chance to see a hero who looks like them.
And the new Star Wars movies deserve to be led by a strong, powerful actor who can make them great again.
Making Lupita Nyong’o the star of those movies is a win-win.