J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath on the Importance of Representation in ‘Star Wars’

     January 30, 2020

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The new Star Wars trilogy — The Force AwakensThe Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker — has garnered quite a bit of fan attention, both ebullient, negative, and everything in between. But we can all agree on one thing about the new series of films, and the other pieces in the expanded Star Wars-verse like Rogue One and The Mandalorian: It’s incredible to see the galaxy populated by different faces and types. Representation matters in the media, and the new Star Wars properties have done a great job of giving underrepresented communities heroes to look up to. Per Variety, at the 2020 Upfront Summit, Force Awakens/Rise of Skywalker writer/director J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot co-CEO Katie McGrath spoke to a room full of influential people about why they focused so much on representation — and why we all need to do the same.

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Image via Lucasfilm

As Abrams and McGrath began putting together the building blocks that would become The Force Awakens, McGrath explained that they “thought about building this story with the female protagonist, a set of four main characters: One of whom was Latinx, one of whom was a Nigerian Londoner, one of whom was a woman — a white woman — and one of whom was a white guy. How can we find a way to have every kid who’s going to go see that movie see a version of themselves, in a way that isn’t often considered at scale?” McGrath also explained that the ability to make a Star Wars film is a form of privilege. “If we have this moment, this privilege, what do we want to do with it? And not from a place of being preachy or feeding people spinach, just from a place of — any time you have a privilege, you have an obligation, period. That’s just how we try to live our lives.”

Abrams spoke about how he and McGrath have implemented a “Bad Robot Rule,” a method of ensuring the folks who make decisions represent the populations they serve. By McGrath’s methodologies, half of everyone interviewed for any job should be women, with at least 40% of those figures people of color. And Bad Robot walks the walk, too: Their staff is 55% women and nearly half people of color. Abrams finds this makeup to be exceptional:

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Image via Disney/Lucasfilm

It makes me emotional, actually, to be in meetings and to look around and see people who are never on a usual suspects list, they are never normally people you would think would normally have this job. But they were the best people, and they were there because we made sure they had a shot… I can’t tell you how much it’s benefited our business.

For more on representation in show business, here’s an optimistic study on women directors in Hollywood. And for more on Star Wars, here’s what we think the future may hold.

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