Given that the men are showrunners of what is one of the most popular shows in the world, you might think that reaction would be overwhelmingly positive. But for Star Wars fans who are just beginning to see themselves represented in the franchise, it is a step in the opposite direction. Let’s look at a few reasons why Benioff and Weiss are not the best people for the job of spearheading a new series of Star Wars films…
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss may be talented showrunners, but they’re not what this franchise needs to truly move forward. As Game of Thrones races closer to its finish and therefore further away from the framework of the books, it has become clear that Benioff and Weiss are much better at adapting than they are at steering the writerly ship. The writing is the weakest part of season 7, with the series coasting along on its incredible production values, talented cast, and the narrative momentum built up from its stronger seasons.
That being said, Benioff and Weiss have proven themselves adept at showrunning, a skill that includes many responsibilities that go beyond simply the writing of episodes. As managers of one of the most ambitious series on TV, Benioff and Weiss have done an impressive job. You know the aforementioned incredible production values and talented cast? They exist because Benioff and Weiss put together a team of talented people to tell this massive story.
It’s an important point to make, but one largely irrelevant given that the Star Wars universe has put only one woman and no people of color behind-the-scenes roles as writer or director in its 41-year history. (I’m still pulling for Rachel Talalay, but there are many good choices, like The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Reed Morano, who recently met with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy.) Creatively, Benioff and Weiss seem to represent a step away from the more progressive, representative path the Star Wars franchise appeared to be heading in with Rogue One and The Last Jedi. It isn’t enough to see better representation in front of the camera; it needs to happen behind-the-camera, too. That’s how we get more diverse stories, instead of the same thing over and over again.
Benioff and Weiss are not known for their subversive narratives, and why should they be? They are telling their stories from the same perspective most of the rest of Hollywood and TV is: that of a straight, white man. This has resulted in a Game of Thrones adaptation that has notably increased the number of sexual assaults from the books, failed to develop its few characters of color past their supporting roles in a “white savior” plot, and notably had no idea what to do with its teen girl characters this past season. (Hint: teen girls are people, too. Write them like people.)
Benioff and Weiss’ lack of understanding when it comes to the nuances of race in our country was brought to the forefront last year when their next TV project was announced. It is a show called Confederate, theoretically still in development at HBO, and imagines an alternate American history in which the Civil War ended with the Southern states seceding, and American slavery continuing.
The Twitter backlash was instantaneous, with the hashtag #NoConfederate trending number one in the U.S. and number two worldwide. Writer and professor Roxane Gay called the story “slavery fanfiction” in the New York Times, writing:
Each time I see a reimagining of the Civil War that largely replicates what actually happened, I wonder why people are expending the energy to imagine that slavery continues to thrive when we are still dealing with the vestiges of slavery in very tangible ways.
In other words, black people don’t need to imagine a world where the oppressive, sometimes deadly effects of the Civil War-era mindset still exist. They’re living in it.
From their positions of power, Benioff and Weiss don’t seem to fully understand this–at least to the point where they could understand how unnecessary and unwanted such a television series would be. It speaks to the limits of perspective we all have, and is a prime example of why all of the biggest storytelling roles in Hollywood need to stop going to people with very similar life experiences and, therefore, very similar limits of perspective. With J.J. Abrams helming the final installment in the Sequel Trilogy, Rian Johnson taking on a new set of Star Wars films, and now Benioff and Weiss coming onto the scene, it’s white dudes all the way down.
“This is not going to go the way you think,” Luke Skywalker tells Rey in The Last Jedi, a mantra that many of us hoped would apply to the larger Star Wars franchise. The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi have proven that the Star Wars universe doesn’t need to play it “safe” when it comes to diversity in front of the camera. When will they learn true diversity, true change, begins with diversity behind the camera?