Opinion: Dear Bob Iger, Star Wars Is Not A Platform For Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Feminist Activism
The cognitive dissonance at Disney continues. In an interview with CNN, upcoming Star Wars director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy sounded off on the ‘historical significance’ of her being hired to lead the untitled “Rey film”, declaring that she is “thrilled” about the project because, “We’re in 2024 now, and I think it’s about time that we had a woman come forward to shape the story in a galaxy far, far away.”
Do you feel the excitement?
With media interviews like this for Star Wars directors, there’s not much for fans to be excited about. While journalists at CNN might find it cool that an award-winning documentarian and co-chair of the 2017 World Economic Forum annual meeting is doing a Star Wars movie, fans tend to be motivated by more simple things like the kind of story being told and why it fits into the galaxy far, far away created by George Lucas.
Jedi. Smugglers. The Force. Inquisitors. Bounty Hunters. Sith Acolytes. New eras on the Star Wars timeline! Does Obaid-Chinoy have anything to say about these things? Does she have some sort of misgivings about the contributions to Star Wars by women such as Marcia Lucas, who dramatically shaped A New Hope, Star Wars: Rebels co-creator Carrie Beck, or Obi-Wan Kenobi director Deborah Chow, or the work of Mandalorian director Bryce Dallas Howard and Ahsoka directors Jennifer Getzinger and Geeta Vasant Patel.
Unlikely. By all available metrics, Obaid-Chinoy is highly accomplished and talented as a filmmaker, but her interviews on this Star Wars opportunity only seem to point toward ego and using this intellectual property as a vehicle for scoring political points.
Obaid-Chinoy made this clear in 2015 in an interview on stage with Jon Stewart where she affirmed her enjoyment of “making men uncomfortable” after he noted that the “thread” in her films were men that are “a—holes.”
“I enjoy making men uncomfortable,” the filmmaker declared at the time, elaborating, “It is important to be able to look into the eyes of a man and say, ‘I am here and recognize that I am working to bring something that makes you uncomfortable.'”
She continued, “And it should make you uncomfortable, because you need to change your attitude, and it’s only when you’re uncomfortable, when you’re shifty, when you have to have difficult conversations, that you will perhaps look at yourself in the mirror and not like the reflection, and then say, ‘Maybe there is something wrong with the way I think, or maybe there is something wrong with the way I am addressing this issue.'”
Granted, we’re talking about a woman who is making movies focused on Pakistan where repressive Islamism is the norm, however, that lens on the world is not just going to vanish from a Star Wars project developed by Obaid-Chinoy.
This entire direction seems to fly in the face of what Disney CEO Bob Iger has said Disney would be doing in 2024 onward to get the company back on track.
Iger has done the rounds on public apology where he seems to admit that he knows a problem exists with the politicization of Disney storytelling. In a widely covered interview on CNBC, Iger stated that Disney’s priority should be to, “Entertain first, not messages.” Iger elaborated by saying, “Creators lost sight of what their number one objective needed to be.”
Has anyone relayed this message to Lucasfilm and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who will be handling Bob Iger’s $4 billion investment?
This was all part of a damage control campaign by Iger after a long series of box office failures including Lightyear, Strange World, The Marvels, Indiana Jones & The Dial of Destiny and Wish. These are not insignificant failures. Indiana Jones’ final chapter is estimated to have blown $100 million in the abyss for Disney.
Far more importantly, it was the final ride for Harrison Ford’s iconic character of Indiana Jones. To fans, these kinds of bungled stories and ill-conceived theatrical releases are black marks on beloved franchises.
Stories are supposed to come first.
It’s frustrating and even angering, at times. Star Wars fans adore Star Wars. They think about it daily. They pass on lightsabers and collectibles to their children and treat the home debut of the Star Wars films as a right of passage with them. And Disney continues to put forward individuals who make the directing of a Star Wars movie more about their identity and their place in “history” than about the story.
And I want to be clear about something. I subscribe to the Rick Rubin idea of why artists should make art. They should make art for themselves, not for fans. I don’t like fan service filmmaking and I don’t like movies being made by corporate committees and inside focus groups. That’s not art, it is “commerce,” as put by famed music producer Rick Rubin.
Star Wars doesn’t need more commerce, that is how you get the horror show called The Rise of Skywalker.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is as welcome in the universe of Star Wars storytelling as any other human being with a talent for filmmaking. It would just be nice if she seemed to care about Star Wars, but I guess that would be too much to ask.