#WheresRey? No, seriously. Where is she?
Imagine you’re a woman. Now imagine you’re a pilot woman. In space. You’re a woman space pilot. You also don’t need saving because you’re a kick-ass woman space pilot. You’re so kick-ass that you’re in a movie. Well, not just in it, you’re the freaking star! The movie is Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Granted, as far as we know, the Star Wars franchise is fictional. Please calm down . . . stop crying. It’s fictional and you know it, so stop trying to force-choke me. Want to hear something that’s not fictional: there is a total of eight action figures for TFA character Poe Dameron. Guess how many there are for Rey? Four. One Rey action figure comes with a landspeeder, but you can’t see her face. To shed some perspective on the matter, Dameron spends roughly twenty minutes on-screen where Rey is, let me count, oh yeah—the protagonist.
A twitter storm was unleashed after the release of the new Star Wars toy line after fans noticed the beloved hero missing from two very important boxed sets: firstly, the six character TFA boxset which contained Finn, Poe Dameron, Chewbacca, Kylo Ren and the ever important TIE fighter pilot and random storm trooper. No Rey. The second was the Millennium Falcon which included Finn, Chewbacca and BB8.
“Hang on a minute”, you say, “didn’t Rey fly the Millennium Falcon in The Force Awakens?”
Why yes, she did! In fact, when Han Solo joined them, even he struggled to fly his beloved ship because of an alteration made by an interim owner. Rey, of course, saved the day and fixed the problem in the way that heroes invariably do.
So why is Rey left out in place of the proverbial red-shirts of the Star Wars universe or just plain left out?
Well as “Some Dude” on my Facebook friends list will tell you, “female action figures don’t sell well”. “Dude” works at Walmart in the US, so he obviously knows what he’s talking about. The sentiment is echoed by many an “expert” on social media, but I couldn’t actually find any official quotes or statistics to back this claim up.
It also clashes with what Disney’s Head of Licencing and Senior Vice-President for Lucasfilm, Paul Southern, said over Rey’s poor representation: “Rey and Phasma feature prominently across hundreds of products, and are selling exceptionally well”. If they are selling exceptionally well, Paul, why aren’t there more?
There’s two parts to my own answer which I have formulated after much googling: the first, and simplest part is that there will be. Mr Southern said “…fans will see more of her [Rey] in 2016.” Whether that’s a reaction to the flak they’ve copped over the issue, or a part of their original master plan, we may never know.
The second part to this answer is thick and tangled and involves a subject that brings out vitriolic detractors and vehement nay-sayers: is it the result of the sexism and misogyny that colours our every thought and conversation? In an interview between TV writer, Paul Dini and Kevin Smith (THE Kevin Smith, maker of Clerks, Dogma, etc), they discuss the relationship between the lack of female action figures, and the supposed lack of interest. As an insider in the industry, he is privy to the explicit attitudes and opinions of the Powers That Be. This is just a small excerpt of the conversation:
DINI: They’re all for boys. “We do not want the girls,” I mean, I’ve heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am] but at other places, saying like, “We do not want girls watching this show.”
SMITH: WHY? That’s 51% of the population.
DINI: They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys.
The suggestion Dini is making here is that often TV shows and films are funded because they can be a successful vehicle for merchandising. In addition to that, he is suggesting that there is a widely-held belief that only boys buy merchandise, and he goes on to say so in the same interview. So, potentially, the problem of there not being enough female action figures may go all the way back to the film executives’ board room.
The problem appears to be multi-faceted, or rather, it starts at the beginning and appears at every interval from the boardroom to the store shelves. Movie makers want to gear their films towards preteen boys so that they can market the toy line and other merchandise towards them, which, as we all know, is where the real money is made. Many beloved TV shows are just merchandise vehicles for companies like Mattel and Hasbro such as My Little Pony and Transformers. That’s right, some of your childhood favourites exist exclusively to sell you coloured and moulded little chunks of plastic.
When it comes time to release merchandise for a film, female characters—no matter their prominence in the film—are often mysteriously missing. This was the case with Gamorah from Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Widow from The Avengers films. After the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, you would have been hard pressed to find an action figure of Gamorah.
Other merchandising such as t-shirts and backpacks featured group shots that excluded her. The explanation here was that these products were for boys and boys weren’t going to want to wear t-shirts that had a girl on it! I mean, they might get girl germs or something! That shit sticks. You might even pass it on!
Rey being excluded from the Millennium Falcon boxset is reminiscent of Black Widow being left out of a set based on a stunt she herself performed: in Avengers: Age of Ultron, ScarJo’s inimitable Natasha Romanova aka Black Widow does this cool jump-out-of-a-moving-aircraft-on-a-motorcycle thing and a boxset of that stunt was released with all the key characters from that scene…but not Black Widow.
Would a young boy care that much about playing with a female action figure that they would completely disregard the entire boxset, including a kick-ass motorcycle? Would a young boy turn his nose up at a t-shirt of his favourite movie because one of the characters on it—one of the main characters—is a girl? Would a young boy dare scoff at the Millennium Falcon because its pilot is a girl? Over and above this, consider the other 51% of the population. Who’s to say girls don’t want a Millennium Falcon or kick-ass Avengers motorcycle? If I was a kid in 2016, I can tell you what I’d be into: Star Wars, Monster High dolls and Marvel.
I was always searching for tough, rule-breaking female heroes with attitude and I revelled in them when I did. Sadly, I can’t remember any before the girl-power heroes of the nineties unless you include Maleficent, who wasn’t really considered a hero in the eighties. Nonetheless, I loved the black-clad, staff-slamming, crow-friendly, sardonic dark fairy. She was the only one with a sense of humour in the whole movie (that is, Sleeping Beauty).
Back to my point. The argument is old and it covers many spheres: sports, entertainment, etc. One group will say that women are not interested in something and point to the lack of ratings or sales as evidence. Nobody is interested in watching women’s soccer, look at how many people aren’t watching it. Nobody is interested in buying girl action figures, look at how few we’ve sold. Nobody is interested in female leads in action films, look how poorly they rate at the box office.
But there’s one common problem with all of these claims: a lack of representation. How can you watch a women’s soccer match when it’s not aired on television? How can you buy a girl action figure when they’re not to be found? How can you get excited about a female lead when she’s either unrelatable, overly sexualised and created for the male gaze, OR simply doesn’t exist?
The case of the missing Rey action figure is like the algal bloom lying on the surface of a very murky pond. It’s dark and dirty down there beneath the surface, but that’s where the answer lies. To solve it, somebody has to do something different lest this problem continues to exacerbate. I have hope. Ten years ago, the strong female leads were nowhere to be seen but now they are springing up all over the place. Even Disney’s princesses have attitude and independence, including my own personal Disney doppelganger, Merida from Brave.
Hopefully, in time, with more pushing and shoving from the masses, we will see more fair and equal representation of female characters in the action figure department of our toy stores. As a result of that, perhaps we’ll also see girls thinking differently about what’s expected of them by society and what they’re capable of. Representation matters, and this issue is evidence of that. My own 11-year-old daughter couldn’t care less about Star Wars, but the 11-year-old girl inside me does and, damn it, I just want to fly the Millennium Falcon.
Or be a Captain on the Dark Side.
Just like Captain Phasma, who I may or may not have written sonnets for. She hasn’t written back. Yet.