by Viri Garcia
I grew up watching minorities and characters of color die on screen. Most often, these were African Americans. Every time my mom and I would watch a movie with African American characters, such as Scary Movie, The Shining, Resident Evil: Extinction, Kill Bill, and X-Men: First Class, I remember my mother saying, “Mira, se va a morir primero,” They are going to die first. She was always right. I used to question why she was always right, but I came to understand: representation always sucks. We either always get an all-white cast, or one with a few characters/actors of color meant to add “diversity.” However, in the few instances that there is an attempt at representation, characters are always either unsubstantial, stereotypical, defined by their ethnicity, written solely to demonstrate discrimination faced by a certain race/ethnicity, or tokens to increase a film’s profits. Eventually, my mother and I began to see more minority characters, including Mexican ones, in movies. As expected, they were either disposable bodies in horror movies, in movies specifically about “Mexican culture” (which, according to the film industry, is mostly about Día de los Muertos or drug trafficking), or background characters.
In the past several years, Disney has been trying to offer more diverse representation. We can see this in Moana, which offered representation of a Pacific Islander, Elena, a TV series that featured a Latina princess as the protagonist, and The Force Awakens, which featured a cast of Asian, Black, and Latinx actors. Star Wars: Rogue One also follows this trend, except (spoiler alert) Disney kills this whole beautifully diverse cast, which not only included Asian, Black, and Latinx actors, but also, a female protagonist.
When I found out Mexican actor Diego Luna was going to have a role in Star Wars: Rogue One, I immediately predicted—as I’ve been trained to—that he would either die or his character would be unsatisfying and disposable. I was both wrong and right: Diego Luna’s character, Cassian Andor, was a substantial and developed character, but was still killed off. It seems telling that Disney cast Luna in the first and only Star Wars movie in which all the characters in the story die, when they could’ve cast him in the upcoming Episode VIII film. Rogue One may have made an attempt at representation, but unfortunately it just reassured me that representation will always suck. Disney just couldn’t let us have our first Star Wars character portrayed by a Mexican actor and let him live happily ever after as a hero. The politics of Diego Luna’s casting and Cassian Andor’s characterization complicate the shiny, nice narrative of Hollywood’s “progress” in representation—with each fumbling stab, they make more and more mistakes.
Andor’s death, however, was not even what disappointed me most about Rogue One. Worse was that while Diego Luna was the first Mexican or Latinx actor to portray a Star Wars protagonist, it is never shown in Rogue One that Cassian Andor was actually Mexican. After the movie was over, my mother said, “Ya ves? Todos se murieron porque había un Mexicano,” See? Everyone died because there was a Mexican. My mother is somehow usually right, but for once, I think she wasn’t. Yes, everyone died, but not because there was a Mexican in the movie. In fact, there was no Mexican character in the movie. How was anyone supposed to know for sure if Andor was Mexican? He had an accent, but we know nothing about his past despite the fact that he is one of the main characters. How do I know that this heroic figure is Mexican, and that we really do have something in common? How do I know if, perhaps, he grew up with a fear of la chancla and ate elotes, raspas, and sopes? The term “Latinx” does not just refer to Mexican culture. “Latinx” can mean Mexican, Cuban, Colombian, Puerto Rican, Dominican, or any Latin American ethnicity. There may be many similarities between these Latinx cultures that could lead to homogenized misrepresentation. As far as Rogue One goes, Diego Luna is Mexican but there are no traces of Latinx culture present in his character.
Rogue One is full of characters with no past and no future, save the protagonist Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones). All that is revealed of Cassian Andor is that he had been fighting the Empire since he was six years old and now embodies the determination and hope of the Resistance. I was thrilled to see a Mexican actor who wasn’t playing an immigrant or a drug lord or starring in another Día de los Muertos film, but instead, leading the intergalactic resistance in Star Wars. That was all I needed to know for him to be my favorite character, even if I couldn’t fully identify with him. Disney may have built a beautiful character and attempted to offer Latinx representation, but failed regardless.
As always, representation sucks; it’s complicated and messy. Rogue One was a good movie, but it was unnecessary to the ultimate Star Wars story, similar to how Finding Dory was to Finding Nemo. Finding Nemo, like the rest of the Star Wars movies, present and resolve a conflict. Both Rogue One and Finding Dory present stories that aren’t necessary to the ultimate narrative and are not needed for closure. I loved seeing Diego Luna on screen, but throughout the duration of the film, I knew I was watching the most superfluous Star Wars film to ever exist. This made me feel like casting Diego Luna in it was almost a waste of good acting. Ultimately, Rogue One is a complicated film when it comes to representation: it both represented and erased Mexican identity on screen; both excited and disappointed me; both succeeded and failed. Most of all, I just wished that for once I could truly relate to a Mexican character aside from Ignacio (played by Jack Black) in Nacho Libre (possibly one of the worst films to exist even if it does portray Mexican culture in a caricatured but mostly accurate and relatable way), who was not even portrayed by a Latinx actor.
It’s time for Disney to quit killing strong Mexican- portrayed heroes, female protagonists, and snarky droids and, get it right by giving characters of color adequate storylines so their ethnicities are clear, and for god’s sake by letting them live. I’m used to seeing the characters with accents and Mexican roots be tossed aside on screen, but I never thought Disney would do it so clumsily. I want to see a hero that I identify with and watch them live. Representation is too complicated for the film industry, as Disney’s latest fumble has proven once more. It is more than just seeing a character with a familiar face and culture on screen: it’s about seeing that character grow into someone we would want to be and knowing that we too have that same potential.