MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry appears (like the rest of the world) to be fixated upon Star Wars, but for reasons of her own. Harris-Perry has gone political with her thoughts on the franchise, which have resulted in plenty of online criticism. On Monday morning, she confessed a childhood obsession with marrying her African-American Barbies to Chewbacca because “he was tall … hairy, in control of the situation.” Harris-Perry also delivered her rationale on why the Darth Vader character is a racist caricature:
“The part where he was totally a black guy, whose name was basically James Earl Jones. While he was black he was terrible and bad, awful and used to cut off white men’s hand, and didn’t actually claim his son. But as soon as he claims his son, goes over to the good, takes off his mask and he is white – yes, I have many feelings about that.”
Fortunately, the sociopolitical analysts at Mediaite also double as Star Wars experts. Alex Griswold points out the many discrepancies in Harris-Perry’s arguments, starting with this point:
“Darth Vader first tells Luke that he is his father when he is still in his black armor, or ‘a black guy’ as she puts it. There was never a point where he didn’t ‘claim his son’; as soon as he discovered Luke was alive, he took steps to reunited the family and ‘rule the galaxy as father and son.'”
Griswold adds that Darth Vader was originally written with a Scottish accent (with Jones’ voice getting swapped in at a late stage). And with Luke and Leia being pretty darn white, it seems unlikely that Vader would not be white as well. Plus, the black-and-white/evil vs. good trope is nothing original to Star Wars. In addition to these salient points, there’s another issue with Harris-Perry’s stance — her argument has been made before in a comedic forum.
In Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy (1997), Smith created a character called Hooper X (a comic book author), who was described by Roger Ebert as “a gay black man whose militant anger is partly a put-on and partly real pain, masked in irony.” During Hooper’s “black rage” scene, he described Darth Vader as “the blackest brother in the galaxy.” Hooper characterized Skywalker’s rise as a metaphor for gentrification before arriving at this conclusion:
“Vader’s beautiful black visage is sullied when he pulls off his mask to reveal a feeble, crusty old white man. They trying to tell us that deep inside we all want to be white!”
If only Smith knew what was to come in the future. Here’s that scene: