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In October 2015 the trailer dropped for a small, independent production called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The online reaction to it was, predictably, huge – it’s had nearly 80 million views on YouTube – but a certain section of the franchise’s fandom seemingly wasn’t very happy. And the reason they weren’t happy was apparently because one of the main characters was black.
Image: via Washington Weekly News
The character in question, Finn, is played by British John Boyega. It seems that some “fans” thought his presence in the film amounted to a “white genocide,” and that the new Star Wars movie was nothing but “anti-white propaganda.”
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Of course, this being the 21st century, the cries of these people found an outlet on Twitter. And before too long the apparent racial hatred led to the creation of the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII, which soon began trending.
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But this in turn caught the eyes of more level-headed individuals, and the hashtag supposedly meant to inspire a boycott was used to highlight how ridiculous this attitude really was. After all, they were talking about a fictional galaxy that teems with about a billion different species.
Image: via Twitter/Dark Matters
Indeed, much of the backlash against the boycott “movement” pointed out, quite rightly, that the original Star Wars trilogy was hardly an all-white affair. The series’ main villain, for instance, was voiced by James Earl Jones.
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Plus, the prequel trilogy – released between 1999 and 2005 – also featured Samuel L. Jackson as Jedi master Mace Windu and Temuera Morrison, an actor of Maori origin, playing Jango Fett. This is not to mention the other roles filled by people of color.
Image: via Twitter/Kit of Monte Fisto
Certainly, by the time the world’s media became aware of the boycott movement, #BoycottStarWarsVII was being used almost exclusively by fans trading memes to call out the racists. But then something strange happened.
When journalists began digging deeper into the origins of the boycott movement, they discovered that it was actually started by two specific individuals making a lot of Twitter-noise. Moreover, it seemed that the hashtag may not have been genuine.
Image: via Twitter/Dixon Cider
The two Twitter users were identified by their handles @DarklyEnlighten and @genophilia. As Vox wrote at the time, the pair “were trolling, plain and simple.” What’s more, it “worked.”
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In fact, @genophilia later practically came out and admitted it. He tweeted that a “handful of alt-right people started the #BoycottStarWarsVII hashtag” and proclaimed that they were “winning” because “social justice warriors” were attacking the so-called “movement.”
Image: via The Telegraph
And the more people started to write about #BoycottStarWarsVII the more the trolls were enjoying themselves. Users of the message board 4chan began to come clean and state that they were responsible for the bogus hashtag.
Image: via Twitter/Peter Simeti
Indeed, 4chan users seemed to revel in the attention. “We did it Again #4chan should win a Nobel Peace Prize! We made a racial issue out of thin air!!” said one on Twitter.
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An article for Esquire said it best. “The hashtag, spearheaded by a handful of trolls, was specifically designed, not because there was ever any intention to organize a Star Wars boycott… but to troll for the instant gratification of trolling,” wrote Luke O’Neil.
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O’Neil further pointed out that an analysis of the hashtag revealed “very little of the noise coming from actual racists, the thing we were supposed to be upset about in the first place.” But that’s not to say that there weren’t any real racists using the hashtag.
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While Esquire noted that there “weren’t that many” real racists involved, the fact that anybody would sincerely use the hashtag is still more than a little worrying. And, arguably, made all these anti-boycott memes worthwhile.
Esquire claimed, though, that one possibility the story even became a story was because “the media has become so anxious to give a megaphone to every asinine cluster of bigots for the sake of page views.” Or, it posited, that members of the media “just don’t care.”
Image: Twitter/Audra McDonald
But whether it was the doing of the creators of the hashtag themselves, or the news outlets that posted it online, #BoycottStarWarsVII was definitely a big deal for a while there. Not that it made any difference to the box office.
Image: via Twitter/Leonardo
In fact, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has just moonwalked past the previous biggest opening weekend at the global box office in cinema history. Its takings? $529 million.
Image: via Twitter/Daniel José Older
And actor John Boyega has spent the time turning up unannounced at screenings around New York and his native south London to say hello to the real Star Wars fans. Just in case you were in any doubt that he is a lovely man.
Image: via Twitter/Funny Or Die
So, it seems the moral of the story is simple. Don’t believe everything you read online. Or, perhaps more pertinently, think before you tweet.