Star Wars and backlash, unfortunately, go hand in hand. Maybe it’s fandom ire after the reveal Rey is actually a Palpatine or the backlash against an actor’s comments (and then the different backlash against the firing of said actor). No fandom is a monolith, but the Star Wars fandom feels constantly divided.
When Variety announced Hunger Games and The Hate U Give actor Amandla Stenberg was in talks for the lead role of the upcoming Disney+ series The Acolyte, the fandom was divided yet again. Here’s everything you need to know about Stenberg’s possible role and how it could fix a growing Stars War fandom problem.
Amandla Stenberg is in talks for the title role of The Acolyte, an upcoming Star Wars live-action television series created by Russian Doll showrunner Leslye Headland. When the show was announced in 2020, many fans objected to the series being described as “female-led,” seemingly because Rey, a female character, led the last three Star Wars movies.
Now, this casting news has revived the conversation, albeit differently because Amandla Stenberg uses they/them pronouns. In a statement on Tumblr in 2016, Stenberg wrote that they/them pronouns make them feel “comfortable.”
Star Wars has a less-than-stellar track record with transgender issues. Gina Carano was fired from The Mandalorian for her comments about the trans community. Casting Stenberg, even in what is likely a female role, could show a conscious effort to include diversity.
Stenberg would be a huge get for Star Wars. Not only would they be the first nonbinary actor to lead a Star Wars project, but they would also join Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka in being a Black protagonist in a Star Wars series. They’re also an incredibly experienced actor for their age, which is especially useful in a series with such a young main character. (An acolyte is the Sith equivalent of a padawan; so, the lead role would be a young Sith-in-training.)
However, the backlash against Stenberg is already running rampant. They’re rarely referred to with they/them pronouns, and YouTuber John Campea released a now-deleted statement saying he would not cover the casting announcement in fear of misgendering Stenberg and facing flak from fans.
Campea’s statement, of course, made many fans upset. His decision was blatant gender discrimination: If Stenberg were cisgender, he wouldn’t have made this decision. No doubt, this is only one aspect of how Stenberg’s identity will be discriminated against should they be cast in The Acolyte.
Fear of messing up shouldn’t result in penalty. As a nonbinary person, I prefer they/them pronouns, and when someone messes up, the best thing to do is apologize and quickly move on. Using appropriate pronouns can be difficult, but the only way to get used to them is to try. If Star Wars fans can understand the ways of the Force, they can understand they/them pronouns.
With Amandla Stenberg, The Acolyte can prove to the Star Wars fandom that nonbinary people exist and are not just a talking point to be argued on Twitter. There are nonbinary actors, writers, and, most importantly, Star Wars fans. Even if the series is still female-led, The Acolyte has the chance to lead the way for those who identify as neither female nor male.
The Acolyte is coming soon to Disney+.