How Thandie Newton used fashion to honour Star Wars’ awesome black characters

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Kayleigh Dray
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CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 15: Actress Thandie Newton attends the screening of 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 15, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Dominique Charriau/WireImage)

Everyone is talking about Thandie Newton’s custom-made Vivienne Westwood gown – and for good reason…

Thandie Newton has already well and truly earned her place in the science fiction pantheon, thanks to her incredible work in HBO’s Westworld. However, the actress is about to become even more beloved by genre junkies, as she’s scored a role in Solo: A Star Wars Story (aka the spin-off film about a young Han Solo).

In the prequel (which also stars Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson and Donald Glover), Newton plays Val Beckett. 

And, while little is known about her character, Newton recently shared a poster featuring her character in what appears to be a leather flight suit with a white fur scarf around her neck – suggesting she, like Solo, is not your average crack-shot bandit.

“Well now, THAT’s going on my office wall (if I had an office),” she wrote, adding: “WERRRRRRK!!!!!!!!”

It’s no wonder Newton is excited: as she explained in April she is “the first woman of colour to have a prominent role in the Star Wars legacy”.

She added: “There have been others with one line and Lupita Nyong’o was a computer-generated character [in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi], but you didn’t get to see the colour of her skin. I’m the first.

“I’m going to have a toy and everything.”

When you consider that Glover used his recent SNL appearance to highlight the lack of diversity in the film franchise (“Where the hell are all the black people in space?” he asked, before going on to reveal that, while there are “lots of lizard men wearing vests,” there are “just four black people”), this is no small thing.

So Newton – who has criticised the lack of opportunity in Hollywood for non-white actors in the past – decided to use the Cannes Film Festival red carpet to make a point about diversity. And she did so by donning a gorgeous custom-made Vivienne Westwood gown, emblazoned with all the black characters who have graced a galaxy far far away since The Empire Strikes Back.

Thandie Newton attends the screening of Solo: A Star Wars Story during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals 

Featuring pin-tucks and gathers, with painted floral motifs, fans of the franchise were delighted to spot a number of iconic characters on Newton’s dress, including Finn (John Boyega) from the current trilogy, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams and Donald Glover) from the original trilogy and Solo respectively, and Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker) from Rogue One.

Captain Panaka (Hugh Quarshie) from and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) – both of whom appeared in the prequels – also made an appearance.

According to The Red Carpet Fashion Awards, each image was photographed by New York-based fashion photographer Christian Hogstedt, before being layered over Westwood’s Absence of Roses print for a truly iconic look.

Newton previously said that British television shows do not offer enough opportunities for actresses of colour, stating: “I love being [home in the UK], but I can’t work. I can’t do Downton Abbey, can’t be in Victoria, can’t be in Call the Midwife.

“Well, I could, but I don’t want to play someone who’s being racially abused. I’m not interested in that, don’t want to do it.”

She went on to say that the appetite for period dramas and “stuff from the past” means it’s “slim pickings” for non-white actors, adding that despite her career spanning decades, she doesn’t think strides towards inclusivity have been big enough.

“I’m talented at what I do, but I’ve had to struggle against racism and sexism,” added Newton, in her interview with The Sunday Times. “But I’m glad of it, in a way, that I survived and overcame.”

Image: Getty


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.