Visible Women

Star Wars just got its first black female director

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Moya Crockett
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Victoria Mahoney has been appointed as a director on the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX

In recent years, the Star Wars films have made important and necessary moves towards increasing gender and racial diversity on screen. The most recent film in the series, The Last Jedi, was praised for putting John Boyega and Daisy Ridley’s characters at the heart of the narrative, and 2015’s A Force Awakens was celebrated after it passed the Bechdel Test “with flying colours” (something that can’t be said of the original Star Wars trilogy).

Now, an important step has been taken in improving diversity behind the camera on Star Wars. Victoria Mahoney has been hired as a director on the next film, making her the first woman of colour to serve as a director in the franchise’s history.

Her appointment was announced on Twitter by Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay. “Happy to share this historic news,” wrote DuVernay, the first woman of colour to direct a film with a budget of more than $100million. “A black woman directing stories in a galaxy far, far away.”

Mahoney will serve as second unit director on Star Wars: Episode IX alongside JJ Abrams, the film’s first unit director and producer. According to E News, this means she will be responsible for supplementary footage including establishing shots, stunts, inserts and cutaways. Given the stunt-heavy nature of Star Wars films, it’s safe to say that the filmmaker will have her hands full.

On Twitter, Mahoney indicated that her friend and frequent collaborator DuVernay had played a key role in helping her land her new job. “Thank you @ava for putting my name in the #StarWars #LucasFilm hat,” she wrote, adding: “This one’s for the outliers, dreaming big – in small corners of the Earth. #MayTheForceBeWithYou”. 

Mahoney made her feature film directorial debut in 2011 with Yelling to the Sky, a drama about a troubled teenage girl (played by Zoe Kravitz) for which she also wrote the script. She has extensive television directing experience, having helmed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Power, Gypsy, Seven Seconds, and DuVernay’s drama series Queen Sugar. She also recently directed Red Line, a pilot for CBS that was co-produced by DuVernay.

Her appointment is significant given Star Wars’ long history of prioritising the voices and viewpoints of white men, both behind and in front of the camera. Every single Star Wars film has been directed and written by white men, and the first film in the series – 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hopeonly featured dialogue spoken by white characters, the vast majority of whom were men. 

It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 that a non-white character (Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams) had any speaking time in a Star Wars film. That’s a stark contrast to 2015’s The Force Awakens, in which actors of colour – including Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Lupita Nyong’o – spoke roughly 40% of all lines.

Kelly-Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, said in 2017 that she hoped Star Wars’ increasing commitment to diversity would influence the film industry more generally.

“I’m excited to be part of the change, it feels like a responsibility but it’s awesome as I get to be in this movie and be this character, but it’s also horrifying because it’s so rare,” she said. “I don’t take representation lightly, and I am excited to be part of the change.”

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of women who’ve made a difference, celebrating their success, and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.  

Images: Getty Images

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women's Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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