Gina Carano attends the premiere of Disney+'s "The Mandalorian" at El Capitan Theatre on November 13, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic)
Artillery Row

Using the Force against wokeness: A galactic scandal for Disney

The cancellation of Gina Carano proves that freedom of expression in Hollywood is increasingly under threat

“This is just the beginning … welcome to the rebellion,” tweeted the defiant American actress Gina Carano to her 860,000 followers the day after she learned from social media that she had been summarily fired from The Mandalorian, the Disney-produced Star Wars livestream series on which she until last week played a recurring role. Over the past few months, Carano had racked up a long list of infractions that jeopardised her continuing employment, but, perhaps predictably in our neo-McCarthyite times, none of them had anything to do with how she did her job portraying a tough-as-nails mercenary who occasionally helps the show’s star title character in his quest to deliver his young charge, “Baby Yoda,” to the Jedi order.

Carano’s transgression was to have the wrong political views. She expressed them on social media, in posts that questioned the validity of mail-in ballots in the 2020 presidential election and suggested that its results were fraudulent. She resisted calls to endorse the Black Lives Matter movement. She made a joke about people who wear more than one mask even as the pandemic wanes and tens of millions of Americans are now vaccinated. She failed to show mandatory solidarity with the transgendered community, to which she does not belong, by refusing to list pronouns that correspond to her gender identity. She even committed the cardinal sin of mocking the issue by listing her pronouns as “beep/bop/boop,” the computerised sounds of a Star Wars droid.

These stands alone precipitated a sustained campaign to deny Carano continuing employment. The hashtag #FireGinaCarano illuminated the Twitter galaxy for months as the second season of her popular series was unveiled by Disney, which in 2012 purchased the Star Wars franchise from creator George Lucas for over USD 4 billion and proceeded to ruin it with a trilogy of poorly conceived sequels that replaced the original films’ determined hero’s quest to self-actualisation with an awkward heroine’s bumpy road to self-doubt.

Carano angrily rejects woke ideology and refreshingly seems never to have believed in it in the first place

Rumours held that fellow cast members had begun warning Carano about what she said on social media lest she rock the boat by indulging in her constitutionally protected freedom of expression. Other chatter suggests that Disney effectively ordered her to apologize for offending the transgendered community and that she ruffled feathers by stopping short of such an apology to declare that she is not against that community. In December she was reportedly axed from a separate Star Wars spinoff, in which her Mandalorian character was supposed to star. On 10 February, the final straw fell when the actress dared to suggest in an Instagram post that Americans like her were being persecuted for political reasons. She chose the charged metaphor of the Holocaust, which in addition to Jews, historically did include the Nazi persecution of individuals and groups for political reasons alone, including barring them from employment in the entertainment industry.

Within hours, Disney’s Lucasfilm subsidiary announced that Carano would not return to work on The Mandalorian at any future time due to her purportedly “abhorrent and unacceptable” statement, which she had by then deleted. She was also dropped by her professional representative, United Talent Agency. Even the Hasbro toy company joined the mob and announced that it would no longer manufacture action figures of her Mandalorian character. On Ebay their expected scarcity has driven prices through the roof in intense bidding wars. One optimistic vendor listed her action figure at USD 10,000. Lucasfilm later announced that Carano’s fictional character, ironically a strong and fiercely independent woman who routinely bests lesser males in intense combat, will not be recast, meaning that she will simply disappear from the universe. Carano, it seemed, was cancelled, erased, and unpersoned, not just in real-world professional life, but even in a shadow world of make-believe set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Or was she? Within 24 hours of Carano’s cancellation, she re-emerged from what could only have been a very bad day to tell her fans: “I am sending out a direct message of hope to everyone living in fear of cancellation by the totalitarian mob. I have only just begun using my voice which is now freer than ever before, and I hope it inspires others to do the same. They can’t cancel us if we don’t let them.”

Compare Carano’s powerful and determined femininity – real, confident feminism, if you will – to the cringing self-abnegation of Chris Harrison, a gutless fraction of a man who was until recently presenter of ABC’s reality series The Bachelor. A couple of days after Carano’s cancellation, he got into trouble for defending a white female contestant who had attended a pre-Civil War-themed dress party long before anyone had heard of George Floyd. “I am deeply remorseful,” Harrison whined on Instagram, “My ignorance did damage to my friends, colleagues, and strangers alike … by excusing historical racism, I defended it. I invoked the term ‘woke police,’ which is unacceptable. I am ashamed over how uninformed I was. I was so wrong … I am so grateful to those who reached out to help me on my path to anti-racism.”

Her refusal to take the proverbial knee will allow her to thrive

One could be forgiven for thinking he was the one who danced a reel under the Confederate flag after watching a non-contextualised screening of Gone With The Wind. But we really should ask what “damage” was done to his friends, colleagues, and strangers by his purely verbal defence of a young woman who attended a private party of which he previously knew nothing. We might equally wonder why it is “unacceptable” to call people who surveil and punish others’ speech in the name of what they describe as “wokeness” the “woke police,” and who decided that they should have career-ending power over anyone in professional life. Nor is it clear why people should feel “ashamed” for being “uninformed”. And should television presenters really only qualify for their jobs if they are treading a demonstrated “path to anti-racism?” Is just not being a racist insufficient?

In his grovelling penitence, Harrison sounds like a Stalinist purge victim confessing to anything and everything necessary to escape having a bullet fired into the back of his head in the hope that the Party might yet find a reduced but still productive use for him. Like those doomed Soviet ideologues who were also almost never spared, it is likely that Harrison is dumb and desperate enough to believe in the unforgiving ideology behind the system that has destroyed him, and that he will continue to accept its chastisement in the impossible hope of redemption.

Gina Carano, however, angrily rejects that ideology and refreshingly seems never to have believed in it in the first place. This makes her strong in a society of weaklings. It gives her a future in which she can live, work, and even just be without the constant threat of being accused of offending the wrong person or media conglomerate. Her refusal to take the proverbial knee will allow her to thrive without what must be the exhausting anxiety of having her speech and behaviour monitored by people vile and narcissistic enough to believe that her employment should depend on unswerving conformity to their politics. As she fully recognises, she is a much freer person now than she was before.

Just as Carano released her hopeful statement, it was also announced that she will produce, direct, and star in a feature film in collaboration with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, whose Daily Wire outfit has declared its intention to challenge Hollywood with an independent studio where performers are not punished for holding unfashionable views. That is a vaulting promotion from playing a recurring character on a streamed spinoff. Shapiro is happy to be working with a talented actress but added that he is “just as eager to show Hollywood that if they want to keep cancelling those who think differently, they’ll just be helping us build the Xwing to take down their Death Star.” May the force be with them.

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