Why Victoria Mahoney’s involvement in Star Wars matters


Star Wars hiring a black woman to direct second unit doesn’t make up for the franchise’s history of exclusion. But it’s a step forward.

This is Disney’s world; we just pay for the privilege of living in it. Between Star Wars and Marvel, the entertainment conglomerate owns two of Hollywood’s most lucrative and prolific franchises. You could easily envision a future in which at least one movie from either franchise opened every month of the year.

Despite their success, however, both franchises remain woefully antiquated when it comes to inclusive hiring. When it premiered this February, Black Panther became the 18th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and the first helmed by a person of color. Captain Marvel, currently scheduled for a 2019 release and poised to be the MCU’s 20th installment, will be the first movie in the franchise directed by a woman; even then, Anna Boden shares the title with frequent collaborator Ryan Fleck.

Meanwhile, according to data compiled by Maureen Ryan at Variety, Lucasfilm has hired 24 writers and directors to work on 17 projects throughout Star Wars’ 41-year history. Only one of those people is not a white man: Leigh Brackett, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back. The statistics are especially baffling and galling in light of recent installments’ dedication to onscreen diversity. If a white woman, a black man, and a Latino man can save the universe, why can’t they direct a movie?

Ava DuVernay hopes to change things. Late Tuesday night, the Selma filmmaker revealed that Victoria Mahoney will work on Star Wars: Episode IX as a second-unit director:

To be sure, directing second-unit on a Star Wars movie isn’t the same as directing a Star Wars movie. For now at least, the aforementioned statistics will remain the same.

But fans of Star Wars and progress still have reason to rejoice. Nowadays, big-budget movies like Star Wars rely heavily on their second units to shoot action sequences, establishing shots, and other material. Blockbusters have tons of moving parts and often operate on strict schedules; the final product represents the work of countless behind-the-scenes personnel. Even if their names don’t appear on posters, their contributions are nonetheless essential.

Plus, second-unit director can give filmmakers a path to becoming primary directors, providing useful experience and valuable connections. Not everyone can be Orson Welles. Most directors toil in the trenches for years before they get noticed, much less get to direct a multimillion-dollar tent-pole or their passion project.

Mahoney, for example, has been working in the film industry since the early ‘90s. She started as an actress, appearing in an episode of Seinfeld and as a nameless reporter in Legally Blonde. Not until 2011, 10 years after Legally Blonde, did she make her directorial debut with the indie drama Yelling to the Sky. In 2016, she joined the all-female directorial team of OWN’s Queen Sugar, which put her in contact with DuVernay. And now, thanks to DuVernay’s support, she is the first woman to direct a Star Wars movie.

Who knows what she will do next?

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The untitled ninth episode of Star Wars is scheduled for release on Dec. 20, 2019.