I recently saw the new Star Wars movie and found it entertaining enough, though somewhat later I found myself reflecting more on its interesting implications for storytelling in general. What I found to be particularly noteworthy was that in this film, the plot of which is a rather typical example of the “heroic quest” narrative, the lead character is a woman. And the second leading character is a black man. This is certainly a departure from the long traditions of storytelling in Western civilization in which the central figure in the heroic quest must be a white man. A similar departure from convention was seen in the latest Mad Max film in which the leading character is a tough action heroine played with great verve and style by Charlize Theron. I gather that some critics objected to the main heroic figure being female in both of these films, on grounds either that a female hero was not very believable, or that a female lead character was a lame accession by the filmmakers to “political correctness.” But I think what we are seeing is the beginnings of a broader and more inclusive approach to storytelling, which in turn is a reflection of some general tendencies underway in our modern culture toward greater inclusiveness and equality. This is certainly a good thing, and gives me some hope for the future.

Of course one might downplay these examples, pointing out that they are just silly fantasy action films, akin to the old pulp novels, so how much cultural significance could they have? My own opinion is that pulp fiction, in whatever form, has a great deal of psychological significance and can’t be so easily dismissed. Modern civilization has for the most part lost contact with its indigenous roots and the mythologies that inspired indigenous communities and gave them shared meanings. Pulp fiction, with its broadly-drawn and boldly delineated stories of heroes and villains, heroic quests, and people rising to enormous challenges, has become our modern mythology. So I am pleased to see that women and people of color are being recognized as having important roles to play in this new mythology.