LOOKING TO LEIA
There were signs quoting “The Big Lebowski” and signs quoting “Hamilton.” There were faux-campaign posters for Leslie Knope, the do-gooder heroine of “Parks and Recreation.” In Washington, one young man hoisted a portrait of Lucille Bluth, the sharp-tongued matriarch from “Arrested Development,” sipping a martini below a speech bubble that said, “I don’t care for Trump.”
But among the many different pop-culture references spotted at the massive women’s marches held across the country and the world on Jan. 21, perhaps none were as prevalent—or powerful—as the images of Princess Leia.
Carrie Fisher’s character from “Star Wars” was there at the Women’s March on Washington, her youthful face on one sign casting a steely gaze from above the words “history has its eyes on you” on another marcher’s sign.
She was in Los Angeles, where the charac- ter’s mature version, General Organa, stared boldly below the phrase “A woman’s place is in the Resistance.”
She was in New York City, and in cities and town across the country—and even overseas, carried by self-proclaimed “nasty women” marching in Frankfurt, Germany.
The character was a striking icon for a proudly feminist demonstration. As a young princess in the early movies, Leia was a resilient survivor determined to fight for her cause. As a middle-aged woman in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” she had endured political strife and personal tragedy but remained the formidable leader of the righteous rebellion.
“Leia keeps fighting when things seem impossible,” tweeted feminist writer Anne Thériault last month. This was just after Fisher’s sudden death at age 60, when her defining role was once again on everyone’s mind. Thériault argued that it was the older itera- tion of Leia who was the most empowering feminist character of all.
“She’s in it for the long haul,” Thériault wrote. “…Without Leia, the rebellion would have [been] quashed long ago.”
The Women’s March protest was social media-driven—it was created online, organized online and shared online—and in a climate where clever signs quickly go viral, it’s not surprising to see so many pop-culture references, said Leah Murray, a professor of political science at Weber State University in Utah.
Social media “is so primed for the use of entertainment-informed material in memes,” she said.
Referencing a character like Leia “enables protesters to draw on the image of strength or power or resistance those characters demonstrated in their respective stories of struggle and empowerment,” said Mary Triece, a professor and director of women’s studies at the University of Akron in Ohio.
Fisher’s own off-screen story of struggle and empowerment helped bolster her feminist credentials for many fans. She had openly shared her personal history with bipolar disorder and substance abuse, and assailed stigmas associated with mental illness. She championed feminist causes—and she lobbed plenty of criticisms at Donald Trump, before and after he won the presidency.
Based on recent history, it’s likely Fisher would have wanted to be among the many celebrities who joined the marches across the nation—a point noted by her “Star Wars” co-star Mark Hamill, who saluted on Twitter the fans who carried Princess Leia into the crowded streets:
“I know where she stood. You know where she stood. Such an honor to see her standing with you today. Bigly. #Resistance #WorldWideWomensMarch”