May The Fourth Be With You: Artist Behind Star Wars Black History Month Collection Shares Perspective On Black Superheroes

Mateus Manhanini

Today you might hear others delivering the following greeting: May the 4th Be With You! That’s because for Star Wars fans, May 4th is a “turn of phrase,” on “‘May the force be with you,’ used by Jedi masters in the movies.”

According to Lucasfilm, home of the franchise, the earliest use of the catchy phrase dates back to “1978, one year after the release of Star Wars: A New Hope.” That summer on July 4th “newspaper writers used the phrase as a gimmick to mark Independence Day.”

But it wasn’t until the following year on the other side of the pond in the United Kingdom, where the first instance of the phrase was used. Margaret Thatcher, the new prime minister of Britain, was assuming office May 4, 1979, and once again a newspaper writer “declared in a full-page ad: ‘May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations!’”

This year, ESSENCE is celebrating Star Wars Day by highlighting the work of Mateus Manhanini, the Black artist behind a Black History Month Star Wars collection. Manhanini “brings his unique perspective to the Black heroes and villains of the saga, including those from film, series, books, and comics. Each is depicted with an iconic locale central to their character, from The Mandalorian’s Greef Karga and the city arch of Nevarro, to Oliviah Zeveron, Jedi Knight of Star Wars: The High Republic, who stands in front of the Jedi Temple on Jedha,” reports.

May The Fourth Be With You: Artist Behind Star Wars Black History Month  Collection Shares Perspective On Black Superheroes
Star Wars: Yoda (2022) #4

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ESSENCE: Can you tell us more about how this collaboration came to be?

Every year, Marvel has been committed to promoting special comics that address the stories of normally marginalized groups, through the Marvel’s Voices project. So these covers were like a reverberation of that project, taking advantage of Black History Month to highlight these black characters from one of the biggest sci-fi franchises in the world! There were 10 covers focusing on 10 different black characters from the Star Wars franchise and with their origins represented in the background, highlighting little-known characters added to the world recently, or bringing classic characters back into the spotlight who were in the background.

ESSENCE: What did this experience mean for you as a Black artist to render these characters?

An immense honor! I say this not only because of the weight of the Star Wars name, but because I knew that this project was something more than a set of covers, but also a position, a statement by the editors to stand firm in giving a voice to the characters of color in the franchise.

ESSENCE: There’s been some backlash against newly introduced characters of color in the Star Wars universe. Why is representation so important in this space, and what message do you hope people who view your collection walk away with?

Much is discussed about the presence of black experiences in the mainstream pop industry, especially in the science fiction genre. As humans, we have this special ability to tell stories that help us build our critical sense, understand what is right or wrong, create legends and cultures that connect us with other people, and create positive points that help us overcome real personal obstacles. Stories, especially for us people of color, are a powerful exercise tool for imagining and reflecting on a better and more hopeful future, away from the bars and the weight of the effects of structural racism. Therefore, science fiction is simply perfect at this point because the possibilities are endless, our horizons are unimaginable, we can go far beyond what our bodies can do. In short, it’s extremely rich that we can have stories that tell us about our different ways of life, experiences, perspectives, and stories that don’t just treat us as mere supporting characters, whether in books, films, comics or games.

ESSENCE: What message did you hope to convey to those who view your work in this collection?

I just wanted this project to be a good way of marking the importance of the presence of black characters within the world of Star Wars and science fiction as a whole. We are here, we have stories to tell, perspectives to add, reflections to debate. The greater the diversity of an environment, the more solid, powerful and rich it becomes, and this has a direct impact on the way readers begin to see life around them from then on. Diversity is more and never less!

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