The New York Times is taking heat on Twitter for using a picture of Carrie Fisher in her famous (or infamous) golden bikini from Return of the Jedi as their header for Fisher’s obituary.
Online, the Times’s retrospective on Fisher’s life and career used a more innocent photo from the first Star Wars film, but on social media, it went for, arguably, Fisher’s most controversial look — the infamous “slave Leia” costume she wore as a captive of the intergalactic crime lord, Jabba the Hutt.
Feminists were immediately outraged on the deceased sci-fi celebrity’s behalf, imploring the Times to use another picture — any other picture — to honor Fisher, who was not simply Princess Leia, but a talented actress, writer, screenwriter and script doctor.
@NYTObits Let me guess – there is a man running this account. Shame on you – this is not the photo to show at a time like this.
— Lisa Schroeder (@lisa_schroeder) December 27, 2016
Delete this tweet and picture and repost with a proper picture of Carrie Fisher. This is shameful of you. @NYTObits
— Ana Mardoll (@AnaMardoll) December 27, 2016
@NYTObits Please tell me this is fake news. You select a photo of her as a sex slave in chains? I could not be more disappointed in the NYT.
— Jan Percival (@ScribePR) December 27, 2016
@NYTObits please replace this objectifying photo with one more respectful.
— Angela (@GelaDelgado) December 27, 2016
Shame on you @NYTObits Delete this and re-post with an image that shows respect for this accomplished, kind and funny woman.
— kajjajja (@kajjajja) December 27, 2016
— Drew Kaufman (@DrewIsAlright) December 27, 2016
@NYTObits Whoever decided this picture was appropriate for an obit: I hope your mother knows what a shit person you turned out to be.
— Sassa (@astridoverthere) December 27, 2016
Feminists, of course, have never liked the metal bikini, and even forced Disney to pull a re-issue Return of the Jedi action figure off the shelves in 2015, claiming the “slave Leia” look was exploitative, misogynistic, and oversexualized, and that it harmed not just the children who might play with the toy, but society in general.
But while Carrie Fisher wasn’t thrilled with the costume (as she told Daisy Ridley, when the latter was cast as the lead in the Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens), she was strictly opposed to banning it, telling the Wall Street Journal that the costume had purpose, and that it represented a seminal moment in the character’s story.
The father who flipped out about it, “What am I going to tell my kid about why she’s in that outfit?” Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.
And she told Rolling Stone that it was Princess Leia’s ability to overcome major hurdles — even misogynistic ones — that made her an iconic feminist character.
“Movies are dreams! And they work on you subliminally. You can play Leia as capable, independent, sensible, a soldier, a fighter, a woman in control –- control being, of course, a lesser word than master,” she said.
It was exactly that sort of feminist spirit — the idea of the woman warrior who commanded everything from a Rebel ice base to a field away team, and who overcame everything from the death of her own planet (and family), to the force of an enormous Empire — that made Princess Leia a hero to girls like me.
Growing up as a female fan of comic books, sci-fi, and, of course, Star Wars in the era before cultural touchstones like The Big Bang Theory made being a geek “cool” and Marvel Studios expanded superheros to the masses, there were few examples of truly badass women in the cultural lexicon.
Princess Leia was not only a princess, a diplomat and a strategist, she also literally never misses a shot in the entire original Star Wars trilogy. And, despite her rugged self-reliance, she could kill giant space slugs, rescue her friends, and escape a crashing desert barge in a two piece swimsuit made from brass pipe fittings.
And based on evidence of Fisher’s script doctoring for The Empire Strikes Back, she intended Leia to be perceived exactly that way.
Carrie Fisher's handwritten EMPIRE STRIKES BACK dialogue changes.
What an amazingly multitalented woman. pic.twitter.com/3R4PiyOvF1
— WILL McCRABB (@mccrabb_will) December 24, 2016
When you’re the only girl in a class of twenty devouring Tolkien books, a take-no-prisoners space princess is a pretty appealing career goal. I never achieved it — though I’ve dressed for the part a few times — but Princess Leia will forever remain, in my mind, a driving force in how I, and thousands of other geek girls, gained courage and confidence in the face of an unfriendly world.
There are many reasons to respect Carrie Fisher’s illustrious career, sure, and probably pictures of every last one of her many achievements. But Fisher, herself, struggled with addiction, mental illness, and heartbreak — struggles she left in the open and turned into incredible books and movies. A triumph over her own chains, of sorts.
So leave the golden bikini.