On February 10, news broke that Gina Carano’s contract to appear on The Mandalorian was not renewed. After her long string of controversial social media posts, Lucasfilms announced it was dropping Carano from the series and that she would not appear in any of the planned spin-off series. Many fans of The Mandalorian rejoiced at the news that an anti-semitic supporter of fascist ideology would be removed from their favorite show.
Conservatives, though, were quick to denounce the decision as “cancel culture,” calling it a threat to free speech. Carano announced that Ben Shapiro’s alt-right website, the Daily Caller, will fund a movie she will create. While details are unclear, Shapiro called Carano “an incredible talent dumped … for offending the authoritarian Hollywood left.”
Cries that the “canceling” of Carano has ended her career ringhollow. She has become the subject of multiple articles, perhaps even extending her influence beyond her Star Wars audience. If anything, all the media attention has boosted her career and fanbase.
The right does have one point, however: “free speech” is continually under threat in this country, but it’s not the threat the right contends. During last summer’s uprising against police brutality and racial injustice, scores of protestors were arrested by police for expressing their opinions. Many of them were charged with felonies, such as “inciting a riot” and even terrorism. Being convicted of a felony comes at a high price Including what are often long jail sentences and steep fines. Even post-incarceration, people with criminal records that include felony convictions can have difficulty reentering society and finding sustainable employment or housing. In many states, a felony conviction also strips one of the right to vote, even after release, thus disenfranchising and forcing a person into political silence.
In Detroit, at least 12 protestors have been charged with a felony, including long-time organizer Tristan Taylor, for merely organizing a peaceful protest against police violence. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, Clyde McLemore was arrested on February 20 for his participation in a protest six months earlier. McLemore, the founder of the Lake County chapter of Black Lives Matter, was charged with a felony for allegedly kicking a door and a misdemeanor for “threatening” on Facebook to break a cop’s finger. Tianna Arata, who organized a BLM march was “ dragged into a police car and forcibly arrested,” has been charged with felonies for vandalism in which she wasn’t even involved.
The message behind all these arrests is clear: organizing against the state will be met with repression. Peacefully raising your voice in protest against a repressive state that disvalues Black lives, and you may face punishment at the whim of that state, which doesn’t care about “fairness,” only about punishing those who take action that threatens its base of capital and white supremacy. If what the state does in response disillusions or scares others, even better.
Even without accounting for arrests from last summer’s protests, countless activists continue to languish in prisons across the country. Some members of the Black Panther Party have been in U.S. prisons for more than 50 years, held as political prisoners for their struggle against U.S. capitalism and white supremacy. Many of their prosecutions were built on phony evidence. The Black Panther Party was infiltrated as part of the FBI’s COINTELPRO counterintelligence program that targeted communists and Black radicals. The party’s free breakfast program was identified by FBI head J. Edgar Hoover as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”
If free breakfast could be considered enough to destroy a country, imagine what that says about capitalism.
An actress losing her spot on one TV show, then being promised capital to create her own movie, and arguably gaining a larger audience of like-minded fans, is far from being “canceled.” The real “cancel culture” is what the state does when it disenfranchises people and represses them for their political activities. The state routinely “cancels” activists fighting to better humanity. That’s the “cancel culture” we must all fight against.