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Fresh from what may be the most divisive presidential election in their history, the United States is reeling. Where most presidents call for unity after their election, Trump has raged at those who don't support him; where most presidents get a 'honeymoon period' where they can do no wrong, within eight days, Donald Trump has been the subject of multiple popular protests. Even as I write, millions of Americans are taking to the streets to protest what's popularly referred to as the 'Muslim ban', while the days after Trump's inauguration saw the phenomenally successful Women's March.
Naturally, Hollywood A-listers have weighed in on the debate (much, I'm sure, to Trump's frustration). What you may be surprised to hear, though, is that fictional characters —Marvel superheroes and Star Wars legends — have been at the forefront of these protests too. Here are a couple of key examples!
Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel
Created in 2013, the Muslim-American superhero Ms. Marvel has already proven to be an important figure in popular culture. An everyman figure created in the mold of Peter Parker, Kamala Khan embodies hope, optimism, and a rock-solid belief in a diverse future. She's become a culturally significant figure, as was demonstrated in 2015, when the anti-Islamic American Freedom Defense Initiative purchased bus ads in San Francisco.
This was the reaction:
With Trump's Executive Order seen as a Muslim Ban, it's no surprise that an important cultural figure like Kamala Khan has entered the spotlight. Marvel artist Phil Noto couldn't help adapting an old cover, showing a furious Kamala tearing apart a photo of Donald Trump; it was an expression of outrage, and he swiftly tweeted that it was a personal piece, not one commissioned by Marvel.
Now, Kamala's influence has spread far beyond Twitter; her example has clearly acted as an inspiration for countless protesters.
You certainly don't get the feeling Kamala's creator, G. Willow Wilson, particularly minds.
The truth is that the best fictional characters always embody something greater than themselves, and in so doing, they become symbols. In Autumn 1942, fans of the Superman radio show heard the clarion call to fight for "truth, justice, and the American way". There's a reason Marvel's current politically-charged Captain America plot has been so controversial — because to millions of Americans, Steve Rogers embodies the American Dream. The best of characters have a power that transcends their fictional world, and enters into the real one; the best of fiction can transform society.
Kamala Khan is one such character, and she's on the front lines against Donald Trump.
Of course, Kamala Khan doesn't stand alone. We all mourn the late, great Carrie Fisher, and there's no doubt in my mind that she'd have been on the streets in the Women's March. After all, she'd been a vocal critic of Trump during his presidential campaign:
In a strange way, though, it's not just the spirit of the actress who stands against Donald Trump — it's the spirit of the iconic role she played, Princess Leia.
Leia Organa is a rebel, born and bred, and not just against the Empire. In 1977, A New Hope stunned the world with its fiery, confident portrayal of a female hero. Although Luke and Han came to her rescue in the Death Star, it was Leia who got the heroes out. As fiery and confident as any of the men, Leia was treated as just as much a hero. Oh, it's true that Return of the Jedi saw her donning a metal bikini as eye-candy, but remember; Leia gets the last laugh, as she strangles the bloated figure of patriarchy with its own chains!
So it's no surprise that, with grief for Carrie Fisher still so fresh and the Star Wars story back in the spotlight after Rogue One, both Fisher and Leia can be seen on the streets.
These are only two fictional characters who have stepped on to the streets with protesters; Melissa Benoist herself joined the Women's March, and had, shall we say, choice words for President Trump! Personally, in these examples I see the transformative power of fiction. Fictional characters inspire us to look beyond the world that is, and to envision the world that it could be. They encourage us to empathize, to enter into the experiences of others, and then import that empathy into our everyday lives. Most of all, though, they inspire us to hope; to dare to dream; to believe that the future can be good, and that people have the power to change the course of a nation.
Little wonder these heroes are taking to the streets too. Whether you agree with their views or not, these protesters are dreamers - and these heroes have given a shape and form to their dreams.