For the most part, the world of Star Wars fans at large seem to be very happy with what J.J. Abrams was able to do with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The franchise has had new life breathed into it, and there are a lot of reasons for that. One of the biggest things that people latched onto in The Force Awakens was the new, diverse cast members such as John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. As it turns out, Disney supposedly didn't originally want that to be the case.
In a recent report from Star Wars News Net, a fan site who consistently reports scoops on all things Star Wars related, claims that Disney was trepidatious about including non-white characters prominently in The Force Awakens. The information came to light at a recent art and industry conference in New Zealand. Star Wars concept artist Iain McCaig spoke at the conference and according to the report, claimed that it was only because of J.J. Abrams that some diversity made its way into the movie. Here is what the report had to say.
"Disney execs were reluctant to include non-Caucasian characters. The new trio were all initially all Caucasian, but it was JJ's favoring of Boyega that brought about VII's multi-cultured character set."
Disney gave Abrams a lot of trust with The Force Awakens, letting him have a lot of creative control and say over the entire process. So it makes sense that his favoring of the right person for the part, John Boyega for Finn in this case, ultimately won out over the studios fear about including people of color in their new Star Wars franchise movies. This clearly also led to Oscar Isaac getting a shot at the role of Poe, and the interaction between those two characters wound up being one of everyone's favorite things about The Force Awakens, so it is good that Abrams got his way.
Not only did the casting choices benefit the fans in terms of quality, but Disney is currently getting a lot of heat for a lack of diversity in some of their movies, and The Force Awakens is actually a bright spot for the studio right now. It features a prominent, female lead and characters of color as her co-stars. On the flip side of things, the Marvel movies, most recently Doctor Strange, have received a lot of flack for whitewashing, having cast Tilda Swinton in the role of The Ancient One, who is traditionally an Asian man in the comics. Disney is doing their best to course correct, but it looks like they saved some face without even knowing it during production for Episode VII.
McCaig has a long history with the Star Wars franchise. He worked closely with George Lucas on all three of the prequel movies, and was a concept artist on The Force Awakens. McCaig also reportedly worked with Lucas on a draft for The Force Awakens that was rejected by Disney, because they wanted to avoid the use of anything prequel related, and his script was supposedly very heavy on those elements. There is no way of knowing for sure how deeply committed Disney was to whitewashing The Force Awakens as well, but in the end, it didn't really matter and the studio appears to be making strides for the better.