Telling us you meant to make a character pansexual after you finished a film that didn't mention it at all doesn't count as representation.
Ash Griffith | June 1, 2018
We do not have the time for me to go into just how much I love Star Wars, and specifically Han Solo. Obviously I have been excited and on edge for his origin story, released this past Friday — Solo: A Star Wars Story. And of course a Solo origin story wouldn’t be complete without the tales of how Han met Chewbacca, the Millennium Falcon, and importantly Mr. Lando Calrissian himself.
In the week or so leading up to the release, Solo screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan shared on Twitter that Lando is actually pansexual. Well, I saw the film on opening night and I’m here to tell you that I missed that elephant in the room. I might have even been under it, for all I know, because it sure as hell wasn’t visible from my perspective.
Clearly I am not alone, because Kasdan admitted on his Twitter that this was not actually in the final script but an afterthought that he added on his Twitter. You know, after the film was filmed and edited and finalized and in general done.
“There’s a fluidity to Donald and Billy Dee’s [portrayal of Lando’s] sexuality,” Kasdan told The Huffington Post. “I mean, I would have loved to have gotten a more explicitly LGBT character into this movie. I think it’s time, certainly, for that, and I love the fluidity ― sort of the spectrum of sexuality that Donald appeals to and that droids are a part of.”
I’m really, really tired of hearing people talk about how much they would love to have a clearly LGBTQ character. They would love, love, love it. But then no work actually happens. I would love to eat gelato with Donald Glover on the beach at night, but that isn’t necessarily going to happen, either. So what’s the point of telling us? Just make it happen or don’t, and stop queerbaiting an entire group of people.
The biggest issue with all of this (aside from the implication that Lando’s pansexuality is visible by just having him being incredibly charming — which further implicates that all pan or bisexuals are promiscuous, which is a topic for another day) is the trend of claiming someone’s sexuality after the fact. This is not the first or best-known time that this has happened, either. Over ten years ago, after the final chapter of the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released, author J.K. Rowling revealed that Hogwarts Headmaster Dumbledore was gay and in love with his longtime rival, Gellert Grindlewald.
As a longtime Harry Potter fan and proud Ravenclaw, I want you to know that not a single note of this was in any of the books. At all.
Despite this, there was still a very clear and easy way to rectify this decision. With the new Fantastic Beasts film series, which focuses on Newt Scamander and a time way before Harry Potter was ever a glimmer in James or Lily’s eyes, we get to meet young versions of Dumbledore (played by Jude Law) and Gellert Grindlewald (played by Johnny Depp). Now is the time to make this subtext clear, and give us some sort of acknowledgment — in a way that only our beloved headmaster can do.
But, that won’t be happening. And to make matters worse, Rowling continues her reign as your favorite problematic queen by effectively telling her own fan base to get over it. “Being sent abuse about an interview that didn’t involve me, about a screenplay I wrote but which none of the angry people have read, which is part of a five-movie series that’s only one installment in, is obviously tons of fun, but you know what’s even *more* fun?” Rowling tweeted along with a gif of Lil Yachty pressing a mute button.
Super mature. In the effort to try to be nice, I will say that it’s possible an author could look back and realize, “Hey, I really did want to make this character LGBTQ but I didn’t,” and proceed to tell their audience. However, when you are given the opportunity ten years later to follow up on this promise and put it in your source material, you should actually put it in your source material. Instead, Rowling acts like we’re bad fans for actually caring.
Fantastic Beasts director David Yates still didn’t help matters any, although he was a minute bit more tactful about it. “I think all the fans are aware of [Dumbledore’s sexuality],” Yates told Entertainment Weekly. “He had a very intense relationship with Grindelwald when they were young men. They fell in love with each other’s ideas, and ideology, and each other.”
Mr. Yates, I don’t think you are aware that it is 2018. Stop being afraid and show us the relationship. If you are asking us to accept a world that is surrounded by phoenixes and three-headed dogs, I sure hope you don’t think two men falling in love is going to strain our suspension of disbelief.
Even Sir Ian McKellan weighed in on this, and he wasn’t the least bit impressed.
“That’s a pity. Well, nobody looks to Hollywood for social commentary, do they? They only recently discovered that there were black people in the world,” McKellan said in an interview with TimeOut. “Hollywood has mistreated women in every possible way throughout its history. Gay men don’t exist. Gods and Monsters, I think, was the beginning of Hollywood admitting that there were gay people knocking around, even though half of Hollywood is gay.” [Brief editorial intrusion: For those who haven't seen Gods And Monsters, it's a 1998 film in which McKellen plays James Whale, who directed the original Frankenstein in 1931 and was openly gay throughout his multi-decade career in Hollywood. We highly recommend it. --MDN]
There are three more films left on the line up for the Fantastic Beasts series. So is there still hope? Sure, maybe, I guess… but I’m not nearly that positive. J.K. Rowling was never an ally for us, and based on her current attitude, she never will be. We should do ourselves a favor and stop pretending she ever had our best interests in mind.
There are more examples of this kind of thing lurking around the film and TV industry, to be sure. Supernatural is coming up on its fourteenth season this fall, and has one of the most obvious examples of not just “Will they/won’t they?” but full-on “Could you just decide or not and get it over with” on television today. It also has a severe problem in the way it chooses to keep and maintain the character of Castiel, Angel of the Lord, played by Misha Collins.
Originally meant to be a short recurring character in season four, Collins impressed series creator Eric Kripke so much with his performance that he was asked to stay on as a series regular. Since then, partially due to fans love of the chemistry between Castiel and main character Dean Winchester (played by Jensen Ackles), the couple — who’ve been affectionately nicknamed Destiel — became the subject of the aforementioned “will they/won’t they” drama, which continues nearly a decade later. Instead of being a vehicle for good storytelling, they became nothing more than ratings bait.
Even TV Guide, of all places, took notice, writing in 2014 about how Supernatural‘s “queerbaiting problem… needs to stop.” They noted that, as Dean and Castiel’s relationship became more prominent and important, Dean’s sexual ambiguity was played up in a bid for ratings in the eighth and ninth seasons. But will that implied queerness ever become canon? Absolutely not. “I support the idea of bi lead [characters]. But on this specific show, it is not our intention for these [characters,]” WB executive Chad Kennedy told TV Guide. “If it served the story, I would support it.”
And so we’re back to the heteronormative default of today’s media. As a whole, it’s disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising, especially for this show. Supernatural also has a long history in regards to the mistreatment of women and people of color, as well. And when they finally had the chance to do one tiny, minuscule thing to make something right, they dropped the ball on the ground once again.
To be clear, no one is trying to force anyone to create LGBTQ characters. No one expects Supernatural, Harry Potter, or Star Wars to solve the war on representation by themselves — or at all. However, it is bullshit to throw the rope, yank it out of our hands, and then expect a thank-you just for the absolute minimum acknowledgement of our existence.
This is an open note to media. Stop half-assing your support just so you can claim to be an ally for the community without actually doing anything. We need real allies in the world who won’t actually be ashamed to sit at our lunch table. We deserve so much better and we refuse to accept crumbs anymore.