March 6, 2016

DOOLITTLE | A New Hope for Representation

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J.K. Rowling refuses to let it go. Every few months, she takes to Twitter and drops some bombshell of authorial intent — Harry and Hermione should have gotten together, Voldemort is actually pronounced Voldemort — in some attempt to change what was published and beloved by children for almost 20 years now. Yes, she wrote the most successful series of books of all time, but it’s been almost a decade since The Deathly Hallows was released. Isn’t it time to move on?



Some have accused Rowling of writing mere glorified fan-fiction, a criticism leveled not just at the upcoming stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but at the endless stream of redactions and footnotes streaming forth from her Twitter. Most famously, of course, was the revelation that Albus Percival Wulfrick Brian Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, was actually gay. How marvelous that such a universally esteemed and powerful character could also just so happen be gay, and in a children’s book, no less!

And yet, there is paltry evidence in the text to support this claim, implicit or explicit. Even if Rowling had this intention from the beginning, no first-time reader had any reason to believe Dumbledore was gay. It was never made explicit. It was never made real. It feels tacked on, like an afterthought or publicity stunt, not real progress toward better representation in media.

Why can’t characters be gay on page one, and not just after the fact? Why does the disclosure of a fictional character’s sexuality always feel like a great twist or deception, like some gay M. Night Shyamalan movie? Why can’t we have authentic, staunch representation?

Star Wars is another series which features a normal young boy that discovers innate magical talent and defeats a supreme evil tyrant, and there’s my effortless segue. As you may have heard this weekend, Mark Hamill made waves on the internet when he told an interviewer with The Sun (the British one, as if we could score that kind of interview) that Luke Skywalker’s sexuality was “meant to be interpreted by the viewer … if you think Luke is gay, of course he is.” But is he? You might think that Daario = Benjen = Euron = Moon Boy for all I know, or that Deckard is a replicant, or that Marsellus Wallace’s soul is in the briefcase, or that Patrick Bateman didn’t kill all those people. That doesn’t make you right or wrong. In fact, it doesn’t mean anything.

Ambiguity is not the same thing as representation. For every one person that leaves the theater with the inclination that Luke was gay, there are hundreds of viewers who walk away with the assumption that the galaxy far, far away is strictly heterosexual, never once exposed to the possibility that the Chosen One, the one with the badass lightsaber skills and Force powers, isn’t exactly like them. We live in a heteronormative society. Leaving a character’s sexuality unknown is as good as saying that they are heterosexual. The only way to fight back against this assumption is to actively and unabashedly portray characters as gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual, and not simply leave it up in the air for the viewer to decide.

George Lucas has already made a habit of updating and re-releasing his films, so why not go back and make a real change? It’d be a simple fix, so I’ll go ahead and write it for him. Scene: Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader locked in pitched combat within the central air shaft of Cloud City, miles above the gaseous atmosphere of Bespin. Luke is no match for the Sith Lord, and soon loses his right arm to a devastating lightsaber strike. He clings to a narrow platform as Vader approaches. “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” “He told me enough! He told me you killed him!” “No, I am your father.” Luke thinks for a moment. “Well … I’m gay.” The two share a beautiful moment as they tearfully embrace, accepting each other for who they truly are. The Galaxy lives happily ever after. End scene. It’s that easy!

Thankfully, J. J. Abrams has already taken steps to include people of color and possibly even homosexual characters in the new trilogy. If speculation — some fueled by Abrams himself — is to be believed, the dashing Poe Dameron might just be the first gay character in the entire Star Wars cinematic universe, to be revealed in an upcoming movie. This wouldn’t change the way anyone feels about the character; it would only change the way some viewers feel about themselves, knowing that it’s acceptable for them to love whoever they want and still be the best damn pilot in the entire New Republic. Everyone has a right to see people like themselves on screen, to relate to an experience similar to their own and not mine. Star Wars is a great place to start on the road to proper representation.