Star Wars actor Donald Glover confirms Lando Calrissian is pansexual. But is this representation or ‘queerbaiting’?
Sexuality in films is a hot topic, with LGBTQ groups and others bemoaning the lack of gender diversity in Hollywood. The revelation that a Star Wars character is definitely ‘queer’ has been both welcomed and dismissed as a cynical attempt to attract the LGBTQ audience
When Solo: A Star Wars Story hits cinemas this week, film-goers will finally be able to ascertain whether Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo lives up to Harrison Ford’s portrayal, or if the infamous director switcheroo affected the quality of the film. But viewers will have to look off-screen for the answer to another burning question: Is Lando Calrissian queer?
Co-writer Jonathan Kasdan says yes. He “emphatically” confirmed to HuffPost last week that the suave smuggler, played in Solo by Donald Glover and in the original trilogy by Billy Dee Williams, is pansexual.
“There’s a fluidity to Donald and Billy Dee’s [portrayal of Lando’s] sexuality,” Kasdan says. “I mean, I would have loved to have got a more explicitly LGBT character into this film. 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. He doesn’t make any hard and fast rules. I think it’s fun.”
Glover elaborated on the screenwriter’s claims earlier this week in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Williams had told Glover to “be charming,” and the younger actor echoed Kasdan’s words by describing Lando as someone who “doesn’t have hard and fast boundaries about everything.”
“How can you not be pansexual in space?” he says.
“There are so many things to have sex with. I didn’t think that was that weird. Yeah, he’s coming on to everybody. I mean, yeah, whatever. It just didn’t seem that weird to me ‘cause I feel like if you’re in space it’s kind of like, the door is open! It’s like, no, only guys or girls. No, it’s anything. This thing is literally a blob. Are you a man or a woman? Like, who cares? Have good time out here.”
Although it has been a subject of speculation ever since a flirty Williams appeared on-screen in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, Lando’s sexuality has never before been confirmed. Solo tosses in a few suggestive lines here and there – at one point, he tells Han to “buckle up, baby” – and teases a romance between Lando and his droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge).
Lando says he would wipe the spunky droid’s memory if she didn’t have such a wealth of knowledge, a statement she attributes to his being in love with her. (Yes, L3 insists, droid-human relationships are possible – but she’s out of his league.)
But Lando’s sexuality is never made explicit, as he never acts upon these supposed feelings for Han and L3 or fesses up to them himself.
Many criticised Kasdan’s comments as queerbaiting, a term that describes when fictional works hint at same-sex relationshipswithout actually depicting anything on-screen.
Ira Madison III wrote in the Daily Beast that this instance of queerbaiting is “condescending, somehow even more so than the vague insistence that two male characters in the new trilogy, Finn and Poe, might possibly have a relationship.”
The theoretical relationship between John Boyega and Oscar Isaac’s characters has attracted as much fan support (if not more) as the one between Han and Lando, but The Last Jedi seemed to disregard the chemistry by pairing Finn with a female love interest.
Madison also noted that The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams told the outlet in 2016 of Hollywood’s diversity problem: “I think we all have a hell of a lot to do, and I think it is insane to me that we still have to have a conversation about inclusivity. It’s shameful.”
That same year, Abrams said to the press, “To me the fun of Star Wars is exploring the possibilities, so it seems insanely narrow-minded to say that there wouldn’t be a homosexual character in that world.”
Media monitors GLAAD published a study of major studio films released in 2017 on Tuesday – a slate that included The Last Jedi – and found a “significant decrease in the number of LGBTQ-inclusive films.” The overall percentage fell to 14 from 23 per cent in 2016, though there was an increase in the racial diversity of LGBTQ characters who were present on-screen.
Star Wars isn’t the first franchise to tease queer representation rather than explicitly depict it. As one Twitter user pointed out, J.K. Rowling confirmed that Albus Dumbledore is gay years ago – a fact only hinted at in the books – but somehow allowed his sexuality to be left out of The Crimes of Grindelwald, a David Yates film that includes a young Dumbledore and his supposed love interest Gellert Grindelwald.
Rowling similarly claimed in February that there was a Jewish student at Hogwarts omitted from the books, which, paired with the Dumbledore comment, Boston Globe contributor S.I. Rosenbaum described as “a little jarring, these after-the-fact attempts at inclusion.”
Even the critically acclaimed Thor: Ragnarok let some LGBTQ fans down when Tessa Thompson revealed to Rolling Stone that the only scene depicting her character’s bisexuality had been cut from the film. She and director Taika Waititi fought to keep the scene – in which Annabelle Riggs, a character from the comics, walks out of Valkyrie’s bedroom – but it was eventually cut because, according to the magazine, “it distracted from the scene’s vital exposition.”
“There’s a great shot of me falling back from one of my sisters who’s been slain,” Thompson added of the final product. “In my mind, that was my lover.”
Beauty and the Beast was prominently accused of queerbaiting with LeFou (Josh Gad) last year, as many fans left the theatre unsure of what constituted the “nice, exclusively gay moment” director Bill Condon had previously mentioned in an interview. The marketing for Power Rangers similarly capitalised on having Becky G play one of the first on-screen LGBTQ superheroes but skimmed over that fact in the actual film, short of one joke.
But GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis told the Hollywood Reporter that those two characters were “testing the waters and it is a step absolutely in the right direction. This is not the end game. We want to see better and more inclusion than we are seeing now. We have to start somewhere and this is a good place to start.”
Another Twitter user took a similar stance on Lando’s pansexuality: “Hey let’s not completely dunk on the whole Lando being pansexual thing? We can both be happy about it and critical that it likely won’t play out on screen, yes?”