If you’re white, straight and male you’ve probably never stopped to think about diversity in genre entertainment; but if you don’t fit into that very specific box it can be a very important subject indeed. Peter MacKenzie examines representation and depiction of alternative cultures in geek entertainment, highlighting when it goes right and explaining why it’s a problem when it goes wrong…
It’s been a while since I put pen to paper. Mainly because no-one uses paper any more. Seriously, though, I haven’t felt there’s been much to write about. Not in this field anyway.
TV shows like Defiance and The Walking Dead continue to prove that LGBT+ issues are becoming more and more commonplace in genre shows.
In a surprisingly original piece of retconning, Iceman confided in Jean Gray that he was gay (nearly nine years after Family Guy outed him fact fans). I had a great title for an article which I did start at the time – The Iceman Cometh Out – which I thought was so cool, I just had to say it somewhere.
The thing is, apart from a few kids with IQs lower than their actual age frothing at the mouth on largely unread internet blogs, I’m beginning to think that we really are finally at a point where these things don’t matter any more. Thirty years ago, the country was in uproar at a gay kiss on EastEnders. A couple of months ago, the very same soap aired a trailer with a same sex kiss. That’s how far we have come.
If only someone would tell Tony Abbott.
It’s quite frustrating not having anything to moan about. However, just recently something happened that made me think a little bit. The realisation dawned that JJ Abrams could be a little bit of a homophobe.
Spoiler alert before the internet goes into apoplexy… he’s not. At least I don’t think so. I’ve never met the man so I can’t say. For all I know he’s a member of the Westboro Baptist church. And his name does loom suspiciously large behind a couple of decisions involving the biggest genre franchises on the planet. Of course, he’s just one man in a big corporate Hollywood conglomerate. But that’s what they all say.
It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that there’s a wee film coming out later this year, a sequel to some little-known seventies film called Star Wars.
That film has a little bit of a cult following which has resulted in an entire expanded universe which carries on the tale of the original protagonists for some 30 years beyond the end of the filmed saga.
A tale which is about to be completely rewritten.
Personally, I have nothing against this huge change in canon. It has happened before, in 1991, when Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy and the Dark Horse Dark Empire series completely did away with an already established storyline by, ironically, Marvel comics. Also, the bastardisation of Karen Traviss’ take on Mandalorian culture is particularly infamous.
I have even read the risible Glove of Darth Vader books which match with no accepted canon or, frankly, any standard of human decency.
So I’m not averse to canon changes. Indeed, I think that Abrams’ canon changes in 2009’s Star Trek were relatively well handled. More on which later.
But these changes to the Star Wars universe will mean that some favourite characters are destined to be ignored and forgotten, never having officially existed at all. They include the likes of fan favourite Mara Jade, roguish “information broker” Talon Karrde and better-baddie-than-Darth-Sidious Grand Admiral Thrawn.
However, it also means the disappearance from canon of the galaxy’s first and, so far, only gay couple, if you don’t count videogame characters who can be played as male or female. Goran Beviin was Boba Fett’s friend and lieutenant and he lived with his husband Medrit Vasur on Mandalore. He was instrumental in the training of Jaina Solo beyond that of a mere Jedi so she could defeat her Sith-turned brother.
Sadly, that storyline, along with the characters concerned have now been consigned to the dustbin of Legends after Disney took control of the franchise.
That being so, surely this is the time to introduce gay characters into the renewed movie saga proper?
To be fair, that may still happen, and a lesbian character has actually been confirmed for an upcoming spin-off novel. Unfortunately, I can see at least two reasons why a gay character in the movies will not happen.
Firstly, in the entire six episode canon run so far, there have been precisely two relationships. Both have been straight. Only one has been believable. Sheer statistics will tell you that this isn’t even representative of any subset of true relationships, never mind incorporating LGBT+ ones.
Star Wars is simply not a romantic saga, no matter how much rough sand George Lucas tried to throw in the mix.
Secondly, and this is the clincher, I doubt JJ Abrams wants to introduce a gay character, given his reticence at doing so with Star Trek.
He is on record as saying that he doesn’t want to introduce a gay character to Gene Roddenberry’s original vision where all are allegedly equal. Abrams stated that he wouldn’t do it without good reason, and doesn’t want to shoehorn in a storyline exploring sexuality where that would affect his main story arc.
Being unkind, I would suggest that this flies in the face of the evidence of his straight couplings – neither the relationship between Spock and Uhura, nor Kirk’s attempt to bang anything going have had any affect on the main story arcs, but they still made the cut.
Would it have hurt to have a gay character that wasn’t a major plot point? I can understand not wanting to retcon a major player but I think a nod towards Sulu having a male partner could have been a nice touch, in view of his previous actor. Or “Cupcake” Hendorff, just to subvert the trope and keep the bears happy.
I can understand his reasons for not doing so, but in this day and age I had actually hoped we were beyond the idea of gay characters needing a gay storyline.
And compared to 2009, maybe we are and hopefully I’ll be pleasantly surprised come the 18th December.
The thing is, no matter who appears in the new trilogy, be they straight, gay or anything inbetween and beyond, you know we’ll all still be watching. And maybe that’s what we should be applauding. That it shouldn’t matter. To anyone.
Although if it pisses off a few Bible Belt types on the way, I’ll take that as a win.