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Is Making Star Wars’ Lando Calrissian ‘Pansexual’ an Assault on Black Manhood? Maybe, but Not in the Way You Think

Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian
Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian
Photo: Lucas Films

Buckle up, everyone; we’re about to talk about sex, Star Wars and Hollywood!

According to a recent HuffPost interview, Jonathan Kasdan, a screenwriter for Solo: A Star Wars Story, envisions Lando Calrissian, played by Donald Glover, as pansexual.

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“There’s a fluidity to Donald and Billy Dee [Williams’ portrayals of Lando’s] sexuality,” Kasdan explained. “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.”

Supposedly, Calrissian’s pansexuality is evidenced by him uttering innocuous lines like “You might wanna buckle up, baby” to Han Solo in the scene below.

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For too long, Hollywood has been getting away with writing vague dialogue, then retroactively identifying LGBTQ characters. I wrote “buckle up” to start this column; does that mean I’m pansexual with a profile on GunganGrindr? Of course not.

LGBTQ sci-fi fans deserve an actual, open and honest LGBTQ representation on-screen, not coded language or “offscreen” relationships. I call bullshit on Disney getting any credit for exploiting one of the few black men in outer space to check off the company’s diversity boxes and then patting itself on the back for being inclusive.

Solo: Star Wars Story takes place in a galaxy far, far, away, in a universe with talking teddy bears and sentient sexy robots, and the heroes are a cult of magical space wizards who commit genocide in order to restore “balance” to the universe. The idea that humans would have sex only with other humans, let alone only other humans of the opposite sex, is just ridiculous. Of course Lando would be pansexual. The problem is, why isn’t Han Solo, too? For that matter, why isn’t the whole damn cast?

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The reason is that Hollywood films, as an extension of white American pop culture, view black bodies and sexuality as commodities for exploitation and experimentation.

From the creation of Sapphires to Mandingos, white America has always worked out its sexual hang-ups with black bodies, while placing firm boundaries around white sexual norms. In movies, interracial relationships are fine so long as it’s a white man and a black woman; you can cast LGBTQ men and women so long as they’re black or people of color and the main hero remains white and straight and usually male.

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Now, at this point you’re probably thinking, “But Jason, shouldn’t we be happy that there are more queer characters of color in film and television?” Yes, absolutely—if LGBTQ characters were introduced equally across all races and prominence in the movies, but they aren’t. Not by a long shot.

Consider the recent explosion of black and other people-of-color sci-fi/comic genre characters that have been reimagined as LGBTQ. In 2010, DC Comics reintroduced Aqualad as a bisexual black teenager. In 2015, the CW’s Arrow series reimagined previously straight Mr. Terrific as a gay black man. In the 2017 Power Rangers movie, Trini the Yellow Ranger, played by a Latina actress, was reimagined as bisexual.

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Somehow, though, these changes seldom seem to happen with prominent white characters. The CW’s Flash remains as white and straight as Mike Pence’s lapel. There was not even a hint of lesbianism for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman movie in 2017 despite some of her most prominent writers pointing out the obvious. I guess all of this diversity and LGBTQ inclusion is great so long as it’s not a big, white franchise character.

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All of these casting and identity decisions are rooted in the historically racist way in which black American sexuality is managed on-screen so as to not offend or upset the white gaze.

In our heteronormative culture, a pansexual Lando Calrissian is no threat to Han Solo as the dominant lead in the film—in the same way that John Boyega is automatically “shipped” with a white man in The Force Awakens and forced to fawn over his handsome white male co-star in Pacific Rim Uprising. 

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Gay black men, black women with white guys, and sexually ambiguous black men pose no threat to the fragile sexual ego of the white male or female moviegoer or lead characters. Hollywood wants you to call these casting decisions progress, when they’re actually tokenism and the marginalization of blacks, queers and queer blacks.

Again, I know what you’re thinking: “Jason, you don’t fool me! You just don’t like gay people and are masking it in a pro-black-concern-trolling word salad.”

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I get that complaint, so let me make an important distinction, with the help of an internet troll, blacktivist and “mack-identity extremist” by the name of Tariq Nasheed. Nasheed is a former wannabe pimp named K-Flex who threw himself into a ’90s wayback machine and came out as a combination of post Dru Hill Sisqó and “The Dark Side With Nat X.”

Last week, Nasheed attempted to struggle-troll The Root on Twitter because he and his followers are convinced that the site is part of a gay-feminist agenda to destroy straight black men. For some reason, he sent me a Twitter mixtape like a lovesick teen and decided to look up all the gay men who’ve ever written for The Root because he was looking for a date trying to prove a point.

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I mention this because there will be a strain of the black population that will see Lando Calrissian’s new pansexuality as more proof of Hollywood’s pro-gay, anti-straight-black-male agenda. It will sound something like this:

Just a week before a huge Hollywood film comes out, where every critic has already said that Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian outshines the lead Han Solo, what better way to emasculate a strong black man on-screen (and stop him from finally buying NBC) than to claim he’s “pansexual”!?  

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The Tariq Nasheeds of the world will dislike pansexual Calrissian because at their core, they dislike LGBTQ people and don’t believe they deserve representation. That is distinctly different from me. I find Calrissian’s newfound sexual positioning problematic not because there’s anything wrong with being pansexual (there isn’t) but because such a change would never happen to a prominent white character.

I’m all for Lando Calrissian being pansexual—let him flirt with men and women and aliens and robots with sexy USB ports. Let’s just be aware that this is Hollywood’s same old white experimentation with black sexuality, not some progressive act of LGBTQ and black inclusion.

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Until I see Captain America and Winter Soldier discuss that one night in a foxhole during World War II; until Obi-Wan and Anakin admit that they might’ve been more than just Padawan and “master”; until Han Solo admits on-screen that he was a little jealous when Leia kissed Luke, but not for the reason that you think—no real barriers have been broken, and Disney shouldn’t be getting any credit.

 

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DISCUSSION

mz-z86deburg0s
Mzz DeBurgos

I’ve re-read this article several times because I did not want to jump to any conclusion. But this piece is not sitting right with me. To me, there is this underlying message that I’m still trying to process, and I have a feeling that I know what it is…

Aliens, robots, and sexy USB ports are not human beings. We have never created policies to try control their lives and their bodies. We haven’t made their relationships illegal, or prevented them from adopting children, or from marrying. Nor have made we made it ok to fire them from their jobs just because they happen to be aliens, robots, and sexy USB port. Has an alien, robot or sexy USB port even been sexually assaulted to make them act “right” aka more human. So why are we pretending like this is a thing??

I 100% agree with Mr. Johnson in that I refuse to give Disney or any studio any credit for their weak ass representation of Queer or Trans people PoCs. Sorry, you get no thumps up from me just because you matter-of-fact announce that such-and-such is totally gay/queer/bi, after the movie has been in theaters for some time and would like to draw up some extra free press.

I also agree that white America (let’s be real, it isn’t just Hollywood) has had an extensive history in using Black people and Black bodies to explore, exploit, and experiment with their sexuality. I also agree that they absolutely continue to do this to this very day.

My issue with this article is that Mr. Johnson believes that any time a character (in a Hollywood movie?? But he only provides one example) happens to be a PoC they naturally happen to be Queer.

My interpretation of this article is that Mr. Johnson is totally cool with the LGBTQ+ community! He simply wants Hollywood (?) to chill with all of the downsizing of these strong PoC characters with their sudden queerness. Can like white (strong, attractive, leading) characters also have the affliction of being queer?

As a gay woc (Afro-Latinx), I would have greatly appreciated if Mr. Johnson had included that long list that features these queer PoCs. Because, I on the other hand, would like to finally see people who look like me, actually be represented on screen.

His long list of Hollywood’s over-representation is not immediately available. He did list a comic book (Black, male, queer), a TV show (Black, male, queer), another movie (Latinx, female, bi) and the shipping of several of John Boyega’s (Black, male) characters. I’m honestly confused about the shipping, people ship weird characters all the time (including Winchester brothers). His list immediately showcased a trend of where the majority of his concerns lie.

My number one question is, why is this problem exactly? Is a queer Black character who happens to be a man suddenly less masculine, strong, or Black if he also happens to be queer? Is one’s attractiveness immediately diminished if they happen to also be queer? I’m honestly trying to understand his side of the argument, and I’m honestly not getting it.

The sad truth is that queer PoCs are seldom represented in the majority of the medium that we consume. The sad result of this is that we are so desperate for representation, for acceptance from the dominant culture that one sentence, one supposed look, an embrace, or hell even a clothing choice will suffice as nod towards us. And this isn’t ok, and this isn’t right, but this isn’t Mr. Johnson’s main concern.