It’s Valentine’s Day, everybody. Everyone’s got their obligatory Valentine’s Day post, but I’m going to do things a little differently. You might say, I’m going to hack Cupid’s Day and inject a conversation about one of the breakout couples from Mr. Robot, Whiterose (BD Wong) and her loyal assistant/lover Grant (Grant Chang).
I finally had a chance to catch up on Mr. Robot a few months ago, and I realized how it slyly stacks its deck full of characters on the sexual spectrum. Tyrell (Martin Wallström) fell into the fanatical side of love with Mr. Robot, and while the show never portrayed Mr. Robot as purposefully leading Tyrell on, fanfiction writers could certainly find moments within the show to insert an alternate narrative of Mr. Robot using Tyrell’s fanaticism to Mr. Robot’s advantage. Darlene (Carly Chaikin) slept with FBI agent Dom(Grace Gummer) to try to help Elliot reverse the damage Mr. Robot’s caused. In previous seasons, Trenton (Sunita Mani) showed feelings toward Darlene and Angela (Portia Doubleday) has an intense makeout session with Shayla (Frankie Shaw).
All of those portrayals of sexual representation are cool in my book. But my favorite coupling out of everyone is Whiterose and Grant. Their time together evolved in this recent third season, culminating in Grant having to make the ultimate sacrifice. Technically, though, Whiterose decided his fate for him, citing Grant’s unchecked jealousy surrounding Whiterose’s interest in Elliot as an element that would get in the way of future plans.
Season 3 was basically a vehicle for Whiterose and Grant’s storylines. One of the consistent parts of the season was that it was literally not about Elliot; every other main character rose up to compete for the title of main character, and honestly, any character on the show could easily have their own spinoff. Whiterose and Grant certainly took this season and ran with it, and I was ready to go on their ride towards world domination. There large chunks of the show where I was actively rooting for them to win, to be honest.
I wanted to see what a world would be like under Whiterose’s thumb. Technically, if the season’s allusions to Whiterose’s influence in our presidential election are any indication, we already are living in Whiterose’s America. But while it’s hell living in it, it’s fun to see society from her lofty, expensive perch, where she’s outfitted in the finest of Rich Aunt fashions, drinking her champagne in the fluted glass handed to her by her one and only Grant, who’s dressed in the finest suit Tom Ford can muster. It’s a dream world of excess and financial debauchery, and in these times, which resemble the 1980s in terms of the juxtaposition of wealth in the media (like Dynasty and Dallas) amid rising costs and and an impending deficit, it’s a relief from our economically poor lives to watch how the other half lives (and makes life terrible for the rest of us). It’s a perverse fantasy, but it’s a fantasy nonetheless, and Whiterose and Grant sold it in spades.
It’s also a great character touch to show how devoted and in love Grant actually is with Whiterose, and the show makes our voyeristic time as viewers even better by showing that Grant’s love is not one-sided. Despite Whiterose’s ultimate dispatching of Grant, we do see how she does truly care about him. In Whiterose’s world, a world in which she gets rid of anyone in her way regardless of their station or their worth as a person, it means something to see her shedding tears and saying her final goodbyes (albeit while relaxing in her bubble bath with champagne) to a man who has meant so much to her. She has narcissistic tendencies, sure. But no one can say she didn’t actually love Grant. The only wedge between them is her greater love for her ultimate mission; to take power from Evil Corp’s Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) and destroy him where he stands.
As far as character development goes, Whiterose and Grant are about as enigmatic, engaging and fun to watch as you can get. Again, you really want a show just about them and their machinations. But of course, just because I love their characters, that doesn’t mean I’m not without awareness of the thornier aspects of their representation, Whiterose in particular. Whiterose is probably a cause for contention among trans viewers, since Whiterose is identified as transgender, yet she’s played by a cisgender man.
Wong himself said to Vulture’s Matthew Giles how he initially resisted taking the role, not wanting to take the role from trans actors. He also didn’t want the character to be another stereotype of an “evil trans person.” According to Wong, he was told creator Sam Esmail did meet with trans actors, but didn’t hire any of them, wanting Wong instead. As Esmail himself told Buzzfeed’s Ariane Lange, Wong was his first choice for the role.
For Esmail, stated Wong, the character opportunity Whiterose presents is a chance for Esmail to show the dynamics of the gender power struggle in business.
“There’s a great challenge in being a powerful woman in a powerful white man’s world,” said Wong to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Chris Gardner. “I think that it’s part of his choice to make her a person who needs to be gender fluid to get what she wants.”
To his credit, Wong doesn’t give himself a break when it comes to the type of role he’s playing. “There’s a lot of things we can discuss that are connected to it. There’s also the casting of me in this part, which is not cool to trans people,” he said. “Like Asians, trans actors don’t get a lot of opportunities. There are arguably mitigating factors in this particular role because there is gender fluidity and she has to interface as a man and as a woman.”
Pajiba’s Riley Silverman rightly takes Wong and Esmail to task for utilizing a cis male actor for a transgender part. For Silverman, the role of Whiterose smacks of cis-privileged hubris and appeals primarily to cisgender viewers, like Silverman’s friend.
“I no longer blame my friend for being so excited about the character. Or for applauding. I feel like that was exactly what creator Sam Esmail was going for,” wrote Silverman. “He wrote Whiterose as the kind of character who with-it cis viewers would pump their fists at and say yeah, just like I imagine he did himself when he was writing her.”
But while citing the holes in both Wong and Esmail’s rationalization of a cis male playing a trans woman, Silverman still has sympathy for Wong and the real reason he took the role, which he explained in Vulture.
“I feel kind of like, as a minority with limited opportunities, I did not have the luxury of being able to turn down this role based on my wish that in an ideal world a trans actor could illuminate this part with ‘authentic trans insight.'” he said. “I will also add for whatever it’s worth that Whiterose does have both female and male personae. So I did basically cash in that chip I got as a minority at the beginning of the game, decided to accept the role, and I also accept the responsibility and consequences of that.”
“In this, I do legitimately feel empathy for BD Wong,” wrote Silverman. “He’s not Scarlett Johansson, who could have simply turned down Ghost in the Shell. He’s an actor who is successful but still likely needs to take most jobs that come his way, aware that even if he’s working steadily now that tap could be turned off at any time. But I also legitimately wonder whether he would accept that same excuse from someone like me if I were cast as a radical reimagining of Song Liling in a new adaptation of M. Butterfly. And I wonder, if that happened, if I would take that part.”
It’s an interesting conundrum when the actor knows their presence as the character is problematic. But it’s equally problematic that there aren’t enough complex roles for everyone in Hollywood. The drought of meaningful roles forces some actors to take roles they’d rather not, such as Wong taking on this role. I’m sure he saw it as a once-in-a lifetime opportunity; there aren’t too many times you can play a character on a critically-acclaimed show that premiered at SXSW of all places. But, as Wong well knows, accepting the role takes an opportunity away from a trans actor. What could a trans actor have added to the role if given the chance? Why didn’t Esmail reconsider the ramifications of casting a cis male in the role, especially after he saw trans actors for the part? I don’t have the answers; we need to ask Esmail these questions. Thankfully, the character of Grant is devoid of these serious representation discussions, seeing how he’s played by a cis male.
While Chang doesn’t say much as Grant, he emotes through his body and especially his eyes, giving Grant a quiet sturdiness, a sense of patience that–while worn thin sometimes from Whiterose’s deliberate nature–is built from his trust in Whiterose. He also commands the presence of a leading man from midcentury leading men like James Shigeta as well as an undercover machismo that he sublimates for the sake of Whiterose’s dominant personality. But on occasion, it comes through, like when he wants Whiterose to just act instead of monologue and plot, or when he convinces Whiterose to finally let him take the reins of a mission, asserting his more traditionally masculine personality when it comes to romantic societal norms. However, despite his simmering frustration at not being able to assert his masculinity the way he’d like due to Whiterose’s position as the mastermind, he still finds power in letting her lead. He’s a man’s man in some ways, but he’s also highly attracted to strong, take charge women.
When it’s all said and done, Whiterose and Grant were, for me, the most engaging part of Mr. Robot Season 3. It was the first time I could have done without Elliot’s storyline, since in some ways, he was actually slowing things down. For the latest season, the drama was centered around Whiterose’s next move, and how she’d employ her best guy to carry out her deeds. But that doesn’t mean I’m avoiding the conversation to be had about Wong playing a transgender character, something he feels quite uncomfortable about, despite agreeing to take the role. As Wong said to Vulture, Whiterose acts as an opportunity to open dialogue on transgender characters and trans representation in the media. However, one element of that conversation should include if the conversation can be advanced if cisgender actors keep shutting trans actors out of roles, effectively shutting them out from their seat at the table.
What do you think about Whiterose and Grant? What do you love about them and how do you feel about Wong taking the role of Whiterose? Give your comments below!♦
(Wilson Cruz as Dr. Culber on Star Trek: Discovery. Photo credit: CBS)
Each week, Monique will sound off on the current episode of Star Trek: Discovery. For more, read Monique’s Star Trek: Discovery recaps at SlashFilm. These mini-rants will contain SPOILERS–You’re warned.
It’s been over 72 hours as of this post since I’ve seen the midseason premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, and I am still pissed. I don’t know how killing Culber will advance the story in any type of positive way. I also fear that Culber’s death is one of the breadcrumbs that will lead to Tyler ultimately sacrificing himself.
If you’ve read my latest SlashFilm recap already, you know I’ve been quite livid about seeing Culber die on screen. Supposedly, Culber’s death isn’t going to be a “Bury Your Gays” horror (even though it looks like it on the surface.) I quoted Buzzfeed’s Adam B. Vary’s interviews with Wilson Cruz and Star Trek: Discovery‘s showrunners in my recap, but I want to give a shout out to SyFy’s Swapna Krishna, who also interviewed Cruz about his character’s demise. What Cruz told her, as he told Vary, is that we’ll see Culber again.
“I can tell you that we will be seeing Dr. Culber again.
I can even tell you that as part of the longer epic love story we are planning on telling between these two characters there is a scene in this season that is my favorite thing I have ever filmed in my twenty-five years and I can’t wait for you guys to see it. So when I tell you that it’s not over, it really isn’t. There are reasons why the story has taken a turn, but I just ask that you guys trust us in the storytelling. I had conversations with the producers and there is a bigger story here to be told, and we are going to tell it.”
So, he’s telling us that we will see the continuation of Culber’s story and Culber and Stamets’ relationship. HOWEVER, I’m still mad.
Did it have to be this way, showrunners? On the one hand, I understand that if I was in the creator’s chair, I would have qualms killing characters off regardless. As someone who wishes to create her own show one day, I’ve already realized I am too mushy to kill of characters, even if the story calls for it. Perhaps that’s to my detriment. But, a part of me feels like having a dramatic death at the beginning of a premiere is beginning to be a pattern for Star Trek: Discovery. Case in point–the death of Georgiou, another death I thought wasn’t necessary because, similar to Culber’s, it felt like a bait-and-switch.
However, with as much work as Wilson Cruz has done speaking out on behalf of the LGBT community, and with the showrunners themselves running this storyline by GLAAD, I’d like to believe that this gamble will pay off. I mean, it’d better–Star Trek: Discovery’s life is on the line with this type of gamble. If the story can show a death that exists beyond trope, then maybe there’s a conversation worth having. It’s also worth pointing out that one of the showrunners, Aaron Harberts, is openly gay. Perhaps some of his own feelings about the treatment of LGBT characters in the media will make Culber’s death feel more organic and less of a trope. From what he told IndieWire’s Liz Shannon Miller, it would seem that’s the case.
“This is something we knew we wanted to do pretty much from the minute we started breaking the arc of the entire season. We wanted to have this be the first chapter for this gay couple, who we plan to make one of the most important couples on our show. So, to do that, we needed to tell some tough stories to get this couple where they need to be, and to continue to expand their importance in the fabric of the show. So, this is a first step that we knew we had to take, and we weren’t afraid to take it, because we know where it’s going.”
…“It’s absolutely essential [for Culber’s death to be organic]. It was essential that this crime not be gratuitous. It had to push the story, and it had to come from character and emotion. Culber is killed because he’s the smartest person on the ship. He’s not killed because he’s gay. He’s killed because he’s a threat to Tyler, and to what Tyler’s going through.”
I won’t say Culber’s death was entirely for shock value–I believe Harberts when he says he wanted Culber’s death to not be gratutious–but there is still a shocking element to how he died and the type of episode he died on. A midseason premiere is all about bringing eyes back to the show and attracting new eyes as well, but does a death really win more fans? At this point, from what I’ve seen on Twitter, it seems like all it’s done is piss people off–both longtime viewers and prospective viewers, some of whom are now waiting until the season is over to see how the Culber situation is handled. Regardless, for many, Culber’s death is just one more reason to keep distrusting the media’s handling of LGBT characters since they keep getting killed off or denied their right to happiness.
To be honest, killing off characters for dramatic effect has become a go-to for lots of shows nowadays, and it annoys me. The glut of great television has also made TV watchers desensitized to a certain extent–there are show many shows to watch and so little time, so people have to pick and choose what they give their attention to. Therefore, it’s becoming increasingly harder for shows to garner and maintain an audience when there’s so much competition out there. What I’ve been seeing is an increase in “Can you believe X got killed off?!” moments on TV–moments that result in tons of press and tons of online chatter and attention. Killing off a character can mean your show gets a quick boost of notoriety and promotion. The best example of this is The Walking Dead, the originator of the modern-day “Kill off important characters” tactic. At one point in time, doing such a thing was bold, risky even. But nowadays, the tactic has become stale and, in some cases, hokey. At worst, the tactic has become offensive–The Walking Dead has had a habit of killing of black characters, black men in particular. Also, Glenn, a fan favorite, was believed to have been saved by the writers, only to be brutally killed later on. The most recent kill, protagonist Rick Grimes’ son Carl, deviates from the comic book, in which Carl still lives. If I were a regular viewer of that show, I’d consider it a huge betrayal.
My point is this–what do character deaths amount to in the end? Are they entirely necessary for every story? And will Culber’s death prove to be necessary for the story Star Trek: Discovery is trying to tell or will it turn into another Georgiou moment that leaves fans frustrated? We can only wait and see as the story develops.
Regardless, the sting of seeing Culber killed goes deep. As Harberts said in his interview, we know Culber isn’t killed because he’s gay–it’ because of what he knows about Tyler and because Tyler is fighting his Klingon programming (the buried lede in this article is that Tyler is, in fact, Voq. But he’s a Voq at war with himself, because he doesn’t even remember his former life). But even with that knowledge, I hope the folks behind the show realize that there’s a large contingent of fans who might hit pause on Star Trek: Discovery, at least temporarily. After seeing so many LGBT characters treated wrongly, it’s almost second nature to become wary of any death, regardless of the underlying reasons for that death.
It’s on the show now to win back some fans’ trust and allay fears. If they can’t do that, then the show will have a big problem on its hands.
Issa Rae has several new HBO shows on the horizon, but there’s one I’m interested in the most—a black bisexual rom-com.
Him Or Her, executive produced by Rae and Travon Free (a writer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and former writer for The Daily Show) will be, according to Shadow and Act, a “single-camera half-hour” comedy that follows “the dating life of a bisexual black man and the distinctly different worlds and relationships he finds himself in.”
Shadow and Act is right in asserting that Him Or Her might be “the first television show to center the focus on a black, LGBT male since Noah’s Arc.” What’s also great is that much of the show will be based on Free’s own experiences as a bisexual man.
As Rae told The Huffington Post in an email, “I was immediately drawn in to the concept from his initial pitch and am SO grateful that he’s trusting us with his vision.” As reported by Logo, Rae also said she has wanted to bring bisexuality into the conversation about black masculinity.
What do you think about this show? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
The Last Jedi is dividing fans left and right (I’m on the side that happened to love the movie). Shippers of Stormpilot–the fandom (and cast-supported) coupling of Finn and Poe–are also divided on the movie as well, since not only was there a lack overt Stormpilot moments, but there was also a kiss between Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). For some, it would seem the hopes for Stormpilot are over.
After seeing The Last Jedi myself, I’ve come away with the opinion that not only has Stormpilot survived the second act of this three-act story, but even more background information has been given on the apparently one-sided tension Poe’s wrestling with when it comes to his interactions with Finn. I posit that Poe is the one who is the one harboring an intense crush on Finn, while Finn is completely oblivious, focusing only on the mission at hand.
Exhibit A: Poe’s jealous outburst
There’s a scene that seems to have escaped even the most hardcore of Stormpilot fans, and that’s when Rose and Finn are giving Poe their idea for saving the Resistance ship from the Empire. They’re talking to Poe in Poe’s quarters, which immediately gives Poe leverage over the entire scene. Poe and Finn are dominating the conversation until Rose chimes in, making herself known in an otherwise closed-off environment. That’s when Poe’s penchant for jealousy kicks in, and he pointedly asks Finn, “Where’d you find her?” Even though Johnson couldn’t find a way to inject full-scale romance in this film, he still found a way to inject an odd, jealousy-tinged line that doesn’t add anything to the scene, much less the film’s plot.
Throughout the film, we see how selfish, territorial, and jealous-hearted Poe can be when it comes to the people he loves. Poe would do anything for Leia–even after she slaps him like an angry mother, demotes him, and then tasers him so they can put him aboard the escape vessels without his backtalk. Leia is, in fact, the closest thing Poe has to a mother, and his loyalty and love for her makes him wary of anyone else who comes in between them. In this case, that person happens to be Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), whom Poe is immediately suspicious of. (Poe’s a little sexist about it too, to be honest, judging Holdo for being ultra-femme in battle, even though Leia is just as femme, just in darker colors.) He doesn’t learn to trust Holdo until the very end of their time together, and unfortunately, it’s while she’s sacrificing herself to allow the escape pods to advance to the nearest moon.
Poe’s selfishness and jealousy comes back in full force only one other time, and that’s when he’s sizing up Rose. Poe is visibly irritated he must share Finn with Rose, but he knows he has to do so if they’re going to save everyone. At one point, I thought Poe was going to say, “Maybe I should come with,” and to be honest, the look on his face gives the impression that he’s actually considering jettisoning the ship and stowing away with them. But he also won’t allow himself to leave Leia unattended. So he begrudgingly agrees to their tenuous plan.
Exhibit B: So much touching
Maybe it’s because I already had my proverbial antennae up for any Finn/Poe interactions I could possibly write about later, but it seemed like there was a large amount of slightly unnecessary touching. (Full admission: the amount of touching might also seem unnecessary because I’m not that touchy-feely myself, despite being highly emotional. As I’ve written before, I’m a Vulcan.)
The first bit of touching comes after BB-8 alerts Poe to Finn waking out of his coma. The dialogue we hear–Poe repeating BB-8’s beeps about a naked Finn when Finn isn’t actually naked–is something to waggle some eyebrows at, since it’s erroneous and gratuitous. Another script Easter egg, perhaps. But after the dialogue comes Poe rushing to Finn, reaching out to both stop him and support him as he staggers out of sickbay.
Poe didn’t have to touch Finn at his waist. He could have easily touched him around the shoulders. But it’s less about where Poe touches Finn and more about how he touches him. Everything’s gentle, and it’s not just because Finn is literally leaking IV fluids. Whenever Finn is in Poe’s vicinity, Poe immediately reduces down into a much gentler, softer persona. And, as we saw with how pointed he got about Rose, that persona is reserved only for Finn, and anyone who encroaches on Poe’s territory sees a more crotchety side of our favorite pilot.
There’s another moment of touching when Finn runs to Poe, who’s just been blown back by an Empire explosion. This bit of touching can’t really be made into too much of a “Stormpilot” thing, since Poe literally just got blasted in the back and sent flying across the hangar. But still, it’s something to note, especially since the undoctored image from this scene looks like it could be edited into a romance novel cover.
Keep in mind that throughout all of these interactions, Finn doesn’t ever catch on that Poe seems to be holding onto some big emotions. Finn sees Poe as someone he can trust, most definitely, but love is the last thing on Finn’s mind right now. Finn comes from a life of war, and survival mode is what he knows best. But survival mode doesn’t allow for someone to think about long-sustaining romances. After what happens in Exhibit C, though, it seems like Finn will start thinking about more complex things like love.
Exhibit C: Finn’s reaction to Rose’s kiss
Let’s break down the scene where Rose saves Finn from his suicide mission. Rose gets injured in the process, and she tells Finn she saved him because this war is all about saving those that you love. She manages to give him a kiss before passing out.
Folks on Tumblr read this scene as Disney punking out to the international market, mainly China, who are seen as the gatekeeper on Star Wars exploring LGBTQ themes. No doubt that the international market can prove to be a roadblock for any LGBT representation in Star Wars, much less Stormpilot. But in actuality, no story commitment to a Rose/Finn romance has taken place. If the film was adamant about Rose and Finn sharing a romance, I would think that romance would have been hinted at throughout the film and, most definitely, Finn would have kissed back. But he doesn’t; he’s just confused. In fact, we leave him still in a state of confusion.
Star Wars doesn’t have a fantastic record of building up believable romances–even Han and Leia’s romance doesn’t have much of a build-up that allows someone to truly understand what they see in each other. But to The Empire Strikes Back‘s credit, at least they keep the romance up throughout the film. The film was committed to cementing Han and Leia’s romance by peppering it in all over the place. With the amount of amazing writing that acts as The Last Jedi‘s foundation, I’d think that if they wanted to give us romance, they’d do a heck of a lot more than give us one small kiss and a clearly one-sided exchange.
It’s also worth noting that the experience of kissing is new to Finn, regardless of if it would be with Poe or Rose. Poor Finn hasn’t had real human interaction for his whole life. I think it’s natural for him to be confused on a multitude of levels. First, he has to suss out if he feels the same way about Rose. Second, he’d have to figure out if he even likes kissing at all. This is where the sexual representation could become more complex than just the gay/straight binary. We don’t know what sexual orientation Finn has, but it might be narrow-minded us to assume that he’s just simply gay. It’d be great if Star Wars could explore Finn’s inner conflict surrounding this moment.
The defense rests
I’m not soothsayer—I don’t know exactly what this means for the next film. But as for this film, fans shouldn’t be too upset. Romance didn’t make its way in this chapter, but let’s hope that romance, especially LGBT romance, is a big part of Episode 9, whether that’s Stormpilot or otherwise.