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How Poe’s jealousy keeps the Stormpilot hope alive in “The Last Jedi”

SPOILERS ABOUND!

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.

I disagree.

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.

 

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Canonically non-canonical same-sex pairings in “Star Wars,” ranked

The Last Jedi is testing the patience of some Stormpilot uberfans, who are debating if this new chapter in the new Star Wars saga advances or hinders the fandom-supported Stormpilot romance. I’ve got my opinions on it, which I’ll divulge later on once we’re out of spoiler fever.

But discussing Stormpilot brings up the very insurmountable fact that Star Wars has yet to truly bring LGBT representation to the forefront in a meaningful way. Rian Johnson, who co-wrote and directed The Last Jedi, has been intensely aware of Stormpilot, so much so that he’s actually retweeted fanart and fandom conversation about Finn and Poe’s speculated relationship. He’s also made sure to say he’s in support of LGBT characters in Star Wars. In fact, both Johnson and J.J. Abrams, the producer behind the new Star Wars films as well as the directors of both The Force Awakens and the upcoming Episode 9, have championed introducing LGBT characters into the films. But will that happen in the current Star Wars storyline or will it be more apparent in the next trilogy Johnson’s supposed to helm?

Until we know the absolute answer, one thing’s for sure–same-sex pairings and fandom-made representation have been a huge part of Star Wars since the beginning. With fans getting more and more restless, it’s only a matter of time before pairings move out of the realm of fandom and into the realm of canon. In fact, the pairings featured below are so well known by many that they might as well have their own movies devoted to them.

Here’s how I’m ranking them in terms of how canonical they are in the Star Wars franchise (with their rank affected by cast and crew interviews, actors’ intentions behind the characters, and fandom acceptance). Some issues to discuss first–it would have been fun to be able to include some female same-sex pairings in this list, but Star Wars is still a male-dominated story, unfortunately. There still isn’t enough focus on women, even though that’s growing thanks to this new crop of movies. Second, this list is only focusing on pairings that are in the movies. I’ve heard about Vice-Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) possibility being a queer character in the Star Wars books. But we don’t see that in The Last Jedi. I’m only going by what I’ve seen in the films.

4. Han Solo and Lando Calrissian

I haven’t seen much chatter about this slash pairing ever, but I know it exists. How can it not? Han and Lando are frenemies who go way back, have had tons of adventures together, and definitely have a past we don’t know about at all. Also, as this Dreamwidth user wrote in 2003, Lando trusts Han enough to give him his Millennium Falcon.

Personally, I don’t see it, but that doesn’t mean others can’t. And it also doesn’t mean I can’t be swayed–with Solo: A Star Wars Story coming out next year, I’m sure there’s going to be enough slashable content for those who love this pairing. In any event, the film will allow Lando’s characterization to get fleshed out beyond “that cool black guy who sold Han and Leia out to Darth Vader.” He can still be cool, but I hope he gets more of a solid backstory this go-round.

3. Finn and Poe Dameron

It might seem ludicrous that I’m ranking Stormpilot at number three, when big chunks of both this website and my Twitter account have been devoted to Finn and Poe’s relationship. Here’s my reasoning; it’s not that I don’t think Stormpilot can’t happen. It’s also not even that I think the cast doesn’t support it; with the way Oscar Isaac is always talking up Stormpilot in interviews, I think he’d be down. Even John Boyega, who hasn’t really drunken the Stormpilot Kool-Aid, seems to have at least partially come around to the idea of anything being possible, conceding to Radio Times in 2016 “you never know what they [the writers] are going to pull.” The reason I’m ranking Stormpilot so low is that it’s tough to see which way the wind is blowing on Stormpilot in relation to what the Lucasfilm brass think.

Regardless of what writers and directors might want to do with Stormpilot’s potential, the buck stops with Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy. As of last year, Kennedy gave a longwinded answer to Ecartelera that simply amounts to “I’m undecided.”

We’ve talked about it, but I think you’re not going to see it in The Last Jedi,” she said. “In the next six or eight months we will have some meetings about the stories that we will develop next… After 40 years of adventures, people have a lot of information and a lot of theories about the path these stories can take, and sometimes those theories that come up are new ideas for us to listen to, read and pay attention to.

What can be gleaned is that right now, folks at Lucasfilm and Disney are hashing out whether they want to invest in the Stormpilot idea. With fan pressure mounting, plus directors already giving their blessing to LGBT characters and, in a way, forcing Disney’s hand on the matter of LGBT representation, the answer as to whether to include queer characters in Star Wars has already been decided for the joint company; it’s just a matter of deciding if Finn and Poe are who they want to spearhead that initiative.

From my perspective, there’s one moment in The Last Jedi that shows that Johnson did give a small nod to Stormpilot, despite romance not featuring heavily in this installment. Will other fans pick up on that moment? I don’t know. But regardless, Stormpilot is still firmly in fanon territory right now.

2. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker

The fandom for the Han Solo and Luke Skywalker pairing is only comparable to the other OG slash pairing in the stars, Star Trek‘s Spock and Kirk.

Fanlore is a great resource for learning about the history of the Han/Luke (or “Skysolo”) pairing, but just to quickly sum it up, Skysolo has been around since the 1970s and 1980s, even though the majority of the fan projects were published in the 1990s (due to Lucasfilm classifying slash pairing fanworks as “adult” and prohibited the adult content in their official fanzines). Whether passed around privately or published publicly, the allure of Skysolo has been a part of the Star Wars culture, and, like the Kirk/Spock slash pairing, it’s also been a part of fan skirmishes.

One fan in the 1980s complained about Skysolo slash fiction being “a sub-genre without a home.”

“Is the influence of the infamous Lucasfilm brouhaha still so widespread? It certainly suppressed “straight” sexually-explicit SW fanfic; only now are we beginning to see that come out of the closet (“‘groan! ‘” bad pun!). I’m not saying I want to see SW fandom go through the kind of schism and upheaval that K/S [Kirk/Spock fanfiction] wrought on ST fandom; but I’m curious why SW slash, even though it’s being written–and written by some extremely good writers–isn’t finding a publisher. Are we still looking over our shoulder for The Men From Lucasfilm? Or do we think no one out there will buy and read it…heh – heh- heh- you know they they’ll buy and read it!”

Nowadays, it’s found its place in the open world of slash fandom, and speculation over Luke’s sexuality prompted Hamill himself to speak out in favor of Luke being gay or bisexual.

“…[F]ans are writing and ask all these questions, ‘I’m bullied in school… I’m afraid to come out’. They say to me, ‘Could Luke be gay?'” said Hamill to The Sun in 2016, according to Vanity Fair. I’d say it is meant to be interpreted by the viewer… If you think Luke is gay, of course he is. You should not be ashamed of it. Judge Luke by his character, not by who he loves.”

So, in one way, Luke’s queerness could be considered canon. But frustratingly, it still keeps characters in a gray area; they are whatever the fans want them to be. This strategy has been employed with Poe as well, with Oscar Isaac saying how he’s happy Poe can act as representation to so many different people and different sexual spectrums. Even so, Hamill allowing Luke to be representative of LGBT fans gives more credence to the theory that Luke developed a crush on Han during their time together. Han might be a scoundrel, but who wouldn’t develop a crush on him?

1. Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus

Chirrut and Baze get the top spot because their relationship is, to me, the one that was the most apparently “married” in the canon of Rogue One. Yes, if you’re so inclined, you can choose to see their relationship as that of brothers, but from where I’m sitting, their level of comfort with each other was that of two people who are friends and also happen to be more than friends. I mean, a good romantic relationship does start from friendship, does it not?

Their comfort with each other has been supported by fans, who deem them the old married couple of Star Wars. And once again, the people behind the characters chimed in to say that the fans’ theories aren’t necessarily wrong.

As Rogue One director Gareth Edwards told Buzzfeed, while the Chirrut and Baze being a couple wasn’t the original intention, if fans want to see that as canon, they’re more than welcome to. Much of Edwards’ opinion comes from Donnie Yen’s own perception of Chirrut and Baze’s relationship.

Yen, who portrayed Chirrut in Rogue One, reportedly felt like there was more to his and Baze’s relationship than the script initially let on. As Edwards said:

“After a while, it was something that became interesting. Donnie asked, ‘What do you think these guys are? What do you think their relationship really is?’ And he asked if that was the case. I felt like, ‘You know what? If these were real people and I was filming them, I wouldn’t know. It’s not something we would see; they would keep it to themselves.’ For all I know, a little bit of that might be going on under the surface…Genuinely, if the audience wants to take that away from it, I’m very happy. I’d be very proud to have brought something like that to Star Wars.”

For me, this makes Chirrut and Baze the most canonical same-sex pairing Star Wars has right now. Their relationship is one that wasn’t solely defended after the film’s release; it was also one that was developed as the actors were fleshing out their characters. That means that much of their interactions were–or at least Yen’s–were calculated to read as “married.” That’s what makes Chirrut and Baze one of the most compelling parts of Rogue One. 

Honorable mention: C3PO and R2D2

R2D2 and C3PO are here as honorable mention because…they’re robots. But if you even have a passing knowledge of Star Wars, then you’ll know the running joke is that C3PO and R2D2 are the “first gay characters” in Star Wars. Or, at least, C3PO is the “first gay character” in Star Wars. But with the advent of actual queer humans in Star Wars, this running joke can be put to rest, since 1) I don’t know if R2D2 really likes C3PO like that anyways (seems like he merely tolerates him and is merely comfortable with C3PO’s nagging) and 2) robots in Star Wars don’t exhibit the capability of having romantic love anyways. If we cross the streams and invoke Philip K. Dick’s Voight-Kampff test, the robots of Star Wars recognize that they are in service of their human masters and are comfortable with that reality. Even though exhibit have wit, sarcasm, fear, pride, happiness, and even anger, Star Wars robots never go beyond their programming to advocate for robot rights and free will.

What do you think about this ranking? What pairings would you add to this list? Give your opinions below!

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The Unexpected Joy of “Luke Cage” Power Couple #ShadyMariah

Marvel/Netflix (from Theo Rossi's Instagram account)
Marvel/Netflix (from Theo Rossi’s Instagram account)

Hernan “Shades” Alvarez and City Councilwoman Mariah Dillard. On paper, these two people shouldn’t even be in the same stratosphere of influence. But in reality, these two go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Perhaps you’ve seen the internet become besides themselves with this new power couple, otherwise known as #ShadyMariah. Heck, even Shades himself, Theo Rossi, is onboard.

I asked some of my followers and #ShadyMariah fans what they thought about the pairing. The reaction was a little more subdued because as we’ve come to know Shades, we’ve come to see just how his self-serving mind works. It could be possible that we don’t know Shades the way we think we do.

Related: “Grown Folks Marvel”: Marvel’s “Luke Cage” Excels on Many Levels

Speaking honestly, we really don’t know what the endgame for these two will be. Will one turn on the other? Will it be Uncle Pete in the backyard all over again? There’s a reason they showed that particular scene. Not just because it showed how intense Mama Mabel could be. It also showed how Mama Mabel was frustrated with the fact that she’d opened her heart to a man who ended up betraying her (despite his assertion that he was trying to grow “the family business”). Mariah doesn’t want to end up like Mabel, and we don’t yet know she will. But we do know is this:

1.  Mariah has opened her heart to Shades, and Shades was happy to work for it. 

It took a lot for Mariah to trust Shades, and she can’t be blamed for that. She’s trying to keep her reputation afloat as well as grow her power and influence. Not to mention she just killed her beloved cousin in a pique of anger. (Killing’s wrong, but she had justified anger, since Cottonmouth blamed Mariah for being molested by Uncle Pete).

At first, she can’t tell if she can trust Shades, but she’s wise enough to know she needs him to get through covering up Cornell’s death. Next, she needed him through what she thought would be a turnover of power. Then, she needed Shades to traverse the madness that is Diamondback. But when Diamondback lies to her about Shades’ death, she realizes that she had come to trust him despite herself. Feeling lost without Shades made her realize that perhaps she had opened herself up to him more than she thought.

Shades managed to worm his way into her heart by being forthright and honest, which is, frankly, the strangest thing to say about a villain. But even still, Shades has been with her every step of the way, and even before Mariah caught a body. Remember when Shades told Mariah, in both blunt and urgent tones, that he wanted her to win and regain the majesty of the Stokes name?

Shades has always been on Mariah’s side, and it could be that he went to Cottonmouth originally because he was hoping the Stokes brand could be revived. When he first saw Mariah, he was looking with thirst (as Mariah herself says), but some of that thirst isn’t white-hot lust; Shades also had the thirst for power at the forefront, and he saw Mariah’s stature and poise as power that could revive a lost name.

2. Shades gave back the champagne bottle, meaning he now has no chips to play when it comes to her. 

“We’re in this together now,” he said after giving her back her murder weapon, which was basically him saying, “I’m opening my heart to you. I’m for real.” If he was really about himself alone, he wouldn’t have given Mariah the bottle because, as Mariah said, he could have used it to blackmail her. Why give her the bottle if he has some ulterior motives? Shades is a smart dude, and he should know that giving her that bottle—giving her the power, power she could use over him—would be a less-than-smart thing to do if he had some other bad plan up his sleeve. He’s actually being serious with Mariah; he wants them to be equals.

3. Shades has always been straight-up and, in his own disturbing way, comforting to Mariah

Shades has always had Mariah’s back. He’s always wanted her to succeed. His speeches to Mariah about regaining the Stokes name and how to cover up Cornell’s death are two such examples.

But he’s always gracious to her in other ways, too. As shown in a gif-set on Tumblr, Shades subtly notices Mariah on the roof when he, Tone, and Cottonmouth are discussing what went down at Pop’s.

http://michaelxtrevino.tumblr.com/post/151526709353/luke-cage-s01e02-code-of-the-streets

He’s also the one who looks back to Mariah after Cottonmouth throws Tone off the roof; without saying anything, he’s trying to see how she’s holding up after that shock. However, at this point in time, he can’t say anything; he’s still under both Diamondback and Cottonmouth, and because of Cottonmouth’s influence shielding Mariah from him, Shades hasn’t gained enough permission, for lack of a better word, to openly see about her. What would Cottonmouth do if Shades was the one to ask if Mariah was okay and not him? He’d probably be over the side of the building with Tone.

Shades is also always a gentleman around Mariah, which again, is something odd to say about a literal murdering villain. Shades always holds the door open for Mariah, always does her the courtesy speaking to her with his shades off (making it seem like Mariah is speaking to Hernan, as if Shades is his alter-ego), walks behind her as she goes into action, and is constantly hovering close to her or holding her shoulders in a comforting way. He also doesn’t want her to get her hands dirty (which might mean that he didn’t expect her to kill Cottonmouth, which begs the question of if #ShadyMariah would have even happened if Shades was able to follow through with his plan).

There’s a lot of subtlety about Shades that makes him one of the most intriguing villain characters I’ve seen from Marvel, certainly. But he’s also one of the most intriguing villains I’ve seen on TV period.

Marvel/Netflix (screencap)
Marvel/Netflix (screencap)

Mariah herself is pretty intriguing as a villain. She’s sympathetic and she also represents someone that people might actually vote for in real life. To an engaged voter, she’s laser focused on keeping Harlem out of gentrifying hands, uplifts the city’s black history, and (seems to) care about the people of the city. She’s also gotten stuff done, too; it’s not like she’s just using her platform as a complete ruse. The fact that she actually wants to make Harlem better—whether or not its an altruistic goal, because she does participate in cynical “there are black people and then there are N-words” ideology from time to time—is what makes her the true heir to the legacy of Mama Mabel, who seemed like the woman everyone in Harlem ran to when they had any type of problem. Mariah’s power and her intelligence are what Shades is attracted to.

I’ll end this post on a small discussion of the Basquiat painting Mariah had hung in Cottonmouth’s former office. We saw in the beginning that Cottonmouth considered him the king in a hip-hop way; he wanted to run things like how Biggie rapped, hence the Biggie photo. Like some of gangster rap (maybe particularly Biggie’s brand of east coast rap), Cottonmouth is blunt, to the point, unpredictable, and hardcore. However, bluntness isn’t what’s going to keep Harlem under the Stokes iron grip.

Mariah, however, represents everything she and Shades could be together all in one picture. I’ll quote Reddit user Emerson73:

The painting however is a piece called “Red Kings” painted in 1981 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was a black artist that died to young and spent a good amount of his short time in association with Andy Warhol. This piece is understood as his personal proclamation or claim to the throne. The ‘king’ on the left being him as he placed the main letters of his name in the open parts of the face and the ‘king’ the right being [Picasso]. He saw himself as stepping up to be on [Picasso]’s level of greatness and a king in the art world. I think many people would agree that even in his short time he did step up to a very high level in the art world and maybe would have gone further if he hadn’t died younger.

I think this painting works great as a replacement of the Biggie photo. In the quick subtlety of it being hung up in the background the audience is left without question that we are supposed to perceive the ending of Maria and Shades’ arcs as stepping up to supplant Cottonmouth and Diamondback as royalty of the illegal trades in Harlem and surrounding areas. It is also another place of fitting in an important part of black history and cultural relevance into the show and even pushing Maria’s original sentiment of ‘keep Harlem black’ by supporting the continuation of black culture as important.

Maybe there could be several more things read into these topics and i’m sure their story doesn’t end here. Maybe one or both will die sooner than they planned just as Basquiat did. But the main thing for me is that an addition to the show like that makes me even more sure that this material is in the right hands at Marvel.

Related: ‘Luke Cage’ Baddies Shades and Mariah Are the Best MCU Villains | Inverse

In short, everything about #ShadyMariah is coming together nicely and maybe, just maybe, there won’t be an “Uncle Pete in the backyard” situation again. Since Shades seems like he’s completely into Mariah, we just might have our first Queen and Consort of Marvel Villainy. In that respect, Mariah doesn’t have to worry about ever becoming Mama Mabel.

The cherry on the evil sundae? #ShadyMariah actually has a theme written into Luke Cage! If you’ve got the soundtrack, it’s “Bad Love,” which plays right after Shades talks her through framing Luke for Cottonmouth’s murder in Episode 7 (listen immediately after Shades fixes Mariah’s hair for her).

What do you think about #ShadyMariah? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Looking for Love in Invisible Spaces: Meta & the Gap in LGBT Representation

(L-R) Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the Jan. 1, 2016 MASTERPIECE special Sherlock: The Abominable Bride. Courtesy of (C) BBC/Hartswood Films for MASTERPIECE

As featured in COLORBLOCK Magazine, February 2016

The patchiness of LGBT representation occurred due to several factors, such as cultural reticence, religious arguments, and entertainment companies worried about their bottom line domestically and internationally. The voids in representation have led to fans coming to their own rescue and creating alternate (and sometimes more accurate) readings of characters and their love lives.

The process of finding alternate interpretations of the characters not only provides fans who feel neglected by the entertainment world–such as LGBT fans and fans who are LGBT allies– the ability to participate in their favorite film or TV fandom, but also eases the anxiety created when an LGBT metatextual reading of a character, especially characters who already have a foothold in discussions surrounding LGBT media, doesn’t get the fair play it should in canonical tellings or retellings of a story. Basically, meta readings, and the subsequent fan creations that result from them, give fans the chance to tell the story from their point of view. They get to create a world that includes them in all of their complexity by allowing the canonical characters to have complexity not originally given to them by their original creators.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series of mysteries are two great examples of when the canonical and meta worlds collide.

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!
 

 

Canonically, Sherlock and John are friends, the most classic example of platonic love and partnership. However, the two characters have also been one of the many touchstones of LGBT media theory, especially where it concerns audience interpretation.

“Fans use these parallel worlds to explore what could have been or might be, especially as regards sexualities that have not found mainstream representation,” wrote Ashley O’Mara in her article, “Queering LGBT History: The Case of Sherlock Holmes Fanfic” for the site, Metathesis (metaistheblog.com). “There is no conclusive literary evidence that [Doyle] conceived of his Sherlock and John as ‘homosexual;’ their relationship presents as a romantic friendship although those were going out of fashion when he was writing. Likewise, despite queerbaiting, [BBC’s Sherlock co-writer Steven Moffat] insists that his Sherlock is not gay, let alone [asexual]. In [fanfiction] however, literally any interpretation goes.”

Those interpretations, which explore asexuality, aromanticism, bisexuality, and/or being gay, stem from said queerbaiting, which include suggestive moments in the BBC show, one of the biggest moments being during Irene Adler’s introduction in Series 2, Episode 1, in which Irene basically makes a case as to why John was actually falling in love with Sherlock without realizing it by comparing John to herself. Both John and Irene have considered themselves people who weren’t interested in men, yet, as Irene points out, both of them are very interested in Sherlock. There could also be a level of retroactive queerbating, as it were, happening within the original text itself; as O’Mara noted, Doyle was writing of romantic friendship when it was going out of style, with romantic same-sex friendship being replaced with a higher level of homophobia (at least among men; with women, romantic friendship and full blown same-sex romance was often overlooked by male society). The level of reticence around romantic friendships comes around the same time the term “homosexuality” was coined, which begs the question as to why Doyle would still consider writing Sherlock and John as a romantic friendships comes around the same time the term “homosexuality” was coined, which begs the question as to why Doyle would still consider writing Sherlock and John as a romantic friendship during such a societal change.

Meta readings have also occurred with many of today’s popular characters, such as characters in Marvel’s cinematic and TV universe. There are tons of  fan creations centering around the close relationship between Captain America and Bucky (aka the Winter Soldier), Captain America’s other close relationship with the Falcon, Iron Man and The Hulk’s friendship (as shown in the Avengers movies), and the friendship between Peggy Carter and waitress/aspiring actress Angie Martinelli in Agent Carter, just to name a few.

MARVEL'S AGENT CARTER - "A View in the Dark" - Peggy discovers her murder investigation has huge ramifications that can destroy her career, as well as everyone near and dear to her, on "Marvel's Agent Carter," TUESDAY, JANUARY 19 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal) HAYLEY ATWELL
MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER – “A View in the Dark” – Peggy discovers her murder investigation has huge ramifications that can destroy her career, as well as everyone near and dear to her, on “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” TUESDAY, JANUARY 19 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal)
HAYLEY ATWELL

Despite canon interpretations falling short of fandom expectation, it’s beginning to be par for the course for actors who are affiliated with the fandom to speak out on behalf of their fans’ want for more inclusive entertainment. For instance, to address the Peggy/Angie fans, Peggy herself, Hayley Atwell, told fans at last year’s Fan Expo Canada what Peggy and Angie’s relationship meant to her. “The thing that stands out for me about Peggy and Angie is it’s seldom that you see on television friendship between two women that isn’t founded on the interest of a man,” she said. “There’s a genuine affection that they have for each other; whether or not you want to project the idea that it’s romantic or sexual is entirely up to you and how you want to view it. I think there’s a mutual respect that’s quite rare that I want to see more of in film and stories.”

As you’ll read in the next article (about the meta pairing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens characters Finn and Poe Dameron), Captain America co-director Joe Russo also states that he welcomes all interpretations of Bucky and Cap’s relationship. Also worth noting about the Star Wars pairing is that John Boyega recently confirmed to ShortList writer Chris Mandle that while the Poe/Finn pairing isn’t canonical, it was definitely something that existed in the mind of Oscar Isaac, who played Poe in the film.

With more and more actors co-signing fandom imagination, the day when there will be a mainstream LGBT couple in genre films and television could be coming soon. Maybe not soon enough, to be honest, but still sooner than originally thought possible.

Related articles/sources:

The Breakout Fandom Couple of 2015: Stormpilot (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) (JUST ADD COLOR)

History of Homosexuality-19th Century (Wikipedia)

Meta Masterlist (http://loudest-subtext-in-television.tumblr.com/)

Meta: The Case of John Watson’s Sexuality (sherlockforum.com)

Hayley Atwell Discusses Agent Carter Season Two: Workplace Obstacles, Relationships, and “Cartinelli” (The Mary Sue)

Fan Expo 15: Atwell Declassifies “Agent Carter” Season 2 And Chris Evans’ Abs (Comic Book Resources)

The Breakout Fandom Couple of 2015: Stormpilot (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has indeed awakened the slumbering mass that is the Star Wars fandom, which has been waiting for the franchise’s return to greatness. The film, starring and John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac (as well as the members of the original cast), has already reached $1.23B at the time of this article, and surely, the film will reach even greater heights the longer it stays in the theaters. (This is also not taking into account the millions or billions of dollars spent on The Force Awakens merchandise.)

While the film is being touted as a tour-de-force of nostalgia and a refreshed look at a “galaxy far, far away,” the film has also been an achievement in diversity due to having well-rounded and powerful female characters (with the exception of Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, who—while cool—will hopefully be fleshed out in upcoming films) and two leads of color, Boyega and Isaac, who open the film. (The fact that their faces are the first faces we see in the movie immediately cemented the film as a break away from Hollywood’s normal modus operandi.) Boyega and Isaac’s characters, disillusioned ex-Stormtrooper Finn and Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron, have also acted as ambassadors to another type of diversity not usually found in films; characters who might not only be on the LGBT spectrum, but might also be in a same-sex relationship.

The fandom who propose Finn and Poe’s relationship (named “Stormpilot” or “FinnPoe”) to the masses provide several clues as to why they thing Stormpilot is possible. First, Poe gave Finn his name; instead of continuing to call Finn “FN-2187” during their escape from Stormkiller Base, Poe immediately decides to call him Finn, thus giving Finn a new identity and a new lease on life. Second, Finn keeps Poe’s jacket when, after the crash-land on Jakku, Finn assumes Poe’s died in the crash. Third, Finn completes Poe’s mission to get BB-8’s message to the resistance base. Fourth, Finn and Poe passionately embrace after realizing the other is alive and kicking after all.

All bets are off when Poe lets Finn keep his jacket, saying “It suits you.” Poe, biting his own lip before speaking, then says with bedroom eyes, “You’re a good man, Finn.” The playful punch to Finn’s shoulder simply looks like a feeble attempt to cover up what could be construed as obvious flirting. Finn’s focused stare back (as well as another focused stare he gives Poe after Poe slaps his shoulder again in a pseudo-camaraderie fashion before taking to the skies in his X-Wing) seems to suggest that Finn can feel something brewing between them as well.

The clues start coming together after Isaac revealed, albeit with a little dry humor thrown in, that he was, in fact, playing up a romantic angle with his character. John Boyega seems to concur.

Normally, fandom character pairings, or “ships” (short for “relationships”) don’t make headline news. But Stormpilot not only lit up fan spaces like Tumblr and Twitter, but also mainstream sites like E! Online, Buzzfeed, Hypable, Vanity Fair, USA Today, Metro, Pink News, Comic Book Resources, The Mary Sue, Bleeding Cool, MoviePilot and certainly many more.

Star Wars fan Stephanie wrote one of the many pieces on Stormpilot for The Geekiary. The post, called “Everyone is Talking About Our ‘Star Wars’ Slash Ship'” (with “slash” fandom slang for same-sex pairings) focuses on Stephanie’s cautious optimism when it comes to how those outside of the fandom ship world will accept Stormpilot’s existence. “The best thing about mainstream coverage…is that it normalizes queer romances,” she wrote in her article. “…When all these outlets are reporting on our fan activities as something worth noting, it sends a powerful message to studios that there’s an audience out there that wants these narratives.” However, Stephanie notes in her article, the usage of some outlets using the term “bromance” when describing a ship that much more than just friendship can be problematic and awkward. “The main issue with mainstream media’s coverage of slash shipping is that, since we’re so obscure and don’t often leave our isolated communities, they don’t quite know how to talk about it,” she wrote. “Even worse, this can be an indicator that mainstream press just doesn’t know how to talk about queer romance in general, even in regard to non-fandom inspired pairings.”

Stephanie stated in an email interview about her feelings behind her article. “I wrote my article because I was feeling so heavily conflicted about the fact that this ship was getting such a large amount of mainstream coverage so quickly. On the one hand, I’m elated that a slash ship is getting generally positive coverage. It helps legitimize LGBTQ+ relationships in general, and makes it possible for more visibility going forward. On the other hand, we don’t exactly have the best track record with mainstream press understanding fandom culture. It often feels like we are being gawked at, made fun of, or just outright misrepresented,” she wrote. “I’m really grateful that, so far, we haven’t had any coverage that’s treated us poorly. With any luck, we won’t and all of my worrying will be for naught. We definitely need to lose the term ‘bromance,’ though. Please. Romance is romance and we don’t need to ‘bro’ it up to soften it. But that’s been my only issue so far and it’s relatively small compared to what’s been done to us in the past.”

Stephanie didn’t immediately latch onto Stormpilot after her first viewing of The Force Awakens, but now sees the developing relationship as playing on classic romantic beats. “Unlike a lot of my friends, I didn’t walk out of the theater shipping them right away. I did, however, come out of the film immediately drawn to Poe Dameron. When I got home and discussed it with friends I was introduced to the idea of shipping him with Finn within 24 hours of my first viewing and it didn’t take me very long to get on board with that idea completely,” she wrote. “There are a lot of romantic tropes that code them as being in the early stages of a romance such as clothing sharing, nicknames (or in Finn’s case, a name that isn’t a Stormtrooper number), and even that long dramatic run into each others arms when they realize the other isn’t dead. I’ve seen the film two additional times since my first viewing with my slash goggles on and everything just falls perfectly into place.”

Stephanie attributes Star Wars large fanbase for the reason Stormpilot became the phenomenon it is.  “I think a lot of what has drawn people to Stormpilot is what draws people to slash pairings in general, but on a much larger scale since the Star Wars fandom is so huge. Many LGBTQ+ people like myself enjoy queer pairings because we just don’t get them that often in mainstream media. It feels good to see characters that reflect our own sexuality off on adventures,” she wrote. “Many heterosexual women are drawn to slash ships either because they like the idea of two men together in general, or because these specific characters in this specific story happens to speak to them regardless of gender. The interesting thing is that I’ve seen many straight men also shipping Stormpilot, which seems to be rare in a lot of my other slash pairings (though not unheard of). There might be more visibility here because of how huge the fandom is. Or maybe straight men are just getting comfortable enough to admit that these guys are kind of perfect for each other. I’m not sure why there’s a higher visibility of heterosexual men shipping Finn and Poe, but it’s definitely unique.”

Geek Girl Diva, another Star Wars fan onboard with Stormpilot, wrote a similar response in an email interview to the fandom’s love for the pairing. “I think people connect with both the characters and how they are with each other. Poe and Finn already have a friendship that’s romantic in a sense,” she wrote. “They fell into immediate like with one another. You get the sense that both Boyega & Isaac would be totally down with playing gay characters and Isaac has a very open faced admiration. I think people connect to the deep liking these two have for one another, and it’s not a stretch to take it to the next level.”

Geek Girl Diva was immediately a part of the Stormpilot fanbase thanks to the ever-present chronicler of fandom things, Tumblr. “It was all Tumblr, bless its shipping heart,” she wrote. “Once I saw the meme, I fell in love with the ‘ship.”

The fact that so many people, men and women alike, have latched onto Stormpilot could have implications for how Disney and the Star Wars movie team goes forward, right? Or could stuff stay at the status quo? With so many billions at stake, and with such a wide intersection of people in the Star Wars fandom (some of whom aren’t as open towards LGBT representation), it’s difficult to say if Disney and Lucasfilm will take the promise of diversity to the next level.

“I think [the mainstream press is] great, wrote Geek Girl Diva, adding, “As much as I love the ship (and I love it like a house on fire), I don’t think Stormpilot is in the cards on the big screen. But I do think Poe could very well be gay and he’d be a perfect way to bring an LGBT character into the Star Wars Universe.”

LONDON, UK - DECEMBER 16: Actors John Boyega and Oscar Isaac attend the European Premiere of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens in London on December 16, 2015.
LONDON, UK – DECEMBER 16: Actors John Boyega and Oscar Isaac attend the European Premiere of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens in London on December 16, 2015.

There has been a Change.org petition asking Lucasfilm’s president Kathleen Kennedy to include LGBT characters in the new Star Wars films. When it comes to whether the petition could cause a rush of LGBT characters to enter the Star Wars film franchise is difficult to say. But both Stephanie and Geek Girl Diva point out that LGBT characters are already a part of the franchise, if just in books and games.

“Lucasfilm has already made the jump into showing LGBT characters, first in [Star Wars: The Old Republic] and then in a couple of the new canon books (Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath & Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars),” wrote Geek Girl Diva. “I don’t know 100% that Poe isn’t already the lead into an LGBT presence in the films. I think he might be, but it’s a guess and nothing more. That said, I do think that the Stormpilot love could make it easier for [Lucasfilm] to flip that switch. But I’m not in a position to make a decision on that.”

“Thanks to Chuck Wendig, there are LGBTQ+ characters in the novels, but we are still lacking big screen representation. I have a feeling that if they were planning for Poe and Finn to be in an onscreen romance, that’s already been decided and a petition wouldn’t sway that,” wrote Stephanie. “However, something like Poe’s sexuality may still be negotiable and we could have an affect on that. Poe’s sexuality hasn’t been touched on and Oscar Isaac has been incredibly supportive in interviews. He’s treated the idea of two men in a romantic relationship with respect and even said he’d go for a rainbow colored lightsaber. This could all be joking, of course, but I get a strong vibe from him that he’s supportive of our community. It’s hard to explain why, exactly, but these tidbits from his interviews don’t feel like they [Lucasfilm] are ‘making fun’ of us at all.”

“Finn’s sexuality may be more difficult to sway. Unfortunately we operate in a ‘straight until proven otherwise’ mindset with the majority of mainstream media, and the idea of bisexuality seems particularly difficult for a lot of writers to grasp,” Stephanie added. “With Finn expressing even a moderate interest in Rey, this could be the writers coding him as heterosexual. But hey, it’s possible that the people who are writing the next couple of scripts could have a good grasp on the idea that you can be attracted to more than one gender at a time and we may get bisexual Finn after all.”

Some news that’s made the social media rounds is that Captain Phasma will have an extended role in future films due to fan support. With the amount of fan support Stormpilot has, it’s in the realm of possibility that Disney and Lucasfilm could think twice about the extent of Poe and Finn’s relationship. But again, it’s tough to say since there’s so much money and investment on the line.

“It’s possible. Adding a few extra interactions without rewriting an entire script isn’t too huge, but if the characters are written, say, on completely different planets for most of the film it may be hard,” wrote Stephanie when asked if she thought there was a possibility for Disney and Lucasfilm to make fanon canon. “But if we don’t cause enough enthusiasm for Episode VIII, there’s always Episode IX. This is a trilogy and I’m sticking with Stormpilot for the long haul. Just have to keep my fingers crossed that neither of them die in the next film. That’s pretty much the only thing that’d put a nail in the coffin for future interaction.”

Geek Girl Diva differs slightly on the issue. “On [Phasma returning to the series], I think that was a bit different. Phasma caught fire for a few reasons and it’s a lot easier to beef up her story than it is to add in a relationship between two lead characters,” she wrote. “In the end, I think that’s entirely up to [Episode VIII director and Episode IX writer/director] Rian Johnson and the [Lucasfilm] Story Group. It all depends on what the arc is for the trio in the larger story. I don’t think Disney & [Lucasfilm] will shy away from any interaction, but I don’t think they’ll play it up just for fans. I think, in the end, the filmmakers will do what they feel is the best fit for the trilogy and the story.”

“If I have a personal hope, it’s not for Stormpilot (even though I love the ship),” Geek Girl Diva added. “In a perfect world, where we get diversity of all kinds, we get a female lead, a hetero interracial couple and a gay character (maybe in a relationship with a male alien? Let’s think big!), all of whom are great friends and join together to defeat the Darkness. I can work with that just fine.”

If Poe and Finn do become canon, what will Disney do about LGBT representation for women? Of course, the franchise will add characters to subsequent films, but if fans want someone from the main Big Three characters, there seems to be a lot of support for Rey being asexual and/or aromantic. Much of the support for Rey as being along the LGBT spectrum seems to stem from the fact that even though there’s ample time (and many open invitations from Finn) for Rey to take their friendship to the next level, Rey seems to be more enamored with the idea of what Finn leads her to think he is; she’s more fascinated by the idea of him being a part of the Resistance and belonging to something great rather than him being an available guy. Also, she’s more concerned with the mission at hand, getting BB-8 back to the base, rather than hooking up. The final scenes find Rey not cementing a romance with Finn, but with her kissing his forehead while he’s in a comatose state, a goodbye before she heads to the island Luke Skywalker is hiding on in the hopes of being trained by him. Her new mission is to focus on her handling of the Force, not being someone’s girlfriend.

The call for making Rey along the LGBT spectrum would naturally add to the film franchise’ commitment to diversity, but there’s also a smaller contingent of the fandom who want Rey to be lesbian, bi, or asexual/aromantic simply at the expense of removing her characterization and forcing her into the box of a spectator or as a voyeuristic avatar for the fan him/herself. Several fans on Tumblr seem to imply that they want Rey to be asexual and aromantic not for reasons concerning diversity, but just so she won’t interfere with Poe and Finn’s possible relationship. Asexuality and aromantic individuals deserve to be showcased on the big and small screens, which is what happened on USA’s Sirens, which featured asexual paramedic Valentina aka “Voodoo”, who dated non-asexual fellow paramedic Brian. But asexuality and aromanticism—two orientations that don’t describe a lack of a person’s desire for basic human affection, but just the levels to which a person might desire affection—shouldn’t be used as a way to box a character in at the expense of two other characters’ possible romantic relationship.

Such fear of Rey being a wedge between Poe and Finn should be left by the wayside, since directors are beginning to, at the very least, not write fans off for their non-canonical opinions. One example is Captain America co-director Joe Russo stating in an interview (via Vanity Fair) that while he has always personally viewed Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes’ relationship as brotherly, he doesn’t begrudge or limit anyone else from their own points of view. “People can interpret the relationship however they want to interpret it…People have interpreted that relationship all kinds of ways, and it’s great to see people argue about…what that relationship means to them,” he said. “We will never define it as filmmakers, explicitly, but however people want to interpret it they can interpret it.”

This movement towards fan inclusivity, as well as actors like Isaac suggesting he was playing at romance with another male character, means a lot when it comes to the struggle to get proper LGBT representation. But, as the Vanity Fair article linked above points out, the road towards true inclusivity might be even longer than fans are prepared for. However, something can be said for progress happening in leaps and bounds after years of stuttering steps. Take a look at marriage equality; it has taken over a decade to get marriage equality in a majority of the states, and then, one day, marriage equality was nationwide with the swift smack of the Supreme Court’s gavel. So who knows as to what kind of romantic future Finn and Poe (or Rey) have. While we could be going to the theaters in 2017 with Finn in a relationship with a girl, we could find Finn and Poe in same-sex relationships (if not with each other) and Rey exploring the universe of sexual identity while she hones her Jedi skills. The ball is in Disney and Lucasfilm’s court; let’s see what play they make.

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