“How can you not be pansexual in space?” Donald Glover asked during a radio appearance this week. The actor’s remarks followed an earlier pronouncement from Jonathan Kasdan, a co-writer of Solo: A Star Wars Story, that Glover’s character in the film, Lando Calrissian, is pansexual. Kasdan—who, to be fair, was prompted by a HuffPost reporter—had claimed “there’s a fluidity to Donald and Billy Dee’s [portrayal of Lando’s] sexuality,” referring to the performances given by Glover and Billy Dee Williams, who played the character in the original trilogy. Kasdan added, “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.” With that, HuffPost declared that the writer had “confirmed” that Lando is pansexual.
Ah, this again. Watching Solo, which many millions will this weekend, might have you squinting to see the pansexuality, much less the fluidity. What are the signals? Is it Lando’s colorful capes? His sex mustache? The part during an alien poker game when Lando first meets Han Solo, eyes him mischievously, and calls him “adorable”? Is it the jokes about how he may be in love with his (female-voiced) android? Is it because he installed a wet bar on the Millennium Falcon? I may be wrong, but this feels inconclusive. In the later interview, Glover went on, “Yeah, he’s coming on to everybody. I mean, yeah, whatever.” The full quote is no less unfortunate:
There’s so many things to have sex with. I mean, serious. I didn’t think that was that weird. Yeah, he’s coming on to everybody. I mean, yeah, whatever. He’s like having like a ’70s swing—yeah. It just didn’t seem that weird to me, ’cause I feel like if you’re in space it’s kind of like, the door is open! It’s not like “No, only guys or girls.” No, it’s anything. This thing is literally a blob. Are you a man or a woman? Like, who cares? Have a good time out here.
Neither Kasdan nor Glover can “confirm” Lando’s pansexuality, of course. The only thing that can confirm that is Solo itself, and the movie’s depiction of Lando’s sexuality is decidedly unrevealing. Pansexuals are people with the potential to be attracted to other people regardless of gender or sex; it’s seen by some as a more inclusive term for “bisexual,” though there’s plenty of infighting about that if you’re so inclined. Either way, the orientation does not, usually, cover robots or “blobs,” despite Glover’s vision of the intergalactic sexual wilderness.
(Glover also reduces sexuality to “having a good time,” but let’s not go there.) Though undoubtedly sincere, Kasdan’s wish to include a “more explicitly LGBT character” joins a long and tiresome history of writers and directors who profess a desire for inclusion but an inability or unwillingness to confront the forces that prevent it. Does Kasdan have the power to do this? Probably not. Should he then be so quick to declare a character part of a sexual minority when his movie is too busy or profit-driven or etc. to have that character actually be part of the sexual minority? He should not.
If this sounds familiar, last week (!) offered another lesson in how to handle this question in the most gutless way possible. Deadpool 2 revives everyone’s favorite would-be pansexual superhero with Wade Wilson, who, in the sequel, continues his overheated banter with male co-stars and jocular winks at in-the-know viewers while not doing anything especially non-normative. There are the usual weird jokes: Wade, eye level with a naked man’s crotch, asks, “Scoutmaster Kevin?,” and later he comments on another man’s “secret sex lips.” There’s also a feature-length, sometimes physical flirtation between Deadpool and X-Man Colossus, who looks like a bionic Tom of Finland character. This culminates in a joke in which Wade’s traditional, female lover instructs him not to bone his big silver crush. Ha! Oh, and he also wants to name his kid Cher.
When the first Deadpool arrived, its creators congratulated themselves on how much of the character’s comic-canonical sexuality they slipped into the movie, despite tucking it away deep in one-liners and references that could easily be dismissed as jokes. In the sequel, they’ve shoehorned in an out lesbian couple and even a fairly intense subplot involving a kind of mutant “conversion therapy” (though the latter is far from a new element in the X-Men adaptations), but their hero’s sexual liberation again reads as another half-baked quirk of his profane, fourth wall–breaking bravado. The movie—on this matter and in general—is another impotent shrug where it could have easily pressed the actual buttons it is ostensibly so desperate to engage.
We arrive at this juncture once again as audiences—and, presumably, filmmakers and their corporate benefactors—have become more attuned to the transformative power of representation in major blockbusters. Black Panther and Wonder Woman are international phenomena and among this and last year’s top financial performers. To anyone who doesn’t understand why this matters so much to particular audiences—including, it seems, most readers who comment and write to me when I publish on this issue—those movies and their reception should be a profound statement. It should certainly inform how the people who star in and make these movies talk about what their films actually depict. In the case of Glover’s Solo: A Star Wars Story comments, “pansexual” seems to have taken on exotic, theoretical life as a future (or a time long ago) without physical or sexual boundaries; this is not an LBGTQ orientation that already describes actual people. Not incidentally, those are the same people whose stories these blockbusters are still too afraid, or too indifferent, to tell.