The Great Queerbait Debate: FinnPoe Edition
Oscar Isaac wishes FinnPoe was canon, and so do I. At least we know ahead of time going into Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that we aren’t getting it, but have we been queerbaited?
In an interview with Variety, Oscar Isaac told us that he wishes FinnPoe (which is a ship name for the romantic relationship between Finn and Poe Dameron) had ended up being canon, but people were too afraid to make it happen:
Personally, I kind of hoped and wished that maybe that would’ve been taken further in the other films, but I don’t have control. It seemed like a natural progression, but sadly enough it’s a time when people are too afraid, I think, of… I don’t know what. […] But if they would’ve been boyfriends, that would have been fun.
When an early trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker came out earlier this year, I was singing the praises of FinnPoe, but even then I was cautious about getting my hopes up too high. I’ve been baited too many times. I didn’t want to start to believe that we’d get representation on screen in a major franchise like this now. I will keep pushing for it when I see potential, but I’ve been let down so many times that I’ve grown numb to the disappointment.
But the conversation feels different this time. We have support from the actors who play these characters, and they seem to have been wanting it just as badly as we do. It’s strange to be going through this type of disappointment right there along side the actors, but it’s oddly comforting that at the very least we’re all experiencing this together.
Why isn’t FinnPoe happening?
Like Oscar Isaac, I think they are afraid to put a canon queer relationship in a major film franchise.
Major studios are often highly concerned about how their properties will be received in certain international markets, especially (though not exclusively) the Chinese market. When looking at the recent Blizzard issue with China, it’s really obvious that companies will bend over backwards to please them and have access to enormous amount of income that comes with being able to sell their product in China. Corporations will happily bypass doing the right thing in order to get their product in front of potentially over a billion people.
The film industry in particular has a tendency to acquiesce to China’s censorship demands. China only allows 34 foreign films into the country per year, so if one thing about your film rubs them the wrong way, you’re locked out of a huge market (see: Brad Pitt being banned from China for years because of Seven Years In Tibet).
And, sadly, China doesn’t have a great reputation for treating their LGBTQ+ community with much respect in the first place. Public opinion is shifting, but full equality and acknowledgement has not quite been achieved in the country as of yet.
This combination of factors means that major franchises will steer clear of the topic in any significant way, perhaps throwing a bone in with a side character in the hopes it’s minor enough to get through (see: the LGBTQ+ rep in Avengers: Endgame). Putting Poe and Finn in a relationship may have been dinged by the censors and the last installment in this trilogy could have been locked out of the country.
China and other fickle foreign markets aren’t entirely to blame for this, however. I’d be completely remiss if I were to blame this lack of representation entirely on censorship abroad when we have our own share of problems right here in the country where these films are largely produced. The fear could very well have to do with the atmosphere here on the home front, too, and that factor in this whole ordeal shouldn’t be dismissed.
There is a section of angry fanboys who decry anything ‘SJW’ (which basically means anything starring someone other than a straight cis white man) as ‘forced’ and ‘unnecessary.’ While their loss isn’t nearly as significant as missing out on a market of over a billion people, it can still be a thorn in their side if this base decides to kick up a fuss. Let’s not forget when they decided to review bomb Captain Marvel. Ultimately Captain Marvel did well, earning over a billion dollars internationally, but it was still an obnoxious thing to deal with.
While I don’t think Disney would cave into the demands of a whiny subsection of fandom, I can certainly see how they’d still want to avoid the headaches caused by Trump-era alt-right pop culture activism. I’ve deleted tweets out of fear of this exact kind of push back over fairly innocuous things, and I’m a nobody. Disney having to deal with any sort of public backlash from this annoying little group of ‘fans’ will have significantly more people taking notice.
Because corporations want to have their cake and eat it, too, they revert to the time honored tradition of queerbaiting. That means they imply that there is a queer relationship between two characters and give the audience hope that it might happen, but ultimately have no intention of following through on it. That way they get can get access to the lucrative overseas markets that might not want queer content in the films they let into their country, they avoid kicking up a fuss with the local alt-right trolls, but they also get to string along a fanbase that’ll take any scraps they are given because it’s ‘better than nothing.’
This is the very definition of queerbaiting.
Some people – like, say, the aforementioned alt-right trolls – may try to make excuses for the lack of a canonical relationship between the characters. They may say it ‘doesn’t make sense to the plot’ or that we are just making up a chemistry that isn’t actually there. But John Boyega, like Oscar Isaac, saw the potential for something more:
They’ve always had a quite loving and open relationship in which it wouldn’t be too weird if it went beyond it.
Boyega and Isaac played these characters, so if there’s a chemistry there and they saw a potential, that carries way more weight than angry fanboys.
Likewise, director JJ Abrams believes their relationship was incredibly deep, though he does add the caveat that it’s somehow ‘deeper’ than romance.
That relationship to me is a far deeper one than a romantic one. It is a deep bond that these two have, not just because of the trial by fire in which they met, but also because of their willingness to be as intimate as they are, as afraid as they, as unsure as they are, and still be bold, and still be daring and brave.
So no. It absolutely does make sense. The connection was there. The actors were rooting for it and thought it made sense. And even the director sees the bond that so many of us see. So this argument is moot. These excuses can be dismissed at this point because that’s not what was holding it back.
It’s fear. Plain and simple.
But fear by who? The writers? The studios? Some nameless exec? I honestly don’t know. But I’m confident that Oscar Isaac hit the nail on the head with his guess about what prevented it from happening.
Were we queerbaited?
Regardless of who is at fault for this story line not being explored, it eventually comes down to one question: were we queerbaited? Was this an intentional play to give us hope that a queer romance could make it on screen or were they just having a bit of fun with shippers? It’s a valid question given the context surrounding this ship.
About a month ago I asked my Twitter followers about the extent of queerbaiting, and what is and isn’t categorized as such. I was particularly curious on the difference between actors and creators teasing at this content and what was just playful fun or potentially detrimental queerbaiting of an already marginalized fanbase.
The general consensus is that it’s complicated. Whether or not something is categorized as ‘queerbaiting’ largely depends on who is doing it and how it’s done. There’s no straight answer without taking in the full context of the situation.
Honestly at this point I’m so tired of creators/actors encouraging queer ships and then getting everyone’s hopes up for the release of the next installment only to go “lol jk” afterwards (FinnPoe is a great example of this)
— Deviation’s Deviant Dividends (@DeviationsWords) October 28, 2019
I feel like it’s fun to a point, but I would like it if the crew keep it restrained or at least outright say “it’s not going to happen in the show, but we love the idea” when they play along
— morse (@MorseCodexx) October 28, 2019
Censorship issues (especially if the studio is banking on the movie being popular in another country). I actually ended up creating a term for this called queerblocking. Hope this helps!
— Spiro🎄 (@zombie_spiro) October 28, 2019
Honesty seems to be a key here. If the creators are honest that it’s not going to happen, people don’t feel baited. In this case, they got dangerously close to letting people believe it could happen, but they’ve managed to state firmly before the release of the film and confirm that FinnPoe is not going to happen. They may have dodged the worst queerbaiting accusations that would come up later if we all went in thinking there was even a shred of hope for this.
There has been a feeling of being teased for the past four years, however, so a quick ‘it’s not going to happen’ just 16 days before the film is released may be a bit late for some. It’s possible that if they’d said something earlier they’d either been accused of talking about spoilers or something. Or they may have been subjected to mass petitioning (and let’s be real, I’d have been part of that latter effort) to convince them to change their minds about it before production was complete.
There’s just no good time to do this, but I think most of us can agree that stating it firmly beforehand is better than letting us all get our hopes up.
There’s also the fact that a lot of the fun around this came from Oscar Isaac and John Boyega instead of the creators. Based on a lot of the feedback I received, this is less inclined to be categorized as queerbaiting as it’s generally acknowledged that the actors don’t have control over the story. John Boyega’s recent love letter to Oscar Isaac was a great example of them leaning into the ship in a playful manner.
My brother Oscar never responds to his texts so one must write him a letter ! pic.twitter.com/lHoAPKx4oU
— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) November 30, 2019
But when someone used this to hint that there could be a possibility of canon FinnPoe, Boyega stepped in to shut it down.
Remember this is a letter to Oscar! Lol like the real life person 😂 the married one with kids loooool!
— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) November 30, 2019
So is this queerbaiting? It depends on where you personally draw the line. There’s no easy answer here. Thinking it is or it is not are both valid ways to read the situation and I’m not going to argue that either opinion is wrong here.
Where do we go from here?
We may have ultimately lost the battle with FinnPoe, but we haven’t lost the war for representation overall. Some day a major franchise like Star Wars or the MCU will have a lead LGBTQ+ character. We may even get it as early as Thor: Love and Thunder with Valkyrie, depending on how core she is to the story and if they choose to reveal that part of her onscreen. And we already got incredibly close with Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool, if you consider her a co-lead alongside Deadpool. In fact, many might say this counted as the first LGBTQ+ lead in a franchise already, and I won’t argue against that even though my personal definition of a ‘main character’ is a bit more stringent.
Progress has been made over the years already and it wouldn’t have happened if people didn’t start speaking up. So keep pushing. Just keep asking for this despite all the let downs that keep happening over and over again to our community. Our voices matter and we are being heard, even if we haven’t gotten the results we want quite yet. We certainly won’t get them if we give up now.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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