With John Boyega telling ShortList his character and Oscar Isaac's aren't more than just friends, Chris Mandle explains why it's not necessarily a bad thing
Nobody likes to start their year off being the bearer of bad news. Ruining people’s lives. Breaking hundreds of hearts in one fell swoop. But that’s exactly what I ended up doing a mere six days into 2016, before I’d even had a chance to break a New Year’s Resolution.
Some context: this week Shortlist spoke to John Boyega after the 23-year-old actor was announced as a nominee for the BAFTA EE Rising Star Award for his work in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was a film that came out towards the end of the year. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
One topic I was desperate to raise – aside from what on earth he did to poor Captain Phasma – concerned his burgeoning bromance with Oscar Isaac’s dashing pilot Poe Dameron.
Since the release of the film, the internet had been abuzz with chatter about the possibility that the two characters are developing more than just a friendship.
There’s not a lot suggesting this is actually a reality – the odd glance here, a suggestive lip-bite there -- but there’s enough, and ‘enough’ is enough for some fans. Think-pieces have praised Disney for putting a woman and a 'black stormtrooper' at the front and center of The Force Awakens (especially as - SPOILER ALERT - it’s Rey, not Finn, who ends up being the Force-sensitive hero). So is a gay romance that much of a stretch?
I thought I’d ask Boyega:
Shortlist: Have you heard the fan speculation that Finn and Poe's relationship is more than just a bromance? What do you think about that?
John: Yeah, I've seen that! It's so not true. Oscar [Isaac] wishes it was though, it's all in his head. It's a brotherly love, a bromance, that's for sure.
So there you go. I hadn’t heard anyone else ask him that yet but assumed he’d be swamped with questions about the intergalactic Brokeback Mountain vibes of The Force Awakens. What I didn’t expect was a deluge of devastated fans tweeting me that I had ruined their lives.
It’s worth remembering that Boyega shutting down any notion of a romantic pairing doesn’t necessarily make the new Star Wars films any less LGBT-friendly: there’s still the ‘unrequited love’ angle from Isaac that doesn’t require Finn’s involvement, but sadly it’s going to be a long wait before we know much more about Finn and Poe’s future.
Personally, I’m in two minds about what kind of representation I want versus what kind of representation I can expect on the big screen. Having gay characters in Star Wars would be pretty cool, because people look up to them. They’re heroes, they’re immortalised in LEGO, they’re cool. It’s basically the same logic people apply with LGBT athletes: they do amazing things broadcast all around the world, and if they can make younger, conflicted gay kids feel less shitty about themselves then it’s a huge victory.
But is Star Wars the right franchise for an intergalactic gay love story? I’m not sure. It’s not as if the prequels – and Annakin and Padme’s clunky, toe-curling doomed romance – made the heterosexual love stories in Episodes II and III easy to stomach. And if you can’t make that work, what hope have you got depicting a same-sex relationship, something that requires a bit of nuance and complexity?
The other logic behind the Finn/Poe stuff follows what’s known as queerbaiting – in other words, stringing your gay fans along by pandering to them on a pretty basic level.
The idea goes that filmmakers can add subtle homoerotic tension between characters - knowing fine well that audiences will look way, way into it – without having to commit to anything long term. And it’s pretty common.
JK Rowling saying Dumbledore was gay is great, but it’s totally risk free, and would have been more powerful a reveal during the course of the books, rather than something she can retcon once all the books have come out and made her a heap of money.
And straight pop stars from Mark Wahlberg (aka Marky Mark), Justin Bieber and Nick Jonas are taught to aggressively market themselves to gay fans – so much so that the latter made regular appearances at a New York drag night and regularly flashed his arse.
Whether Poe Dameron becomes an LGBT hero or just another example of clever marketing, he’s already making history. John Boyega’s response may be disheartening, but a lot can change before May 2017.
The full interview with John Boyega will be published in Shortlist on 21 January. To vote for him and the other nominees of the BAFTA EE Rising Star Award, head here