Queer representation establishes creators as progressive and open-minded artists. Such creators are praised for including minority characters.
But the relationship between creators and communities has grown complicated over time. Where representation of any group other than the norm was once shocking, now it’s more common. So representing groups wrong has severe social consequences.
One of the more egregious forms of bad representation has taken hold of many popular franchises. Harry Potter, Star Wars, and even Disney movies have gotten in on the trend.
And to make it clear, telling the audience a character is one thing while not doing the work behind explicitly stating so in the text is not representation. It’s lazy pandering.
Recently, one of the most well-known examples of retroactive queer representation was thrown back into the limelight. Albus Dumbledore, beloved headmaster of the famed Harry Potter series, makes an appearance in J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Despite Rowling’s past claims of his queerness and the excitement this newer film provoked, Dumbledore is still not explicitly gay.
In spite of Rowling’s retroactive claims about the character in 2007, Dumbledore’s sexuality was never specifically portrayed in either the books or the movie adaptations. Rowling wrote the screenplay for the newest “Fantastic Beasts” installment, but she still did not bother to explicitly write in Dumbledore’s homosexuality. Understandably, fans are only getting more frustrated.
Rowling is not the only one engaging in this sort of attention seeking, either. A writer on “Solo: A Star Wars Story” confirmed to the Huffington Post that Lando Calrissian, played by Donald Glover, identifies as pansexual. However, there was a massive backlash when fans discovered his sexuality was all subtext. The writer wanted to brown nose queer audiences without actually representing queer people.
Wow I can't believe *shuffles deck, pulls card* Lando Calrissian is *shuffles and pulls card from different deck* pansexual!— Gana @ SC (@Ganahim) May 17, 2018
Please point out where it matters. This isn’t good representation, it’s so fake and disingenuous. Folks should be insulted tbh— Ozymandias, King of Kings (@MiguelAGRoman) May 18, 2018
A similar backlash happened the year prior, when Bill Condon, director of the 2017 remake of “Beauty and the Beast” confirmed that LeFou would be the first openly gay character in Disney canon. Fans were once again ecstatic to have open representation, only to be met a bullied character with subtextual queerness.
Even with the backlash, creators continue to engage in this kind of faux representation and expect credit for being innovative. You can’t rewrite source material to make it more inclusive, and you can’t retroactively add representation that was never there in the first place.
Real representation in media is not done for points or to convey to the audience a progressive agenda. When an author tells the audience that a character is LGBTQ or a person of color or a person with a disability without doing the work of representation in the text, the author is disrespecting the group they set out to appeal to.