Here’s why the ‘Dune’ movies don’t have any queer characters

Dune: Part Two is one of the year’s biggest hits. The smash hit sci-fi sequel from director Denis Villeneuve stars Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, and Austin Butler in an epic political drama in space — so, yeah, the movie’s basically got it all. One thing it is missing, though, is any queer representation among its characters, as one user called out on social media.

In response to a comedic post claiming that Joker 2 Todd Phillips said that the Joker is bisexual, user @bayeuxtravesty wrote, “Villeneuve should take notes. I don’t know why we’re two films into DUNE and I still have no idea if LGBTQ people even exist in that universe.”

It seems like a fair observation, but Dune fans were quick to swoop in and provide a lesson in literature.

“You’re not going to like the answer,” reads a viral response. It’s alluding to a not-so-fun fact about the films’ source material, the original Dune book series by Frank Herbert. The books actually did feature a queer character, but he was far from stellar representation.

The series’ most infamous antagonist, Baron Harkonnen (played in the new movies by Stellan Skarsgård), was written as a pedophilic, incestuous queer man. He was attracted to his teenage nephew and frequently drugged his (non-consensual) lovers. He played on all the worst stereotypes about gay men, and it was no accident — per his biography Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, the author was very homophobic and didn’t accept his gay son, Bruce.

That’s why Villeneuve’s version of Dune had to make a choice: portray Baron Harkonnen as queer and reinforce those negative stereotypes, or erase the story’s only canonical queerness. The director went with the latter, choosing to keep Herbert’s homophobia out of the story.

In a 2020 interview with Vanity Fair, Villeneuve explained his new interpretation of the character. “As much as I deeply love the book, I felt that the baron was flirting very often with caricature,” he said. “And I tried to bring him a bit more dimension.”

Theoretically, Villeneuve could’ve added queerness into the story outside of Baron Harkonnen — but having no representation is better than having harmful representation, as folks expressed across social media. As one user clarified, there’s nothing wrong with villains being gay in general. But when it’s a piece of media’s only representation of queer people, it becomes a problem.

A third movie in the franchise, Dune: Messiah, is now in development, so maybe Villeneuve will feature queerness in the series yet. For now, though, let’s be thankful for the portrayal we didn’t get.

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