Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook is a breakout star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Without his character’s mission and his persistence, the resistance would be dead in outer space. He’s shown to be a capable pilot and a brave soul who decides to go against everything he’s known while working under the Empire in order to be a hero.
And fandom treats him as if he’s a toddler.
From the moment that the film came out, fandom decided that he basically was going to be everyone’s baby.
I’m talking alternate universes where he’s the doting, sweet son to Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus (former Guardians of the Whills played by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen) or Cassian Andor and Jyn Erson (Diego Luna and Felicity Jones).
I’m talking about art where he’s drawn as a wide-eyed little waif that the rest of the team needs to coddle and cuddle as if he’s incapable of taking care of himself despite the fact that he’s spent twenty-something years doing just that.
I’m talking about the fact that even though he’s present and tagged in 1813 stories on the Archive of Our Own (As of July 2017), less than half of those stories have him in a pairing. And yes, Bodhi could be written as aromantic and not into relationships, but that’s not what fandom is doing. In fandom, shipping is everything and a character viewed as unshippable (in this case because they’re viewed as a “child”) straight up doesn’t get as much content.
Look, Bodhi is a character that absolutely deserves a cup of tea and a hug, but he could get those things from fandom without it coming packaged alongside this whole thing where Bodhi is framed as a baby that other characters need to take care of.
Male characters of color like Bodhi are often set up to be “adopted” by other characters (that are usually white) because they’re so innocent, so precious, and so incapable of being a proper adult.
Bodhi isn’t the only character I’ve seen with this.
In many stories in the Teen Wolf fandom for the Sterek pairing, main character and character of color Scott McCall is frequently deaged and serves as one of Stiles or Derek’s children.
Then there’s the DCEU fandom who, following the release of the first trailer for the upcoming Justice League film last year, immediately decided that Ray Fisher’s Cyborg absolutely had to be Batman and Wonder Woman’s adopted kid in terms of relationship dynamics. We know nothing about his age, his relationship with Bruce/Diana, and already he’s being positioned as their kid.
As fond of fandom is of these super neat nuclear family dynamics, only certain kinds of characters get shoehorned into the role of the children.
For the most part, white characters (or characters fandom assumes are white) don’t get to be forced into this dynamic unless they’re actual children like Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Superfamily subfandom.
No, that dubious honor is almost exclusively reserved for male characters of color.
Either they’re forced into paternal, parental roles for your white faves (Nick Fury, anyone?) or they’re repurposed so that they’re your white faves’ children.
In “That Is a Grown-Ass Man Y’all, Or: How to Squee About a Character of Color Without Making Other Fans Side-Eye You”, a piece about how fandom infantilizes male characters of color, tumblr user andieblogs explains why fandom’s preference for these adoption narratives centering these characters is a problem.
Andieblogs writes that:
There’s a reason that people try to shove the perceived “third wheel” into these kinds of “harmless” roles – to get them out of the way for the narrative (whether it be on the show or in fandom discourse) to focus on the two halves of their preferred ship. It tacitly concedes a desire for a non-sexual non-romantic relationship between this character and the other characters. Its effect is to take the character out of the running as a viable sexual or romantic partner for one or both of the pairing characters.
She goes on to talk about how these narratives are never actually about the character positioned as the “son” in these situations. In her example using Legends of Tomorrow‘s Jax and fandom’s penchant for trying to adopt him off to various family units, she asks if “in rushing to have him adopted by his white peers (that are only a few years older than him), has anyone stopped to consider what Jax himself has said about himself of his teammates?”.
And honestly, they probably haven’t thought about how Jax, a black young man with at least one living parent in Central City, would think about being given to white characters as their kid.
Because it’s never about what these male characters of color actually would want based on their canon personalities. It’s about the aesthetics of the trope. It’s about needing to force characters of color out of the running for ships and, as of late, to make any ships they’re in with characters that fandom wants to ship with other characters problematic.
According to Wookiepedia, Bodhi Rook is twenty-five years old. He’s a character that has had a family. He remembers his mother as he’s being dragged to see Saw Gerrera and then when the Bor Gullet invades his mind. He already has parents that raised him, cared for him, helped make him the man he is. He even had Galen Erso to serve as a sort of father figure who still didn’t coddle him. For fandom to erase all of that, to then reframe Bodhi as a helpless, hapless child in need of new parents…
Well there’s something wrong with that.