In “Cinnamon Rolls, Sinnamon Rolls, and Capable Killers: How to Categorize Your Fav” the author gives the following description for the “True Cinnamon Roll” (which falls under the “Looks like a Cinnamon Roll, Is Actually a Cinnamon Roll” part of the meme):
A true cinnamon roll really is as innocent and well-meaning as they appear. They can be completely naïve or somewhat sly, or may have the most common sense of the group, but most importantly they are more of a nurturer and healer than a fighter.
Throughout much of the Star Wars fandom in the wake of Star Wars: The Force Awakens male lead Finn (played by John Boyega) has been assigned the marker of the “True Cinnamon Roll”. Here’s the thing, I get where it comes from and as with Bodhi, I think that it comes from a well-meaning place but doesn’t bother to reckon with intersectionality or the reality of how Finn is treated by a significant portion of fandom both on and off of Tumblr.
Despite being the male lead of the film, Finn is not the most popular new male character in the fandom. He’s not the most respected. He’s not even the most written about. Right now on the AO3, Finn is the sixth most popular character represented in the fandom with 7150 appearances so far.
(Minor antagonist Armitage Hux (who only had about 3 minutes of screentime in The Force Awakens) has over 3000 more tagged appearances than that. I’m never going to stop having a problem with that.)
Let’s look at that definition of the true cinnamon roll again.
At first glance, Finn being equated with a trope predicated on innocence seems pretty great because we live in a world where Black people are assumed guilty even in situations where they are the clear victims of violence. However, fandom doesn’t exist in a vacuum and what appears to come in good faith frequently… doesn’t.
Just because some people honestly view Finn as a cinnamon roll character while not forgetting his character from the film and related supplemental materials, that doesn’t mean the entire fandom does.
In viewing Finn as “a true cinnamon roll”, fandom ignores his actual characterization. Most frustrating, is that many members of fandom ignore that he is a complex character who is literally trying to find his place in the world. It’s a way to look like they care about Finn as an archetype (who is so pure, so perfect, and so put together, that the fandom simply must fall for “bad boy” characters like Hux or Kylo) without needing to care about Finn as a character.
To quote tumblr user awesomesnafu:
when Black characters become such “pure cinnamon rolls” you can’t ship them, when they “deserve so much better” you refuse to pair them with any white fave, when they’re “just so flawless” they become boring, when you insist they’re “perfect” but then utterly and completely stop there, you’re reducing them to one dimension.
they become props for white character development, cos you’re not letting them have any character of their own.
The thing about reframing male characters of color as saintly, cinnamon roll characters, is that it winds up being dehumanizing. In Finn’s case, treating him as a “pure cinnamon roll” robs him of all of the complexity that his character had from The Force Awakens. It results in fandom viewing Finn as a character that is so pure and so perfect a figure, that he isn’t worth focusing on because they don’t see him as just as complex a character as villains with lesser amounts of screen time are to them.
They claim, en masse, that if Finn were just a little more villainous they would like him more because he’s just too perfect to find interesting.
This is of course highly hypocritical (on top of being a straight up lie) because fandom likes squeaky clean heroes just fine when they’re white…
The “pure cinnamon roll” trope also contributes to infantilizing – and yes, dehumanizing — Finn because of how it leads fandom to write him as literally incapable of taking care of himself. As Holly over at Diverse High Fantasy writes:
Another stereotype that is rooted in slavery is the ignorant and childlike Black person. Though this type was painted as harmless, it was as a justification for slavery – slaves were seen as generally helpless, so having a master to “take care of them” was “good for them.” Finn has been infantilized in many fics to where Poe (sometimes with Rey) must teach him how to be a functioning person.
I’ve seen stories where Poe and occasionally Rey have to socialize Finn as if he was a dog. I’ve seen stories where Finn is incapable of functioning sexually and has to be tutored by Poe on how to use his dick for anything more complicated than taking a piss. (And please, don’t get me started on what happens when infantilization of Black characters mixes with the sexual objectification of Black bodies because it is beyond gross.)
That’s messed up.
Then there’s the idea of this aspect of the cinnamon roll role as a nurturer or healer. In the context of Finn’s treatment in fandom, we frequently see him reduced to a character that exists specifically to help other characters find their path or to heal their trauma. Characters (and fans!) of color frequently face a lack of empathy within fandom on the regular. However, an unexpected consequence of the cinnamon roll role when pasted onto Black characters, is how their trauma is brushed aside because they’re “too strong” or, especially in Finn’s case, fandom believes that other people “have it worse”.
(See: Kylo Ren literally being handed Finn’s traumatic backstory of being manipulated/brainwashed from childhood to serve the First Order in order to make him sympathetic.)
In Finn/Poe stories, Finn spends an awful lot of time doing emotional labor for Poe (whose trauma is always seen as more valid and more immediately arresting). In Rey/Kylo stories (that don’t flat out vilify Finn so that the path to Reylo babies is clear), he exists to be a wingman. He gets them together, he keeps them from separating. If he appears in these stories and isn’t a villain, he’s treated the way that Scott is in a majority of Teen Wolf fanworks: as the guy whose only reason for existence is to get two white characters together.
This is not unique to Finn.
Most Black male characters, when given the designation of “pure/true cinnamon roll”, are turned into healers and minders for non-Black characters. We see it in how Sam Wilson has been turned into the Avengers’ overall therapist and T’challa has been turned into their sugar daddy.
Most male characters of color in the same role, frequently have their actual characterization erased in favor of a super helpful and subservient personality as fandom rewrites them to where the main purpose, even in narratives that are supposed to be their own, is to help white people succeed in their relationships.
When it comes to male characters of color like Finn, reverting to this reliance on describing them as “pure cinnamon rolls” comes off more like a shortcut that allows writers to write a sweet and shallow archetype instead of a character.