What’s With The BB-8 Gender Debate?
By Alicia Fine
Recent trailers for the new installment of the Star Wars franchise have raised plenty of questions, but the most unexpected of all surrounds the little, spherical BB-8 droid that has already become a fan favorite: Is BB-8 a boy or a girl?
Star Wars enthusiasts have speculated about the droid’s gender since the first trailer dropped, but Entertainment Weekly posed the question directly to the filmmakers in an interview published last Friday. Neal Scanlon, the movie’s principle creature designer, gave an unclear answer: “I’m still not sure, dare I say, whether BB-8 is male or female. BB-8 was female in our eyes. And then he or she became male. And that’s part of the evolution, not only visually, but in the way they move, how they hold themselves.” Entertainment Weekly also notes that everyone involved with The Force Awakens currently refers to the droid as a “he.”
But what’s with this preoccupation with a robot’s gender anyway? Beyond the simple fact that these inquiries re-enforce society’s rigid concept of the gender binary, it also just seems silly to assume that a machine would operate under the same gender construct that governs living things. So many people seem to conflate the concepts of sex and gender, and relate them to people’s genitalia. Though other androids may have such human elements, for whatever reason, it’s pretty clear that BB-8 was not designed to resemble anything lifelike. Do all machines now have genders? What kind of case should I be dressing my iPhone in?
This concept of robot gender doesn’t stop in the Star Wars universe though. Also in Disney’s vast catalog of films, Wall-E and Eve, the robots that fall in love in Pixar’s Wall-E, are assumed to be male and female respectively based on their character design, behavior, and voice actors. But, once again, these characters, no matter how sympathetic and lovable they may be, are still machines.
Though female representation is always welcome in cinema, BB-8 certainly wouldn’t be in the running for strong female character of year. The seemingly foreign concept of a genderless character, human or otherwise, would be a more novel concept in a movie, particular one of the magnitude of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. BB-8 is a droid. Let the debate stop there.