Frank Herbert’s Dune Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is considered one of the most threatening villains in popular science fiction. Unfortunately, Baron Harkonnen is also known for being Dune’s only homosexual character, which promotes negative stereotypes in the LGBTQ + community and, in turn, equates homosexuality with evil.
Since Dune was initially written in the 1960s, Baron Harkonnen has been a product of the Herbert era. According to Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, the author of Dune had very homophobic views and had a horrible relationship with Bruce’s gay son. Herbert’s view of sexuality and his refusal to accept Bruce as gay may have been projected onto the character of Baron Vladimir Harkonen when he wrote Dune. This promoted the negative portrayal of gay men in the wake of the Baron’s actions in the book and previous film adaptations.
In the book Dune, Baron Harkonnen is portrayed as a predator, pedophile, and incestuous. He is said to have been attracted to Fayed’s grandson, who was around 15 or 16 at the time. The book also mentions that Baron Harkonnen used drugs on his lovers, often without his consent. Her preference for men is a Pulcinella secret shared by the other characters in the story. When Feyd asks the Baron why he did not marry one of the Bene Gesserit women to use his supernatural abilities, the Baron replies: “You know my taste!
In Dune: House, Harkonnen, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson write: “Baron Vladimir Harkonnen began his career in search of new experiences. Although Herbert and Anderson do not directly associate Baron’s sexuality with this reference to “deviant sex,” the miserable stereotype that gay men are predators or unnatural is undoubtedly linked to this quote, as most readers already know that Baron is usually gay by Frank Herberts Dune.
The Baron is a little less evil in David Leeds’ 1984 film Dune, but only by a small percentage. All references to incest and pedophilia have been removed from the manuscript. However, the Baron, played by Kenneth McMillan, is still highly predatory and of a very grotesque character. In one scene, Baron Harkonnen physically attacks a young man and kills him.
The Baron kisses the young man while doing so, causing romantic or sexual feelings towards his victim. Although Baron was not openly confirmed as gay in the 1984 film, the argument makes it incredibly clear that this scene was intended to reinforce the miserable stereotype of older gay men showing robbery against younger straight men.
McMillan’s Harkonnen is also filled with abscesses and wounds that could reflect the AIDS epidemic at the time of admission. Although nothing has been said honestly, the intention to portray the film’s unique homosexual character as a predator and grotesque is still surprisingly clear.
Frank Herbert’s miniseries Dune from 2000, directed by John Harrison, features Baron Harkonnen, played by Ian McNeice, with fair skin and less violence. She expresses her attraction to men and repeatedly calls Fayed a “handsome boy.” There is also a scene where the Baron accuses Feid of trying to kill him by sticking a poisoned needle into a ladybug’s leg.
Although the Baron’s sexuality in Frank Herbert’s Dune is never directly linked to his evil personality, it is not flattering that he is still the only normally homosexual character in this adaptation.
How Baron Harkonnen portrays the LGBTQ + community as Dune’s only gay character gave Denis Villeneuve, the director of the film adaptation of Dune 2021, a difficult decision: stick to the source material and point out that Baron is usually gay. or remove all references to the Baron’s sexuality from the final manuscript.
Villeneuve chose the second option. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Villeneuve explains: “As much as I liked the book, I had the feeling that the Baron flirted with the caricature very often. And I tried to give it a little more dimension.
Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Harkonnen seems almost absent in other depictions on screen. She neither screams nor steals like Baron McMillan nor openly flirts with men like McNeice. It exhibits the most threatening behavior in its Dune.
It is worth noting that Dune is a very political story, so Baron does not have to be very strong and dramatic to sound threatening. Baron Harkonnen is undoubtedly not the only power-hungry and authoritative figure in a society that strongly reflects medieval feudalism. In God Emperor of Dune, Herbert wrote: “Monarchies have good qualities that go beyond their astral qualities.
They correspond to an old human need for a parent hierarchy (racial/feudal) in which each knows his position.” The world of Dune was designed to usher in intense power struggles. Therefore, Baron Harkonnen has many opportunities to show his lousy personality through political issues and not through his sexuality.
Since Baron Harkonen’s sexuality was linked to so many other bad things he did in the book and other film adaptations, it was wise to drop any reference to the film metaphor of 2021. Since the book’s release, any director who has adapted Dune had to decide how the Baron should be portrayed as the only gay character in a highly acclaimed sci-fi epic.
Villeneuve’s decision to abandon Frank Herbert Baron Harkonnen’s homophobic portrayal saves all LGBTQ + viewers of the 2021 film from repeating these damaging stereotypes on the big screen. While Baron Harkonen’s screen time is limited, Villeneuve and Skarsgard will be much more likely to show what they can bring to the character next time.