“Ready Player One” Finally Shows Us Lena Waithe’s Lesbian Gamer

The very last trailer for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One dropped today and we finally got a peek at Lena Waithe’s lesbian gamer! She showed up in the official posters earlier this week too, but seeing her in action in what’s sure to be one of the biggest movies of the year got me shivery all over. To talk about her character in any real way I’m going to have to blast you with some major book spoilers so let me post the trailer first in case you just want to watch it and walk away with an unspoiled mind.

Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future where most people spend their time in a virtual reality known as the OASIS. The story kicks off with the death of OASIS creator James Halliday and his invitation for every OASIS user to find three hidden keys that open three hidden gates, with the promise that whoever bests what’s behind the last gates will win Halilday’s entire estate, including complete control of the OASIS. To find the gates and beat what’s inside, the OASIS users hunting Halliday’s easter eggs — Gunters, they’re called — have to immerse themselves entirely in the nerd culture of the ’80s. Books, movies, TV shows, video games, D&D manuals, music. They have to know it all if they want to have any hope of solving Halliday’s esoteric riddles.

The protagonist of the book is Wade Watts whose OASIS avatar is named Parzival. His best friend, also a Gunter, is named Aech inside the OASIS and, like Parzival, he’s a white guy. Except that when Parzival finally meets Aech in real life, he finds out she’s actually a black lesbian named Helen Harris. When her mom signed her up for the OASIS as a child she told her to create a straight white male avatar and use voice modulating software to sound like a man because even in a cyberworld in 2046, she knew Helen would move through life easier as a white dude. The reveal is complicated for a lot of reasons, and people either love it or they hate it.

I’ve been very curious about whether or not the film adaptation would allow Aech to just be a black lesbian inside the OASIS. It seems like casting Lena Waithe in that role is making a deliberate choice to showcase the character as a black woman. We finally get an answer in this trailer. Waithe looks and sounds like herself in the scenes outside of the OASIS and this is what she looks like inside the OASIS. (You can go back and watch the trailer now and you’ll know who she is in the game.)

I’m glad she’s not a white guy but I’m also a little confused by this choice?

Lots of feminists really hate Ready Player One and think it’s Everything That’s Wrong With Geek Culture, and I get it, I really do. I’m hyper aware of the story’s flaws. However I am a nerd child of the ’80s and so I’ve read this thing at least ten times and I love it and I can’t wait to see it, and I’ll be crossing my fingers for plenty of outside-the-OASIS scenes where Waithe can shine. I have hope: It looks like a lot of these gamers live in some kind of #resistance warehouse in the movie?

Waithe told SlashFilm that making this movie was the most joyous time of her life and that’s enough to help me over my qualms and catapult me into the theater.

I’m super curious to hear your thoughts about this whole thing.


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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1449 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. I still don’t know if I should watch this movie, it’s got me really conflicted,

    I read a good half the book or so… I didn’t put it down at the first bit I found really transphobic, but the second time it happened I put the book down I couldn’t keep reading it. Now here’s it’s going to be like this big thing that everyone has seen, and everyone is going to wonder why I didn’t see it…

    But what if they put that stuff in the movie too? Would Spielberg do that? Why did the author?

  2. Hmm! I felt pretty mixed about the book (although I get why people love it so much), but I think at least some of the things that bothered me about it would be vastly improved by a movie format (hoping for less clunky exposition, and the video game play-throughs presumably will be a lot more interesting). I’m really excited for Lena/Aech!! Even if she’s only in it as Lena for a really short amount of time. I feel like just knowing that she’s waiting for me towards the end of the movie (if they do the reveal similarly to the book’s) will make some of the more cringey white-dude-pain stuff much more sit-through-able. Also, the effects look cool! I foresee this being a fun popcorn movie, with bonus Lena Waithe. Looking forward to it!

    • Ex Machina, although a cinematically beautiful movie, felt kind of gross to watch because of the way feminine robots were treated. The ending tries to be redeeming, but it’s like…you have to sit through an hour and a half of “cringey white-dude-pain stuff” first. So I get where you’re coming from about only getting Lena Waithe for a short time. I still enjoyed RPO though, so I was already looking forward to the movie, and now I’m even more excited for it!

  3. Hmmm…what seems the main advantage in the book’s reveal (that the reader’s possible/probable expectations regarding race/gender/body type are subverted) I would think would be a disadvantage in a movie, where the screen time would benefit the actor playing the avatar, thus reinforcing rather than subverting societal norms. I’m curious if/how they can get past this, and hoping that there will be far more time with Lena Waithe’s character being seen in her own body.

    I didn’t see the trailer yet (on the bus now with no headphones!) but was wondering if the avatar in the poster was for sure her character’s and not a deliberate mislead? Just wondering!

  4. I listened to this as an audiobook with Maddie during a road trip and we both honestly loved listening to it and became slightly obsessed with it. I am a huge nerd for 80s music and movies and games and am a highly nostalgic person in general, so it felt I was part of the main target demographic for this book.

    But honestly, both of us were so disappointed with the ending. Cline could have been so much more subversive but it went right along the usual lines of regular guy is somehow special, guy wins game, guy wins girl.

    Basically, the inclusion of Helen was out of fucking left field! I can honestly see how it could have been an editor being like “so this isn’t diverse enough” and Cline was like “oh I better get my diversity quota in but how can I just easily do this for the second draft? Oh better make it a huge reveal with zero foundation!”

    Yeah I’m still absolutely going to watch it and probably have fun doing so. I love Lena Waith so I trust her to not take on a sucky role, I guess? And I’m SO interested in Aech’s character difference and if the dynamic between Parzival and Aech changes because they’re not just two teen avatars hanging in a basement.

  5. I was a teenager in the 80s, and I have to say that any modern premise where young people have to learn about aspects of 80s media or be expected to regard it as cool is as cringeworthy as when the boomers wanted us to think that checked flares were still cool in ’79. (They weren’t. Some aspects of the 70s *were* cool, like pre-75 rock and non-Euro disco)

    Yes, some aspects of the 80s were awesome – the various forms of electronic music that sprang up out of nowhere, post-punk and all that – fantastic stuff.

    But some Gen-Xer making millennials jump through some cliched day-glo hoops (I never wore day-glo ANYTHING) like a boomer making us worship at the altar of frigging Bob Dylan or whatever just makes me yawn. I certainly didn’t like being patronised and outright told that THEIR music/art/drugs/whatever the f#ck was the best EVAR, and our stuff was crap. So turning around and doing the same thing is just embarrassing.

    I’ve seen this trope popping up a bit lately – I can’t remember the last thing, but that was just as irritating – but please, we don’t need to labour to get respect from “the kids” for our little cultural icons, like their grandma who still wears tie-dye and still beats our ears about the time they went to see the Rolling Stones, but couldn’t hear the music because the amps were too weak to drown out the screaming fangirls.

    So yeah, instant off-putting vibe there for me. Maybe one or two 80s-related puzzles because of the age of the inventor dude that takes them a while to figure out due to the lack of cultural references? Fine. Otherwise, meh.

    Then again, I get annoyed by Guardians of the Galaxy and that bloody cassette tape. Would you really make a mix tape of music for your kid almost entirely of music created BEFORE they were born? (But it would uncannily fit into the director’s actual childhood…)

    • I know you’re talking about something slightly different, but you’ve actually pointed out something that’s always bothered me about the story,

      “But some Gen-Xer making millennials jump through some cliched day-glo hoops (I never wore day-glo ANYTHING) like a boomer making us worship at the altar of frigging Bob Dylan or whatever just makes me yawn. ”

      What’s worse, is it’s not millennials. This is a teenager in the year 2044! This kid isn’t a millennial. He’s whatever comes after the generation Z.

      Asking him to care about the 80’s is the same as asking current teenagers to get excited about I love Lucy, Or Elvis. (by the way love both of those.) Or asking you when you were a teenager to get excited about Al Jolson, or Babe Ruth.

      This was probably my only problem with the Martian, with Lewis’s love of Disco, and all the other references to things when Andy Weir grew up, when the characters would be actual Millennials, with their teenage years being in the 2005-2015, they should have been talking about Kesha or Big Bang Theory

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