Since the whitewashing controversy around Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Asian character The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios have made real strides toward inclusiveness and representation in their films.
Black Panther has become nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, and a gigantic box office success, in no small part thanks to its celebration of African and black culture. Spider-Man Homecoming has a school full of students from various races and background. Peter Parker’s best friend was played by Filipino-American Jacob Batalon, and his love interest Liz is a black girl from an interracial family. Marvel’s next two films, Ant Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel, have female characters as leads, with the latter being their first film with a solo female lead.
What has been missing so far has been representation of out LGBTQ characters. But this is something that, according to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, will be addressed in future films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In an interview with The Playlist, Feige answered in the affirmative when asked whether future MCU films will have out LGBTQ characters, as well as confirming that these will be both new and existing characters. Here is how the conversation went:
The Playlist: When are we getting a Gay, Bi, LGBTQ, out character in the MCU? Is it even in the works? Kevin Feige: Yes. The Playlist: That’s the answer? Kevin Feige: Yeah, that’s the answer. The Playlist: It’s not someone we’ve seen yet, I’m guessing? Kevin Feige: Both. The Playlist: Both? Kevin Feige: Both ones you’ve seen and ones you haven’t seen.
The existing character is most likely going to be Valkyrie (assuming she got out of Thanos’ attack), who actress Tessa Thompson confirmed on Twitter was bisexual. Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi has also admitted that a moment was cut out of the film that hints at her sexuality. What remains of any reference to her sexuality is a moment in a flashback, which the director says is something the audience can see if they were to “read in to that.”
While it’s great that Marvel seems intent on including LGBTQ representation in their films, it should be noted that they’ve had cold feet in actually doing so, as Valkyrie isn’t the only one to receive this treatment. Black Panther was supposed to have a scene suggesting a romantic relationship between Okoye and Ayo, two members of the all-female king’s guard Dora Milaje, which was eventually removed from the film. Instead, in the film Okoye ends up in a straight relationship with Daniel Kaluuya’s W’Kabi.
And it’s not just Marvel, this is an industry-wide trend. Marvel’s parent company Disney have previous with this, for example. Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s Vice Admiral Holdo was hinted at being bisexual in a book, something that failed to make it to screen, and Lando Calrissian was said to be pansexual ahead of the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, but the only character he was shown to have romantic or sexual feelings towards is a female droid. I somewhat doubt that counts.
Elsewhere, Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will feature a young Albus Dumbledore who will not be shown as being “explicitly” gay, and most recently, Universal’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdomhad a scene cut out where Danielle Pineda’s paleo-veterinarian character Zia Rodriguez says that she is not attracted to men.
Individually, the reasoning of “time constraints” could be understandable. There might not be a whole lot of opportunities to sneak in hints of a character’s sexuality without interrupting the flow of the movie. But then again, some of the cut scenes above were described as being very brief or sound like they would be very brief, so they can’t have wasted that much time. If Star Trek Beyond managed to show a brief moment confirming a character’s homosexuality in a natural way, how hard can it really be for those films to do the same?
It’s not a particularly hot take to suggest that these studios are afraid of how LGBTQ representation would affect their box office, especially internationally. Certain markets won’t be as accepting scenes depicting LGBTQ relationships, and some countries’ censors might prove a hurdle. The film industry is a business after all, and businesses are there to make money. But if they continue making empty promises and not deliver, the backlash won’t exactly help their bottom lines either.
Again, it is encouraging that Marvel are working on including more LGBTQ+ characters in their movie, and Feige’s confident and unambiguous answer tells me that they will go through with it. But Marvel, and the industry as a whole, need to start putting their money where their mouth is, and commit to meaningful LGBTQ representation.