Superhero movies are starting to become ubiquitous, whether they’re done by DC, exist in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, or belong to one of the other companies that holds rights to Marvel characters. In the next few years alone we’ve got Guardians of the Galaxy, Wolverine, Thor 2, Captain America 2, Ant-Man, Avengers 2, Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, a Fantastic Four reboot in the works, a Justice League movie on the table, rumors about other DC projects, and the as-of-yet unrevealed MCU Phase 3 films. There’s also the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show premiering in the fall and Arrow, which will be back for a second season.
To be honest, they’re also weak in pretty much every other realm of representation—the ratio of female to male characters and PoC characters to white characters is laughably bad, just as a start. Stan Lee has mentioned a Black Panther movie in the works, which would help the race problem for sure, but the Generalissimo is no longer a decision-maker at Marvel, so we can’t take his words as Word of God for the MCU. Joss Whedon has tried and failed to get a Wonder Woman movie off the ground, and the last attempt to give Diana a TV show was notably terrible. I could complain for hours on any and all of these fronts—and let’s be real, I’m sure I’ll eventually write posts about all of these issues—but narrowed scope is important and so I’m just focusing on the lack of LGBTQ+ characters here.
As I’ve pointed out in many other posts, despite the apparent normalization of queer characters on TV through shows like Modern Family and The New Normal, LGBTQ+ characters almost always are portrayed as wealthy able-bodied cis white males. Furthermore, the whole point of these shows and movies about queer characters tends to be on the novelty or tragedy of the main characters’ queerness (Torchwood being a notable exception).
I cannot stress how important it is to include queer characters in media who are more than just their sexual orientation, and how groundbreaking it would be for literally any of the films or shows listed above to show a three-dimensionally LGBTQ+ character. Inclusion is valuable to both the real-life queer people who desperately want to see characters like themselves on TV or the big screen, and to the culture as a whole, because it forces everyone to see queer people as more than the stereotypes society has created to define them.
Particularly notable out of all of the above-mentioned films for failing at queer inclusion is the first. The Guardians of the Galaxy roster in the comics has almost always included Moondragon and Phyla-Vell, a same-sex couple featuring a lesbian and a bisexual woman, but when the lineup for the movies was released, the only woman on the team was Gamora. This, really really depressingly, means that the MCU is willing to feature a trigger-happy raccoon-shaped alien as a main character before it features a non-straight character in even a supporting role.
And going back to look at the list of forthcoming films, it looks like the dearth of LGBTQ+ characters is going to continue well into 2016 or later.
Is there any hope for the future of queer representation, then? Part of the reason I was inspired to write this post was due to an article about The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which appeared in a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly. In the article, Andrew Garfield is quoted as being enthusiastically in favor of genderbending Mary Jane Watson’s character.
What if MJ is a dude? Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking!…So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys? I’ve been obsessed with Michael B. Jordan since The Wire. He’s so charismatic and talented. It’d be even better—we’d have interracial bisexuality!
Reading that quote inspires a lot of matrimonial urges in me towards Mr. Garfield on several levels—he’s unconcerned and even excited about the consequences of queering a traditionally straight character, he wants to double-down and have a PoC love interest, and he even avoided bi erasure by acknowledging that Peter Parker getting involved in a same-sex relationship wouldn’t invalidate his previous opposite-sex attractions. Marry me, Andrew. No matter how totally unlikely this is (and how much it’s just Andrew trolling the haters), I would do terrible things to make bi Spider-Man happen.
The other place where I think a queer character could easily be included is in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. The show is already helping to increase the diversity of the MCU by including a main female character of color in Ming Na. It also has the benefit of involving mostly second- and third-string Marvel heroes, so whereas a character like Billy and Teddy/Wiccan and Hulkling from the Young Avengers may never headline a film, they could potentially get some quality screentime in the show. Furthermore, the main cast is made up of characters created specifically for the show, so it’s entirely possible that one of them could identify as LGBTQ+. Me, honestly? I’m in for all I’ve got—I want it to be one Agent Phil Coulson himself.
I know there was that easter egg-y bit about his cellist love interest in The Avengers. If you listen hard, he does assign the mystery person a female gender—”she moved to Portland”—but that doesn’t negate the possibility of Coulson identifying as a polysexual orientation. A lot of people suspected that the cellist was Wanda Maximoff and the way Coulson would be revived was as Vision. However, despite confirmation that Scarlet Witch will be in Avengers 2, the Coulson in the TV show doesn’t seem to have gone the way of the synthezoid as far as resurrection techniques are concerned, and, honestly, I can’t find any actual proof on the internet that Wanda even plays cello. Either way, it seems unlikely at this point that Coulson will have the X-lady as a suitor in either the show or the movie.
Think about it in terms of representation. Coulson already has such a huge fan following that they actually brought him back from the dead and gave him a TV show based on the outcry over his death. People love him dearly as a character. Not only would it be a great step for queer representation for an Everyman dude like Phil to be bi or pan, it would also be hilarious to watch homophobes everywhere stumble over their words and, at the very least, try to explain how they don’t hate gays but they never really liked lovable old His-Name-Is-Agent after all, goddamn liberal media gotta play political correctness bingo with everything grumble homophobic slur grumble. If Phil Coulson was outed, I could probably give up buying food and just spend the rest of my life powered by the delicious tears of homophobes everywhere.
Do I think this will happen? I honestly don’t know. If there is an LGBTQ+ character, odds are pretty high that it will be one of the new original characters rather than Coulson himself. Furthermore, inclusion at all is a crapshoot between Joss and Disney. On one side, Joss has included queer characters in his shows before (most notably Tara and Willow from Buffy, although there was some definite bi erasure in making Willow suddenly a lesbian because she was in a same-sex relationship), and is lauded by many for being a more feminist-allied nerd writer/director than the bulk of Hollywood’s ilk. On the other side of it, Disney may not be willing to take the quote-unquote risk of queer inclusion in a franchise that has become a guaranteed cash cow.
I asked earlier if there was any hope at all, and the answer I feel I have to give is this: it honestly looks pretty bleak. Barring a Runaways movie happening in Phase 3, or a standalone Batwoman movie getting greenlit as the next DC movie (pardon me while I laugh through my tears at the minuscule possibility of that), the TV shows seem like the only place where queer folks might get a chance. And that’s a damn shame, because the world is in need of more media that shares the message that queer people can be superheroes too.