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An open letter to Marvel: Time to do a better job with queerness in the MCU

Contributed by
Nov 15, 2017

Hi, Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just want to say up top that I’m a big fan. I’ve seen all of your movies in the theater, I’ve bought several Funko Pop figurines of some of your heroes, and I’ve even cosplayed multiple times as your version of the Scarlet Witch. I’m also super stoked that you’re finally starting to step it up on the representation game. Really looking forward to Black Panther and Ant Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel. But it’s your queers, MCU. Something’s gotta be done about your queers!

Just this summer alone, I sat with my bucket of popcorn and watched as you dangled the potential queer identities of two different characters in front my eyes and then pulled them away like a dastardly cat owner. First it was Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, whose rebuke of Drax’s potential flirting with her is stated as “I’m not even attracted to the type of thing you are!” Which could mean, and has been interpreted by many on the internet as, a declaration of her sexuality. Could is the key word there, because there’s nothing concrete about it. It could also mean his species, his age, his bulk, or really any aspect of him down to the red lines across his body. There's an unfortunate lack of commitment in a sentence worded so ambiguously, not to mention delivered by a character for whom naivete is a defining personality trait intended for laughs.

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Then we come to Thor: Ragnarok, with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, a canonically (in the comics) bisexual character. Alongside Hela, Valkyrie became the subject of many a tweet among women who love women, and many women who suddenly learned they maybe fell into that category as well. Yet the explicit declaration of the Valkyrie’s sexuality landed somewhere on the cutting room floor, and we were left with only a memory sequence that at best only implied an intimate relationship with another Valkyrie, and at worst introduced a queer love interest character for the purpose of both fridging and “burying your gays” in a single scene.

Look, Marvel, the queer thirst among your fandom is real. There is a veritable army of nerds and fanfic writers out there who have already headcanoned the various positions that Steve and Bucky can get into with that super serum and metal arm. And I’m not saying that you have to indulge each and every whim of your LGBTQ fanbase, because of course you can’t suddenly switch to a hard NC-17 rating, but come on, throw us a (figurative) bone.

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Every time someone like me asks for something like this, there’s always the kickback criticism of “forced diversity” or “diversity for diversity's sake.” While I actually prefer to think of it as inclusion for the sake of inclusion, which is a fairly admirable goal in my opinion, I also think that in this case the examples I listed above from these movies are forced diversity. They're attempts to shoehorn just enough queer representation into the story for the queerfolk in the audience to go “Oh my! Look, they’re speaking to me!” without having to actually make it feel like it fits into the story or has depth or nuance or risk any angry tweets from homophobes. This is representation for the sake of brownie points at the sacrifice of story. 

If you want an indication of how to better come at this, take a peek at what your DC competitors are doing on the small screen. With the exception of The Flash (and I’m throwing some side-eye at you, Flash), every single one of The CW’s "Arrowverse" shows -- ArrowSupergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow -- has series regulars who are queer. They have heroes that young LGBTQ kids can look at, identify with, and feel supported, seen, and less alone.

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This is very powerful, important stuff, and you have the ability to do that on a grand scale with these movies. It’s baffling to me that these TV series that need to retain an audience week to week and survive on much more minuscule budgets are willing to take these sorts of chances, and yet these films that consistently crush at the box office and have a ravenous built-in fan base, or Netflix shows that pride themselves on their so-called gritty realism, can’t do the same. Really? There's only one out lesbian in all of New York? 

What it all boils down to is that LGBTQ kids are out there, and many of them are dealing with a lot of things in their life, and you have the power to make them have just a tiny bit more hope. You can give them something to look up to, someone to admire, and someone who tells them that being who they are is not only okay, but actually powerful. You can do that, Marvel. You can give them someone to dress up as on Halloween or at cons and say, “She's just like me! I'm like the Valkyrie!”

But you can’t do that if you keep dancing around us, cutting us out of the movie altogether -- or worst of all, treating us like a series of throwaway jokes.