Anyone who knows me knows me to be a huge Marvel fan, and knows that in the past few weeks I have not stopped talking about Avengers: Infinity War. And while I’ve been marveling at how far the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come in terms of character development and universe-building in the past ten years, I also can’t stop thinking about the one thing they’ve made very little progress on: LGBTQ+ representation.
To give it some context, in May of 2008, Iron Man brought about the beginning of what we know today as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In November of the same year, California passed Proposition 8, which reinstated the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Here we are, ten years later in 2018. And while there are still a multitude of socio-political issues facing the LGBTQ+ community today, the progress that’s been made in this country and around the world is undeniable. In the MCU, however — not so much.
The MCU debuted its first queer character in Thor: Ragnarok just this past November, and it’s likely you didn’t even find out from the movie itself. A flashback scene in the movie hints at the reason the only remaining Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) left Asgard — Hela had killed someone who appeared to be her lover, a fellow Valkyrie. But a speculation is about as much as you can get from the movie, and unless you go do some digging and read Thompson’s tweets and interviews, you probably would not know that the Valkyrie is, in fact, bisexual. Although Thompson had convinced director Taika Waititi to shoot a scene in which a woman walks out of her character’s bedroom, it never made the final cut because “it distracted from the scene’s vital exposition,” according to Rolling Stone.
Yet, Marvel has never seemed to have problems with depictions of heterosexual romance that actually distracted from vital exposition — which is basically all of them except that between Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter, and Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. Thor and Jane Foster, for example, were so lacking in chemistry that I could not be more relieved when I found out Jane would not appear in Thor: Ragnarok. The sudden romance between the Hulk and Black Widow that started in Avengers: Age of Ultron made less sense than had Widow and Cap gotten romantically involved in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And while the Russo brothers were smart enough to avoid that in Winter Soldier, they inevitably fell into the trap in Captain America: Civil War when they had Cap kiss Sharon Carter out of nowhere. Even Vision and Scarlet Witch, whose romance might actually be vital for the plot development in Infinity War, have been quite a forgettable pair thus far.
In short, few of the heterosexual romances in the MCU have proven to be memorable, because they come from forced engineering instead of genuine chemistry and connection between the characters. In contrast, many of the male characters have had more than enough of what we call “bromance,” yet the MCU hesitates to define any sort of non-platonic relationship between any of them. (As for female characters, there really aren’t that many of them to begin with.)
Of course, there’s the issue of countries that censor homosexuality in film, but that doesn’t mean Marvel can’t even leave room for the possibility. For instance, despite describing Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes’ history to be “a love story” and encouraging people to interpret the subtext however they want after Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers then went ahead with the aforementioned kiss between Cap and Sharon Carter in Civil War, a move that could only be interpreted as a way to reassert Cap’s heterosexuality and, in some ways, masculinity.
And perhaps that’s really the crux of the matter — masculinity. Perhaps the lack of LGBTQ+ characters in the MCU and superhero movies in general is less about queerness itself than about its conflict with the hypermasculinity still all too prevalent in superhero films. Perhaps it’s why the MCU’s first queer character had to be a woman instead of a man.
In the end, before there can be more queer superheroes, there must be a decoupling of heroism and hypermasculinity. The MCU, which has developed complex heroes who are very much human underneath the suits, and has tackled difficult socio-political topics as those presented in Civil War and Black Panther, is more than capable — only unwilling. As Phase 3 nears its end and Phase 4 begins, with works such as Captain Marvel and Black Widow that promise more female superheroes, I dearly hope that, somewhere in the blueprints, there is room for queer heroic presence.
Andrea Yang is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Five Minutes Till Places runs alternate Thursdays this semester.