Marvel has announced its first trans superhero, but we must concentrate on creating our own LGBTQ+ stories rather than expecting big entertainment companies to
Bringing dispiriting proof that some things never change, the early days of 2020 have already borne witness to another episode in the unedifying saga of Queer Representation in Hollywood Franchises. In December, Marvel boss Kevin Feige was asked if the Marvel Cinematic (sic) Universe had any intention of “bringing more LGBTQ+ characters into the MCU, specifically the T, trans characters.” Feige replied: “Yes – absolutely, yes. And very soon. In a movie that we’re shooting right now.”
After some predictably excitable reporting of these comments online, execs at Marvel must have got the wind up, because those comments were hilariously debunked yesterday. Here’s Variety, with the lowdown: “Feige only intended to respond to the first part about LGBTQ+ characters, and he did not mean to imply that a trans character will be coming to the MCU ‘very soon’.” All perfectly clear. Commiserations to any trans people holding out hope for a two second glimpse of someone being visibly trans in the background of a shot of Captain America propping up the Chrysler Building.
This asinine geomagnetic storm in a teacup comes soon after the Star Wars films broke new ground with… a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene of tertiary characters from the Resistance being very briefly LGBTQ+. The scene was voluntarily removed by Disney for its release in Singapore, to earn the movie a more audience-friendly rating. Meanwhile, freshly unshackled from his Disney contract, Oscar Isaac has wasted no time letting us know of his disappointment at not getting a gay storyline between his character, Poe, and that of John Boyega, Finn.
“I think there could’ve been a very interesting, forward-thinking – not even forward-thinking, just, like, current-thinking – love story there, something that hadn’t quite been explored yet; particularly the dynamic between these two men in war that could’ve fallen in love with each other,” said the actor, while cashing a large cheque. “I would try to push it a bit in that direction, but the Disney overlords were not ready to do that.”
So the debate persists, and is set to rumble on for years. Because the big studios have paid lip service to ‘equality’ in films like Captain Marvel, nerds in the queer community will always be clamouring to see their sexual and/or gender identity reflected onscreen. And if these people don’t feel debased by literally begging enormous corporations for the merest crumb of representation, fair play to them. But drumming up publicity by making and then breaking promises of representation to the LGBTQ+ community will always be a viable option to studios for whom the first priority is dollars.
“Instead of asking for better rights for queer people, we find ourselves stuck in this rut of demanding representation, as if that will show we have arrived in any way”
These issues stem, in part, from the recent mainstreaming of alternative sexualities and gender identities. So instead of asking for better rights for queer people, we find ourselves stuck in this rut of demanding representation, as if that will show we have arrived in any way. Perhaps queers could, instead, get used to the idea that queerness is itself antithetical to the workings of big business; we represent a spanner in the works of commodification. Goodness knows there all all sorts of different kinds of queerness, some more radical than others, but there’s nevertheless something disheartening about the number of queers standing outside the gates, begging for tickets to a party we have always been excluded from. In this writer’s view, blockbusters are like the institution of marriage in that they stand for everything we run counter to: rather than campaigning to get involved we should try to find an alternative to them.
Indeed, Marvel and Star Wars and James Bond and all the franchises you know are based on intellectual property from the past – again, a little like marriage. The only way to make ourselves heard is to create new stories, make new films and TV shows that can give a full understanding of queer lives, and depict us in all our variety and complexity. As with queer relationships, we don’t have to model ourselves on the structures that straight narratives have laid out for us – those comforting and deceptive happily-ever-after stories that sell popcorn and mortgages, where apolitical goodness and coupledom always win the day. Perhaps we could dream of something wholly different, something bigger and better!
For this to happen takes a leap, and requires divorcing ourselves from the mainstream, in a way that is sincerely hard to contemplate, let alone act on. But nobody in the straight mainstream is going to tell our stories for us while they’re out there chasing money.