** SPOILER WARNING FOR SEVERAL MARVEL FILMS AND SERIES**
The latest coup of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the buddy-comedy streaming series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (fatws), was a huge success and worthy successor of WandaVision. Both shows were a new take on the MCU, and where WandaVision centered around a woman, the protagonist of fatws is the Black veteran Sam Wilson. But is that enough to count as “progressive”?
The MCU has a whole history of coming under fire for reasons such as toxic masculinity, the male gaze, badly written characters, and the lack of representation of queer, BIPoC, and Asian communities. As one of the biggest production companies in the world, it is only understandable that fans and critics have been demanding more diversity. It is impossible to do justice to all these important topics in one article, which is why we will focus on the representation of the LGBTQ+ community and the writing of female characters.
Fear of Queer?
The explanation that it didn’t attribute to the whole movie might of course be true, but did “needlessness” ever stop the MCU from including hetero romance, hetero love interests, or hetero canoodling?
On several occasions, the MCU “chickened out” by excluding queer characters from their franchise. Or should I say from including the scenes that actually show them being queer? One prominent example is Valkyrie, the fierce woman who drinks like a fish and fights alongside Thor, Loki, and Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok. In the comics, she appears to be bisexual and they even shot a scene where another woman leaves her bedroom. However, it didn’t make the final cut. The explanation that it didn’t attribute to the whole movie might of course be true, but did “needlessness” ever stop the MCU from including hetero romance, hetero love interests, or hetero canoodling? Surely not.
If we think back to Captain America: Civil War, we might remember the very unnecessary kiss shared between Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Sharon Carter (Agent 13). Although she is an important character and returns to the MCU in fatws, this doesn’t atone for their rushed and unexplained relationship. The point is the same, Marvel has time for quickies (wink), but only if they’re heterosexual in nature.
Marvel and Queerbaiting
Another popular critique is the repeated practice of queerbaiting. Again, think about Valkyrie. The comics portray her as a bisexual heroine, whereas fans of the films are still waiting for the affirmation on screen. Queerbaiting is known as a marketing technique, where LGBTQ+ romance or identity is hinted at by creators but never actually confirmed or deepened. With Valkyrie it might be a mild case of queerbaiting, as fans could find confirmation in the comics, but why deny the cinema audience their fair share of bisexual icons?
A more severe case of queerbaiting can be found in James “Bucky” Barnes (the Winter Soldier) who is Steve Roger’s best friend since childhood. There is a huge fandom dedicated to the tragic romance of SteveBucky, or Stucky, and that truly believes in their timeless love. However, this relationship might be nothing more than wishful thinking, as even in the comics there are no explicit mentions of them being a couple.
The way Bucky’s character is written in the MCU, that’s an example of queerbaiting. In the 40s, he clearly was known to be a charmer, if not a womanizer. But let’s take a look at fatws. In one scene, Bucky is asked if he’s been dating lately. He replies that there is a fair share of tiger photos to be found on Tinder, which hints at his possible bisexuality. Why? There are definitely more men who pride themselves in posing with tigers than women, let alone who would post such pictures on their dating profile. But in the end, it’s just that, a hint. Maybe a second season will explore Bucky’s sexuality and put an end to the queerbaiting.
Although not specifically about Marvel, another Medium article already discussed female action heroes and how they are often hypersexualized. But this is neither where the problem ends, nor where it begins. First and for all, female action heroes are underrepresented in the MCU. Indeed, only Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel), and Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) can be compared to their male counterparts in terms of popularity and screen time. Yet, it took 10 years for the Black Widow to get her own movie adaption and to stop being the sidekick of whichever Avenger seemed suitable. Wanda didn’t have to wait as long, but still.
When will female heroes, or villains, such as Valkyrie, Hela, Gamora, Mantis, Shuri, and Ayo, stop being promoted as a “progressive” addition, and finally become the norm?
When will female heroes, or villains, such as Valkyrie, Hela, Gamora, Mantis, Shuri, and Ayo, stop being promoted as a “progressive” addition, and finally become the norm? When will we be able to choose from a whole variety of heroines? When will there be extensive BIPoC and Asian representations? When will we see sufficient LGBTQ+ diversity? And when will actresses and actors be given the chance to portray this diversity in leading roles?
It will be interesting to keep track of Marvel’s future releases, for example, that of the Loki series on June 9th, 2021. The trailers have already hinted at Lady Loki, the shape-shifted female incorporation of the up-until-now male God of Mischief. But it is still in question how deep the MCU will explore Loki’s identity and sexuality. After all, Loki is comic canonically gender fluid and bisexual.
Let’s hope that the MCU will use its reach to spread diversity in the future. The possibilities are there, it is just a matter of will.
Let’s hope that the MCU will use its reach to spread diversity in the future. The possibilities are there, it is just a matter of will. I mean, Marvel should know best that with great power comes great responsibility, right?
Editor: Cecilia Begal