Will Disney Try to Rid Bucky of Queer Subtext in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?
Before the production of basically every major film and television series was halted, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was set to release around August of this year. As the first of the Disney+/Marvel Cinematic Universe television series, many fans are interested to see the tone of this new television universe and how it ties into the films. While the new due date of the series is unknown, it’s still on track to come out in the near future, and speculation is still well underway.
Many fans are excited about the series, given that it features two fan-favorite characters, but others are a little bit apprehensive. While Sam Wilson’s storyline is definitely the most important one at play—a lot could be written about the importance of this symbolism and having a Black Captain America in the world right now—a secondary issue here is how Disney will continue the story of Bucky Barnes. After Avengers: Endgame had Steve leaving Bucky behind, many fans of these two characters are a bit nervous about what the series has in store for the MCU’s most subtextually queer character.
It’s no secret that the MCU has done a terrible job of including LGBTQIA+ characters. While Valkyrie is set to finally become the first canon queer character in the franchise, it’s still unclear how this will be handled and how obvious her queer identity will be. Hopefully, this storyline will be handled well, and not in the way that other queer Disney characters, such as in Star Wars or the recent Onward movie, have been handled. However, there are many characters in the MCU that fans and critics alike have talked about as coming across subtextually queer, and Bucky Barnes is one of the most discussed and most obvious.
There have been many extremely well-written articles over the years about the relationship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. These articles, many written by those involved in the MCU fandom, have pointed out that their relationship is one of the most well-developed in the series and how Bucky acts as a driving force in Steve’s narrative in a way that is usually reserved for love interests.
It’s nearly impossible to be a fan of the MCU films and not be aware that the Stucky (Steve and Bucky) ship has been extremely popular. The extent to which critics of all kinds discussed, and sadly sometimes joked about, this relationship brought its existence out of just fandom spaces and more into the mainstream.
The tension and narrative importance of their friendship was impossible to ignore, and for these reasons, many fans rooting for LGBT representation in the MCU were upset when Avengers: Endgame pivoted the relationship backward. Many felt that this was an obvious move to end any queer readings of Steve and Bucky and instead ensure that there was no way to interpret their relationship as anything other than bros.
In the last shot of the film, we see Steve and Peggy dancing, and it’s made clear that Steve will live out his life as a heterosexual man in a very traditional, white picket fence narrative, ignoring the previous autonomy of Peggy Carter, her storyline with Daniel Sousa in Agent Carter, and her life that was filled with going against gender norms for her time.
With Steve’s straightness being something that Disney/Marvel seemed to want to make cut and dried—though, of course, bisexuality is possible, it’s hard to read the intent here as anything other than an intentionally hetero “happy ending”—and with his departure from the MCU set, this leaves Bucky Barnes and the question of his sexuality behind.
While many fans understandably hope that the character will be given some sort of queer storyline given that those in charge, like Kevin Fiege, have indicated queer characters in the future MCU projects, others don’t believe this will happen. Given the efforts to erase Bucky’s importance from Steve’s storyline and to make it clear these two would never be together again, it’s hard to imagine the MCU suddenly pivoting to allowing Bucky to be a queer character of some kind.
The promos from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier itself seem to point to a series that will ensure that everyone knows Bucky is straight. Of course, this is all conjecture at this point, as we’ve seen very little of the show itself and know little about it. However, some fans have pointed out that even Bucky’s appearance seems to have been changed to fit that of a more stereotypical action star, masculine, straight male archetype.
Of course, in real life and in fiction, you can’t tell someone’s sexuality by their appearance. While there are certain cultural trends in appearance or dress, there isn’t a certain way that a queer man looks. But, when looking at Disney properties where mostly straight, white, rich men make creative choices about characters and what they look like, it’s worth noticing when characters are changed to fit into a more acceptable or stereotypical mold.
Given how the movies handled Steve Rogers’ love interests, it won’t be surprising if the new series takes obvious steps to show Bucky dating a woman, and there’s even a chance that woman could be Steve’s former flame, Sharon Carter. Given that Steve was given an awkward kiss with Sharon Carter in Captain America: Civil War that felt forced and also placed Sharon as little more than a love interest, it’s not a stretch to imagine this happening again. Then, the films sent Steve back to Peggy, Sharon’s great aunt, to ensure the perception of his straightness, illustrating how these story choices often sadly end up ruining the narratives and autonomy of female characters by relegating them to side roles where the male character’s happiness is paramount.
And, while other fans argue that the character of Bucky has never been anything but straight in the comics or the films, queer fans and people who know anything about the history of queer people in film and subtext know that, intention or not, this kind of bait and switch is the oldest trick in the book.
How the MCU handles Bucky and any other potential queer characters in the future remains to be seen, but it’s hard to hold out hope, given their track record.
(images: Marvel Entertainment)
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