Dear Franchises: Just Include Some LGBT+ Representation and I’ll Stop Yelling At You (Mostly)
If it's bad representation I will yell more though.
It’s National Coming Out Day and once more I’m angry about LGBT+ representation in major franchises.
“But, Kate,” you say, “you’ve already written about that today with Venom.” To which I reply, yes, but is there such a thing as too much talk of LGBT+ representation? Nope. Not at all. Because I’m trying to think about seeing myself reflected in any major franchise film and I’m drawing a serious blank.
LGBT+ representation in franchise films is a mess. Lately, Fantastic Beasts has come under much-deserved fire for the terrible way they’ve handled the coming Dumbledore/Grindelwald story. But while our attention is focused on rightfully calling J.K. Rowling and David Yates out, let us not forget that nearly every other major franchise has failed LGBT+ audiences on a massive scale, leaving us with scraps and promises of future representation. That has to change.
I’m going to walk through three franchises to look at their missed opportunities, and explain why it’s wrong to continue to treat LGBT+ fans as an afterthought. All of these franchises could’ve easily included LGBT+ characters by now, and yet none of them do, despite many of them containing characters who are not straight in other materials. In 2018, the exclusion is borderline absurd, and dangerous to say the least.
Let’s start with the DCEU, namely Wonder Woman which, despite featuring a canonical bisexual lead character, deflects any attempt at LGBT+ representation in the same way Diana deflects bullets. Diana literally comes from an island of all women, and yet we do not see a single same-sex couple among them. Diana even seems baffled by the concept of marriage, just to drive home that the Amazons do not appear to have any romantic or sexual lives outside of training for battle. All it would have taken to establish that yes, Themiscyra is home to queer women, is Diana sharing stories of her culture with Steve to show she does understand love and marriage. She could have even made a passing reference to having a former girlfriend, not to titillate Steve or the audience but to establish that she is bisexual.
The Internet speculated that Menalippe, the Amazon who screams and runs towards Antiope when she dies, was her wife. It appears that they are actually sisters, according to the art book, which makes even less sense since there is no onscreen text that would point to them being related. Menalippe is not canonically related to Antiope, so there is literally no reason for them to be siblings. Even weirder is that we’re supposed to divine this from the zero mentions they make of this in canon. We could have had lesbians, but they pulled a Merlin and made them sisters instead.
We didn’t even need to go to Themiscyra to find characters who could have been gay. Etta is canonically not straight in the comics any longer! Of course, that might’ve required her getting a little more to do in the film to work in her sexuality, but if DC gives me that Etta Candy TV series, I won’t complain (though they’d probably find a way to erase her sexuality there too).
Similarly, if they were worried about upsetting comics purists by making canon characters not straight (because comics purists tend to ignore canon when it comes to LGBT+ characters), the film had two original characters in the form of Charlie and Sameer who read as “very good friends.” At one point, Diana watches as the pair hold onto each other and stare into each other’s eyes after a long battle, but they’re just two bros, chilling in World War One, five feet apart cause they’re not gay. The text has enough that the creatives could’ve dropped the gay bomb offscreen and it would’ve won them points.
Now, let’s talk Marvel. Marvel, which has been tap-dancing around LGBT+ representation for ten years and twenty films, is just now promising that the characters are coming! In the future. Eventually. Because ten years and twenty films wasn’t a long enough wait.
We’ve talked at length about Loki and his queerness and how that’s been mostly erased from the Thor films, which would have been fabulous to see onscreen, admittedly a little problematic as he would’ve been the only LGBT+ character and he’s also the major villain for Phase One. Valkyrie, a bisexual icon, had her sexuality erased in the films as well. While fans have clamored for any of the Avengers to be revealed as LGBT+, those pleas have not been heard.
It wouldn’t be hard for Marvel to introduce supporting characters who are queer into the worlds of the films. It doesn’t have to be Steve Rogers, though I would like it a great deal if he and Sam Wilson kissed and held hands. Valkyrie can get a cute girlfriend, possibly named Carol Danvers, and things can build from there. Loki can be his queer self on television, but everything else should happen on the big screen for the general audience. At this point in time, Marvel has made more money than God so if they suddenly included a subplot about an established hero being queer it wouldn’t necessarily take away from the box office draw. In fact, it might actually garner an even bigger gross, because if Marvel has learned anything in the last couple of years, it’s that people pay for representation.
Worse still is that Marvel actively engages in queerbaiting. They’ll shiptease Steve and Bucky until the cows come home, but when the cards are on the table, it’s repeated comments about friendship and banter over ex-girlfriends. By continuing to play along with the fandom’s desire for LGBT+ representation and then shutting it down when it could possibly be confirmed, they’re engaging in toxic behavior that turns desire for representation into a joke. That’s inherently wrong, and cruel to their audience.
Though if Marvel is anything like they were when they stipulated that Peter Parker must always be white and heterosexual, we might be waiting a long time. Or, they’ll give us LGBT+ representation like the lesbophobic nonsense that made up Jessica Jones season one and call it a day, because shouldn’t that be enough to make us happy?
Spoiler alert: bad representation sucks. Give us characters who are queer who aren’t evil or defined by trauma. Let them be as major a player in the main Avengers, and for the love of all that is good, don’t immediately kill them off. If Marvel is a bunch of chickens, they can make their supporting heroes queer and build from there into having the queer characters be the protagonists.
Of course, I’ve mostly talked superheroes here, but let’s go into the biggest franchise on Earth and why they’re doing some embarrassingly bad representation work when it comes to LGBT+ issues. Yes, I’m talking about Star Wars.
First off, they present Finn and Poe as the ultimate form of possible representation, yet deny it at every turn. John Boyega gets asked about Finn/Poe at Star Wars Celebration, at the expense of talking about Finn’s own growth as an individual, and yet the two spend most of The Last Jedi separated and Poe’s sexuality is teased without ever giving us a canon answer. We can’t even get background LGBT+ characters, like two X-Wing pilots kissing before a mission. The animated series also don’t give us any sort of shipping moment, despite the show Star Wars Rebels damn near pulling a Korrasami situation with two male characters. We have the books, and by the books I mostly mean Chuck Wendig and Daniel José Older; everyone else tiptoes around the issue or, in Claudia Gray’s case, just does it poorly.
We had glimmers of hope with Lando being described as pansexual by Jon Kasdan, but that mostly meant “well he flirts with a female identifying droid so that’s pansexuality, yeah?” What the hell, Lucasfilm?
JJ Abrams said, “oh, there should be LGBT+ characters in Star Wars.” But the director has never made the inclusion LGBT+ characters in his properties a major concern; even Star Trek introducing Sulu’s husband was less his idea and more Simon Pegg’s. He can talk about how it’s on the table for as long as he likes, but if the credits roll on Star Wars: Episode IX, and there’s not a single confirmed LGBT+ character, there is going to be some serious pushback. Especially if Poe is revealed to be straight in a last minute attempt to pair him off with someone.
Star Wars fans have been screaming for LGBT+ representation for years now. The fact that people have been so vocally for Finn/Poe means that Lucasfilm has heard, but they have opted to continue to wink at Poe’s sexuality and continue to push a variety of heterosexual love stories at us that either barely work (Jyn/Cassian), don’t work (Han/Qi’Ra), or make no sense (Rey/Kylo).
Poe being canonically gay wouldn’t even affect the plot that much, unless they pull a last minute Hail Mary out of their pocket and go Finn/Poe. There’s bound to be a time jump between The Last Jedi and Episode IX, so why not show us that Poe has found someone in that time and given his mother’s ring to them. We get a new character, Poe gets a love interest, and the stage is set for the rest of the action. Similarly, one of the new characters could be queer as well, though hopefully not a villain because if our first on-screen queer character is a highly stereotyped British villain, I’m going to write the meanest think piece of all time.
In the wake of the release of The Force Awakens, Salon ran an article that talked about the Finn/Poe phenomenon, saying:
LGBT+ representation in “Star Wars” would be a huge victory for the continued fight for freedom and acceptance that still faces so many people. LGBT+ teens still have a much higher rate of suicide and depression. A gay character in the biggest franchise in the universe, one linked to so many childhoods and formative to what kids think of as right and wrong, wouldn’t quite be the same as blowing up a Death Star, but it would be close.
A gay Poe Dameron could save lives in this galaxy.
And it comes down to this when I speak about Wonder Woman, about Marvel, and about Star Wars. We need this representation. We need to have LGBT+ heroes to normalize the LGBT+ community for audiences across the board. If Poe Dameron can be a hero, or if Steve Rogers can be one or Diana Prince, and also be LGBT+, that will send a powerful message to youth across the country, as well as provide hope for older generations.
It matters on a moral level. The constant exclusion of LGBT+ characters is a direct political statement about how these studios value their conservative audiences more than they do taking a stand. It is deliberate, and it is unfair. The fact that in 2018 we are still writing these pieces is absurd. One of these franchises needs to take a stand, and the others will surely follow suit. However, until someone proves me wrong, then the closest thing we have to a canonically gay hero is Eddie Brock.
When Venom is peak LGBT+ rep, you know something’s gotta break.
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