X-Men Apocalpyse

No Gay Superheroes?

And Ghostbusters, Finding Dory, and Independence Day: Resurgence are among the tiny handful of films this summer where LGBTQ characters are even a question. Meanwhile, the multiplexes are clogged with movies that seem to go out of their way to avoid having gay characters. Much has been made of the X-Men being a metaphor for gay rights — just think back to that “coming out scene” from X2. However, sixteen years and nine films in (including X-Men: Apocalypse), the franchise has yet to introduce an openly LGBTQ character. The closest they’ve come is Deadpool, with a lead whom director Tim Miller claims is “pansexual” but whose only love interest in the movie was a woman.

Meanwhile, films with no apparent LGBTQ characters make absolutely certain that audiences know the heroes are straight. Captain America’s arc in Civil War largely revolves around his intense devotion to Bucky. But lest you start to wonder about those two, the film shoves Captain America into a half-baked romantic subplot with Sharon Carter. To be clear, I am not arguing that Captain America is “secretly” gay or bi, nor that he necessarily should be. I have no idea what the filmmakers’ intentions were with that scene — whether the subplot suffered in editing, whether it stemmed from some kind of contractual obligation, whether it’s setup for a future installment, or what have you. But from the audience, it felt like the film straining to reassure me that Cap is straight.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

Why Can’t These Characters Be Openly Gay?

At the same time that these movies are playing coy, the people making these movies are more than happy to pay lip service to the idea of better LGBTQ representation. Marvel’s Kevin Feige has said there is “no reason” we can’t see a gay character in the MCU, and Star WarsJ.J. Abrams has said there will absolutely be gay characters in that galaxy. Bryan Singer has reportedly compared the X-Men’s struggle to that of gay me and women. Roland Emmerich talked up Independence Day: Resurgence‘s gay couple months before the film hit theaters. So why aren’t LGBTQ people more visible in their movies?

Feig’s comments suggest that even when filmmakers themselves are open to LGBTQ characters, the studios might be skittish. It’s not hard to guess why, when huge swaths of the world are still deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality. Even in America, where gay marriage is legal, politicians are currently throwing temper tantrums to keep trans people from using restrooms. These conversations tend to get even more heated when kids are involved, and Ghostbusters and Finding Dory are specifically designed to attract young audiences.

It’s surely no coincidence that one of this summer’s only obvious and prominent same-sex couples comes in an R-rated comedy, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. If an audience isn’t offended by the copious amounts of nudity, bodily fluids, underage drinking, and/or extremely filthy language promised in the marketing, there’s little risk they’ll be fazed by the sight of two men cuddling or kissing, either. Similarly, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates — another R-rated comedy — reportedly features a sex scene between two women, although I must admit I haven’t seen that one for myself yet.

So, yes, it’s pretty easy to see why studios feel it’s safer to stick with straight cisgender people, and downplay or outright forgo LGBTQ representation. But it’s still disappointing to see filmmakers and executives say one thing and do another, blaming everyone else while kicking the can further down the road. As of now, it feels like the real song of the summer might be Popstar: Never Stop Stopping‘s “Equal Rights,” in which Conner4real raps about how he totally supports gay rights while shouting things like “titties” and “sports” so we know he’s absolutely, adamantly, definitely 100% straight.

gay sulu

Hope for the Future

If there’s some hope to found here, it’s that while change may be slow, it is happening. In 2015, Emmerich discussed his decision to feature a gay couple in Independence Day: Resurgence:

We have a gay couple in the film. We don’t make a big deal out of it. You start small and then you get bigger and bigger and bigger, and one day you have a gay character as the lead and nobody will wonder at it no more. But we’re not there yet. It’s really interesting, you know, when you go to a studio and say it’s [the lead] character and it’s a $150 million or $160 million film — they will not allow it. But when you have five characters, they allow [one of them to be gay] because they’re super-smart, you know?

Yes, the gay couple in Independence Day: Resurgence could’ve been more obvious. But the mere fact that they were there is a step in the right direction. We can give Emmerich credit for taking it while also wishing he and his peers would have the courage to take bigger ones. The trick is for filmmakers to keep taking these steps, and for audiences to keep encouraging them to do so. The danger is that we’ll get stuck in this in-between space, where films tacitly endorse a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to LGBTQ characters, claim credit for offering representation while never truly committing to it, and expect that to be enough. Real representation makes a difference, and we shouldn’t settle for less.

Recently, the cast and crew of Star Trek Beyond confirmed that Sulu is gay in the Kelvin timeline. And while we’ve yet to see how that reveal plays out in the film, it’s clear the filmmakers are proud of the decision, want audiences to know about it, and have no intention of backing down from it. There’s no “What do you think?” or “Whatever you want them to be” going on here. And the reaction from fans so far has been overwhelmingly positive. That’s another step in the right direction. The thing now is to remember that these steps don’t just happen, and to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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