Written by: Dennis R. Upkins
“I’m not interested anymore in the conversation of tolerance. I’m not interested anymore in the conversation of acceptance. I don’t need somebody else’s approval to validate my existence. What I demand is your respect for my humanity.” —Billy Porter
In which a quote from one Billy Porter sums up why I’ve been overall nonplussed about the diversity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or rather lack thereof.
Recently at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige shared news concerning the forthcoming Phase 4 of the MCU such as the announcement of a fourth installment in the Thor film series entitled Love and Thunder. Natalie Portman will return to reprise her role as Dr. Jane Foster as well become the Mighty Thor. It was also “confirmed” that Valkyrie would be the MCU’s first LGBTQ superhero.
While this would appear to be progress on the surface, that is sadly not the case. The MCU is being praised for being progressive when the past 11 years have proven otherwise. Valkyrie is not the first LGBTQ superhero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The announcement itself is factually inaccurate. To be 100% clear, this is not an indictment on the character Valkyrie or the amazing and talented actress who portrays her, Tessa Thompson. Valkyrie is without question one of the best characters in the MCU, and, whether it’s her music, activism, or scene-stealing performances, Tessa Thompson is a certifiable superhero in her own right.
Both Victoria Hand and Inhuman Joey Guiterrez predate Valkyrie on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. There’s also Nico Minoru, Karolina Dean, as well as Xavin of Marvel’s Runaways. And of course, there was Dora Milaje Ayo, who debuted in Captain America: Civil War. It was she who channeled her inner Ludacris and instructed Natasha Romanoff to move and get out the way. What’s even more egregious is that both Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther featured scenes that confirmed both Valkyrie and Ayo are LGBTQ, yet said scenes were deliberately cut from both films. So for Feige to declare 11 years after the MCU’s debut that the world is ready for LGBTQ superheroes is peak hypocrisy and caucacity.
White men do not get to declare when it is a convenient season for progress for reasons already explained. Additional reasons can be found with the MCU’s prominent players both on and offscreen:
- Guardians of the Galaxy Director James Gunn made a barrage of homophobic slurs on social media and mocks people with HIV/AIDS when he’s not attending pedophile parties.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Star Chris Pratt rocked white nationalist gear and attends notoriously homophobic churches.
- Iron Man 3’s Female Big Bad was replaced with a male villain because something something something patriarchy something something something toy sales.
- Scarlett Johansson doubled down on her “right” to Columbus Asian, trans, and other marginalized roles.
- Tilda Swinton played a whitewashed version of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange and then attempted to gaslight Margaret Cho in an email exchange.
- Benedict Cumberbatch starred in whitewashed roles, transphobic roles, and straight-washed abominations of historical gay heroes—that’s when he’s not calling Black people racial slurs.
- Amy Pascal, best known for her racist Sony emails, served as producer of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home.
- Speaking of Spider-Man, it’s interesting that Feige is claiming the world is ready for LGBTQ superheroes yet cosigned on bigoted mandates such as Spider-Man having to be white and heterosexual. We see how well the Spidey franchise is working out for Disney.
- Of course, there’s Marvel CEO Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, who continues to be one of President Trump’s biggest donors.
As the old adage goes, the fish rots at the head. More than that, the announcement comes just days after Iceman writer Sina Grace discussed the homophobia he endured while working at Marvel Comics. Bigotry at the House of Ideas should not be a shocker given its publisher made a career pulling a Scarlett Johansson and pretending to be Asian. So, this announcement was little more than PR spin. It’s no accident that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, one of the most progressive and diverse series on network television, is regularly undercut and disrespected by Marvel itself.
So what really forced the MCU to “embrace” LGBTQs and minorities? Self-preservation, namely in the form of heavy competition from chief rival DC Comics/Time Warner.
Despite years of numerous campaigns and public outcry from fans, Marvel seemingly had no intention of releasing a Black Panther film. Despite the animated miniseries outperforming all comparable Marvel animated films even without a live-action film to promote it, Marvel execs hemmed and hawed about how difficult it would be to create Wakanda. It wasn’t until DC announced its slate of diverse films which featured nonwhite leads that Marvel/Disney became “woke.”
The DC Extended Universe didn’t have to wait over a decade to give LGBTQ fans their own feature film when they released Wonder Woman in 2017. The CW’s Arrowverse has continued to garner success with its ever-expanding lineup of superheroes who represent a very diverse demographic. Supergirl, The Flash, Black Lightning, Thunder, Batwoman, Dreamer, Vixen, and The Ray are a few examples among others. Progressive content is not only the result of hiring PoC and LGBTQs as talent but also placing qualified PoC and LGBTQs in positions as directors, writers, and producers.
The pressure of DC Comics/Time Warner
forcing Marvel to join the 21st century in its content is analogous to All
Elite Wrestling forcing World Wrestling Entertainment to check its racism and
recognize the value in one of their most talented, gifted, and criminally
underappreciated superstars, Kofi Kingston. What former WWE superstar CM Punk had to say about Kofi Kingston’s
WWE Heavyweight Championship win at Wrestlemania 35 also applies to the Marvel
“accepting” LGBTQs and other minorities:
“It should’ve happened ten years ago. You know, that’s what I’ll leave with. And it’s one of those things where yes, I’m stoked that it happened now, but again, be ahead of the curve instead of behind it.” —CM Punk
What's Your Reaction?
Dennis R. Upkins is a speculative fiction author, a journalist and an equal rights activist. His first two young adult novels, Hollowstone and West of Sunset, were released through Parker Publishing. Both Upkins and his previous work have been featured in Harvard Political Law, Bitch Media, MTV News, Mental Health Matters, Geeks OUT, Black Power: The Superhero Anthology, Sniplits, and The Connect Magazine.