Avengers: Endgame was always going to be a hit. It’s the culmination of a 22-movies long story spanning over a decade, and boasts a ginormous A-list cast that has the collective power to drive at least half the world’s population to the cinema.
So, directors Anthony and Joe Russo really didn’t need to shoehorn 30 seconds of gay representation into a three-hour film that was all but guaranteed to top $1 billion in its opening weekend. (It, in fact, grossed $1.2 billion.)
The directors’ intention seems genuine—to be inclusive and progressive in a way that few Disney, and certainly no Marvel Studios, films have been before. But Marvel’s attempt at openly gay representation feels more insulting than radical.
If you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame, please be warned there are some very minor (no, really, so inconsequential!) spoilers below.
Avengers: Endgame‘s gay representation problem
Early on in Endgame, Captain America (Chris Evans) attends a support group meeting for survivors of Thanos’s snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, which wiped out half the world’s population. There, a man, played by co-director Joe Russo, who lost his partner because of the snap, recalls how he went on a date with a guy recently but ended up crying.
It’s a subtle mention, but this, folks, is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first openly gay character. Auspicious, right? (Marvel previously downplayed Valkyrie’s bisexuality in Thor: Ragnarok, never openly acknowledging she is bi.)
After 22 movies and huge fan groundswell for a gay superhero to join the MCU lineup over the years, the best LGBT+ representation that we can be afforded is a throwaway line from a throwaway character.
I personally don’t believe the saying “better something than nothing” holds water. The modern-day struggle for LGBT+ equality began 50 years ago this year with the Stonewall riots in New York City.
We don’t want scraps, or crumbs. Joe Russo’s character in Endgame is a crumb. What’s more, that crumb, in subsequent press interviews, has been dressed up as a golden nugget.
Deadline, in an interview with the Russos, describes the moment as a “milestone,” and Joe Russo explains how “representation is really important.”
“It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them. We felt it was important that one of us play him, to ensure the integrity and show it is so important to the filmmakers that one of us is representing that,” Russo continues, I assume, straight-faced.
“Important,” “integrity,” “representing.”
These words are bandied—presumably with no sense of irony—as if unnamed-gay-support-group guy serves any significance to the film’s plot, or in the vain pretence that this meagre representation of a gay person is equivalent to true queer representation. That, in this case, would be a queer superhero of equal billing to Cap, Thor, Iron Man or any of the other infinite heroes in the movie.
But Endgame‘s minimal gay representation also fails to challenge in any way that is meaningful, despite its filmmakers’ assertions.
In the same Deadline interview, Anthony Russo says, “We’ve seen it now even in countries where where homosexuality isn’t as free as it is here. It’s actually one of those elements of these movies that I think resonates in challenged places in the world as well.”
Yes, Endgame, and therefore this scene, will play in cinemas in countries where homosexuality is illegal or unaccepted culturally. But what does it achieve? Not much.
If the goal is to advocate for LGBT+ people and normalise being queer, the scene wasn’t overt enough in its representation to be effective. If Marvel wanted to make a statement, why not have Cap tell the man that “guys, girls, it doesn’t matter who you love,” thus challenging views in less progressive parts of the world. Think of the impact that might have on a child in a country where anything outside of the heteronormative isn’t even deemed imaginable.
Marvel, please do better.