The Gay Avengers: Endgame Character Is a Half-Baked Attempt at Diversity
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a lot going on: a purple villain from Saturn's moon and time wizards who live in the Greenwich Village and at least two really unfortunate Thor films. All that is to say that Marvel doesn't have to operate by the rules us plebeians do. The world of Captain America and The Hulk relies on fighting for justice and keeping evil at bay, which would make you think that the gender, race, and sexuality of its superheroes wouldn't be quite as big of a deal, even if the majority tend to be nice white, straight dudes. But as Avengers: Endgame reflections continue to come out, there is headline afterheadline about Marvel's first openly gay character. Here's the only spoiler alert I'll give you: those headlines are non-starters.
I thought I had missed something because the only plan for an LGBT superhero was the rumors swirling around the upcoming production of The Eternals. After some light investigation, turns out that the first openly gay character is a glorified cameo by director Joe Russo. The First Openly Gay Character in question is in a support group with Captain America after The Snap. He's a Mets fan who is sad his boyfriend vanished during Thanos's power play at the end of Infinity War. Then Captain America tells him that it's brave to keep going on dates ~with other men~ and then the scene is over.
To be clear, I'm not trying to say that Joe Russo's portrayal of a grieving gay man was incorrect or offensive, though it's canon that all gay men are fans of the Yankees, not the Mets. With that being said, including a gay person in a peripheral role isn't an accomplishment as much as its paying attention to every day life. Giving a sideline character the moniker of "gay" isn't blazing a trail for LGBT inclusion as much as its hoping its audience is ignorant enough to conflate the commonplace with something remarkable.
The fact that an average gay man in a Marvel movie makes news as newsworthy shouldn't be surprising. It's the same approach Disney took by making LeFou gay in Beauty and the Beast and saying he was going to have a "gay moment" when in reality he just very coyly longed for Gaston. And yet, headlines fall from the fingertips of writers lauding minor LGBT representation as if the Russo Brothers threw a brick through the Marvel-equivalent of Stonewall.
In any other part of life, if you give the bare minimum, you deserve the bare minimum amount of praise. "Representation is really important for us in these movies and I think the thing we are happiest most about Marvel moving forward is it's becoming incredibly diverse," Joe Russo said to The Hollywood Reporter."We've done four of these films and it was incredibly important to us to have a gay character represented somewhere in one of these four movies." But true representation isn't a BINGO card with an empty slot that says "throw a gay here!" If anything, stashing a gay man in the narrative so that Captain America can pat him on the head and tell him how brave he is only reinforces the idea that LGBT people should feel lucky to be included at all.
I would have preferred that the Russo Brothers, Disney, and the Marvel Universe continued on their journey of creating a good universe with a compelling superhero narrative and left the wanton attempt of including a gay character on the cutting room floor. While representation is important, this is one of those few worlds where the rules of identity politics and social norms can be suspended. But when you make it a point to create a gay character, have him do the absolute least, and then have it lauded as a step forward for representation, that's a bit of a joke.
In another world, I like to imagine that Thanos is alive and that he used his Snap abilities in a more constructive way. Instead of taking out half the universe, he could just nix the half-baked ideals by filmmakers looking to phone in representation as opposed to fully committing to it. I'm not interested in kowtowing to a couple of guys for creating a character with the gravitas of my local barista. If you're going to go out of your way to make a character gay, give them a storyline worth paying attention to.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.