Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige recently confirmed to The Playlist that not one, but two, openly gay characters would be coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Some lauded the decision as a landmark example of diversity in movies.
Others have pegged the move as a PR stunt and little else.
Unfortunately for Marvel and Feige, there’s ample evidence reinforcing the latter.
First of all, there’s the timing of it.
It was just this May that the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation raked Marvel Studios over the coals for not having enough homosexual representation in their films.
Mere months later, GLAAD has gotten their wish. If you believe that’s purely coincidental, I have a bridge to sell you in Aruba.
Second, what else besides a thirst for publicity could explain Marvel making a big deal out of a subject that is quite literally the least important thing when it comes to heroism.
Batman’s most enduring and defining relationship is with his butler, Alfred. Captain America’s most important relationship is with his best friend, the Winter Soldier. Spiderman’s relationship with his Uncle Ben is the whole impetus for his superhero career.
Notice how not a single one of those examples has anything to do with their respective sexualities? If the richness of the characters were the important thing, Marvel would be emphasizing their internal lives, not something extraneous.
Also, characters like Batwoman and Iceman have been out in comic books as lesbians for more than a decade, so Marvel isn’t exactly breaking new ground here, just hyping an idea for all the publicity it’s worth.
It’s important to note that Marvel’s PR stunt is actually doing a disservice to their characters with their tokenism. Black Panther was a fun movie featuring a compelling cast, but notice how everyone simply refers to the titular character as “the black superhero.”
The same would happen to whichever characters become the first openly gay characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They could give a superhero the most compelling and best-written backstory and have it portrayed by the world’s greatest actor, and people would still summarily dismiss the character as “the gay superhero.”
And that might not be the bright business move Marvel seems to think it is.
The mainstream media has long weaponized pop culture to push a political agenda. The glorification on television of drag queens, transgender minors and teenage mothers is already too much for many Americans. Now they are being subjected to content they object to on the silver screen as well.
When plying such divisive topics, think of the message Marvel is sending to people who disagree with the politics their peddling. It’s telling thousands of Americans that they’re wrong, they’re the bad people and that they’re being left behind.
No matter where you stand on various issues, it’s inarguable that Marvel’s move is going to unnecessarily alienate a portion of the ticket-buying public.
Marvel could, surprisingly, take a cue from another media conglomerate that specializes in outsized characters wearing colorful costumes — the WWE.
WWE has a checkered history, at best, when it comes to representing divisive characters. There was Sargent Slaughter, who became an evil Iraqi sympathizer during the 1990 Kuwait invasion. There was Goldust, an androgynous gay man who legitimately upset some wrestlers when his character tried to kiss them on television. The Nation of Domination was a militant black faction that drew clear inspiration from the Black Panthers. There’s been cross-dressers, racial caricatures and sexual deviants.
But WWE dropped all of that once it became a publicly traded company. And regardless of your personal feelings on a scripted “fake sport,” you can’t deny that WWE has entered a financial boom period. They’ve signed lucrative deals left and right, from Saudi Arabia all the way to Fox. None of that would’ve been possible had WWE insisted on plying divisive topics on an entertainment platform.
Look, at the end of the day, Marvel will make more money than most could ever even dream of.
But if Marvel continues down this path and starts tokenizing every minority just so the company can point to some nebulous threshold for representation, it runs the real risk of perpetuating stereotypes, engaging in tokenism a la Black Panther, and unnecessarily alienating a large portion of the American public. In short, it’s doing everyone far more harm than good.
And no amount of politically correct PR is worth that.
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