When the first episode of Loki was released on Disney+, eagle-eyed viewers noticed an interesting tidbit on the promotional artwork that features in the show’s credits: Loki’s sex is identified as ‘fluid’. This won’t be a surprise to readers of the comics, where Loki has been known to frequently change their gender presentation on the fly, but to see it represented on-screen would be a groundbreaking moment within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the third episode of the show, Loki then shared his bisexuality in a blink and you’ll miss it moment. Excitement and cautious optimism ignited on social media. However Loki creators have shared his bisexuality will not be explored any further. So that’s that.
The MCU has long engaged in a history of queerbaiting: hinting at the supposed queerness of certain characters without explicit acknowledgement of or engagement with that queerness. Across the 23 films and two TV series released by Marvel Studios so far, not a single major character has been explicitly queer.
Several lead characters have had their queerness hinted at, but none have made it to the screen. According to actor Tessa Thompson, Thor: Ragnarok cut a scene of a woman leaving Valkyrie’s bedroom (Valkyrie is queer in the comics). The same reportedly happened with a flirtatious scene between Okoye and Ayo in Black Panther. Marvel’s PR team made a lot of noise around the first LGBTQ+ character appearing in Avengers: Endgame, only for it to be an unnamed man in a support group played by one of the film’s directors. For those hoping for an acknowledgement that queer people can be superheroes, it was a huge letdown.
From the moment I joined @LokiOfficial it was very important to me, and my goal, to acknowledge Loki was bisexual. It is a part of who he is and who I am too. I know this is a small step but I’m happy, and heart is so full, to say that this is now Canon in #mcu #Loki ??? pic.twitter.com/lz3KJbewx8
— Kate Herron (@iamkateherron) June 23, 2021
If you feel charitable, you could put this down to Marvel Studios needing to ensure that their films pass content ratings across the globe: including an openly queer superhero would make a film unreleasable in large markets including China and Russia. Other large franchises, such as Star Wars (like Marvel, owned by Disney), have featured same-sex characters or moments that can be easily edited out without impacting plot. But even if you are willing to accept that argument as reasonable, the same cannot be applied to the Disney+ streaming service: one show missing from the service in certain regions doesn’t negate the service as a whole. This should allow Marvel to be more inclusive when putting together the shows that are made for streaming.
(If you’re feeling less kinship with a large media conglomerate, you could argue that Disney, who has emblazoned themselves in rainbow colours for Pride Month, should be living up to their supposed values by fighting for queer representation in regions where it is restricted or banned and therefore where queer people may be most isolated, rather than designing their content to those limitations.)
And yet, the Disney+ shows so far have doubled down on queer-baiting. Wandavision introduced Wanda’s children, Billy and Tommy, characters who are both queer in the comics. A rainbow flag drawing in Wanda’s kitchen seemed to be acknowledgement of this, and yet the series ended with both being lost, depriving the audience of the chance to see two superheroes come of age and discover their queer identities.
Falcon and The Winter Soldier continued this trend, playing with queer fans’ hopes that Bucky might be bisexual: his intense relationship with Steve Rogers during the films has raised several eyebrows, and their out-of-place connection has been compared to the idea of chosen family. Between an action sequence that ends with Bucky and Sam rolling in a field of flowers, a therapy session where the men gaze at each other while locking legs, and Bucky referring to seeing lots of photos of tigers on dating apps (a trend commonly associated with men), many felt that their theorising was being vindicated.
Does it still count as queerbaiting when we *know* the characters will never be queer?
Watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, my answer is a resounding Yes. https://t.co/JDFIKvXnv7
— Gavia Baker-Whitelaw (@Hello_Tailor) March 29, 2021
But the series ended with no revelations about Bucky’s sexuality. Speaking to Variety, director Kari Skogland seemed almost surprised that so many had read into those moments, putting it down to ‘deep affection’ between the two men. Perhaps these actions were genuinely not intended to be baiting, and yet that raises more issues. How are the creative teams and crew behind these movies and shows so completely deaf to the longing for a queer character, which has reached such an extent that these small, throwaway, supposedly unrelated incidents are being picked up on and dissected? And where are the queer creatives in Marvel who could address these issues, or at least make the point about how this will come across? Are there no LGBTQ creators close to the top of the chain of command at Marvel Studios?
Worse yet, when lead writer Malcolm Spellman was asked about Bucky’s sexuality, he responded, “I’m not diving down rabbit holes, but just keep watching.” Even if the contents of the show weren’t intended to queer bait, this comment in itself does just that by suggesting that queer fans and audience members will need to stick around for future appearances by Bucky for even the slightest chance of seeing a queer superhero realised on screen.
If the intention is for Bucky to be heterosexual, why not just say that? These seemingly contradictory responses from the leads on the show are indicative of a larger hypocrisy between Marvel’s films and shows: being desperate to appear like there’s representation within them, and yet refusing to actually bring that representation to life. As explained earlier, even if you give the benefit of the doubt to Marvel for releasing films this way, this explanation does not fly with the greater flexibility that a streaming service offers.
So with over two dozen pieces of content produced over ten years, at what point can we expect to see just one queer superhero be given centre stage? Marvel Chief Creative Office Kevin Feige has said that there will be a queer superhero in The Eternals, which comes out this November. “He’s married, he’s got a family, and that is just part of who he is,” he told Good Morning America in 2019.
Whether the relevant scenes will be easily cut, or if that hero’s queerness is integral to their role as a hero, remains to be seen. With the history that Marvel’s films and shows have, exhausting any goodwill for over a decade, it’s not unfair to be sceptical about what that might bring.
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