Marvel Studios still has a lot of work to do.
Avengers: Endgame came out over the weekend, and odds are if you're as big a fan as we are, you've seen it by now. What did you think of the Avengers' ultimate battle? Let us know in the comments below. Then check out our full Endgame review, all the box office records it's breaking, every character who died or stayed dead by the movie's end, why Captain America's ending doesn't make sense, and our best guess at what that audio Easter egg after the credits was.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn't have the best track record when it comes to representing minorities. All but three of the franchise's 22 films have been focused primarily on straight, white men--and the three that aren't only came in the last two years. It's not a spectacular ratio when you really break it down. Avengers: Endgame didn't exactly tip the scales in favor of diversifying the line up in any meaningful way, but it did include the big screen MCU's first-ever openly queer character.
Sure, the character was an unnamed cameo by co-director Joe Russo, but, look, we're going to take the win we can get, even if it's a really embarrassingly thin one.
And in terms of including any level of queer representation, Russo's cameo was actually handled pretty well for as minimal as it was. Here's how it went down: Captain America is moonlighting as a grief counselor running a therapy group for snap survivors. In group, Russo's character explains that he went on a date--a big step--and that it went pretty well, except for when he started crying, and when his date, a man, started crying too. The trauma of the Snap is obviously not something people are adjusting to easily, even five years later.
Steve offers up some kind-hearted advice, and tells everyone that it's best to focus on the things that are positive about their situation and they need to work on moving on. It's all over in about five minutes, but it's an exceedingly normal five minutes devoid of any real stereotyping or poorly handled tropes.
In an interview with Deadline, Russo spoke to their motivations and intentions in including the scene. "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. It is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity.”
The sentiment is nice, to be sure, and appreciated. But it's important to look at this moment in context of not only Endgame, but the entire cinematic universe. This is not a monumental victory--all things considered, it's a tiny drop in a very, very large ocean. That isn't to say it doesn't matter, but it's ultimately a tiny scrap being tossed the way of queer fans and what may or may not be an empty promise for movies to come.
For all the MCU has lacked genuine representative queer relationships in the past, there has been no shortage of subtextual coding--everything from the wildly popular assumed romance between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes to the extremely loosely implied past love life of Valkyrie during Thor: Ragnarok's flashback sequence. By the same token, there have also been characters that are explicitly queer in the source material--Valkyrie again, members of the Dora Milaje that served as Okoye's inspiration, Loki, and Korg, to name a few--who have been transported into the live-action universe, only to have their sexualities and identities written around or outright erased. All of which is to say that the MCU has had a bunch of opportunities to start including non-heterosexual characters into the mix and blatantly chosen not to do so. That's not something that can be undone or corrected by a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo.
But we've got to start somewhere right? Hopefully Marvel Studios will deliver on Russo's promise, and hopefully future representation will be more than a tiny, inconsequential Easter Egg.