Falcon/Winter Soldier Writer Emphasizes Bucky's Heterosexuality, In Case You Missed It In The Show

The MCU's long standing reliance on queerbaiting isn't going anywhere, don't worry.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a long and troubling road in terms of queer representation onscreen. After Endgame's director-insert "queer character," where a nameless man played by a Russo brother bemoaned missing baseball and bad dates was officially noted as the "first" for the MCU in 2019, it seemed like there was nowhere to go but up. Some fans even started hoping that a show like Falcon and The Winter Soldier could be a chance for Marvel to make good and start to pay off the long-running fan reading of Bucky Barnes as a bisexual man.

This wish wasn't without some grounds in the text of the show, and even the promotional material, which teased things like "relationship counseling" between Sam and Bucky.

The "rumors" of Bucky's queer sexuality have existed for MCU fans as long as he's been part of the cinematic universe. Like most fan theories, these readings of the character are rooted in tiny scraps of canon information--in this case, the bond between Bucky and Steve Rogers being the single biggest driving factor in Steve's three-movie arc, until it was abruptly derailed during the Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame duology. However, despite the relationship's rather unceremonious end in the movies, some fans have held out the hope that maybe, just maybe, a bisexual Bucky Barnes was still on the table for the MCU, even if the object of his affections wasn't to be Steve.

These fan theories reached a crescendo during a scene early on in Falcon and The Winter Soldier when Bucky described his difficulties dating in the modern era. The grounds for the argument were a pretty major stretch--but fans who had been anxiously spinning up these diverse interpretations had been trying at it for a decade now, so stretches just come with the territory. The reasoning revolved around a throwaway line about scrolling past people posting selfies with tigers on dating apps, which could have implied that Bucky was scrolling past people of all genders, because since when are selfies with tigers a strictly feminine thing? But flimsy as that may have been, writer Malcolm Spellman decided to play coy.

When asked about the implications of the line and Bucky's romantic life, Spellman teased the possibility in an interview with NME by giving a nonanswer. "I'm not diving down rabbit holes," Spellman said, "but just keep watching…"

For queer fans, or fans of queer romance in pop culture, the "just keep watching" call to action is a familiar one. It's professional short-hand for "the real answer is just going to disappoint you, but we don't want you to give up on the show," which is the core motivation in a practice called "queerbaiting." Queerbaiting is exactly what it sounds like--characters in shows or movies will amass a massive queer fanbase, usually by design and carefully coded messages to imply sexualities or relationships--that the creatives never intend to actually pay off or canonize. However, rather than directly addressing or confirming that no queer subplots or romances will actually be established, creatives will continue to wink and tease ("bait") them to their queer fanbases in hopes of their continued support and loyalty. Usually, this manifests in promotional material that is deliberately misleading or interviews where they tell fans to--you guessed it--just wait and see. Inevitably, those fans will do just that, only to reach the end of the story and see absolutely nothing.

Of course, Falcon and The Winter Soldier wound up much the same way. There was no "wait and see" moment for Bucky--if anything, his heterosexuality was emphasized even more as the show went on and he struck up a flirtatious friendship with Sam's sister. Now, writer Kari Skogland has confirmed that Bucky being canonically bisexual was never on the table after all. In an interview with Variety, Skogland said, "what we were really more trying to display [with the dating app comment] was his complete lack of technical skills, as well as being part of any kind of community. He doesn’t fit. So that was I think more our intention there than try to point to any one particular affinity."

But the "affection" between Sam and Bucky? That's real--it's just not supposed to point toward any one sexuality, Skoglan said. "So I’m not really sensitive to masculinity as any kind of barrier between that love, or how it should manifest. I’m completely fluid when it comes to any of that. So there’s no defined sexuality to any of it. So it’s, really, I think, just affection."

Of course, there's nothing to say that affectionate, non-sexual friendships between two men can't exist in the MCU--but there certainly are a lot of them, and there are absolutely no queer characters onscreen in any of these movies or shows yet. Granted, that will hopefully change--Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie was "confirmed" to be queer in a panel at San Diego Comic-Con, but actual mention or reference to her sexuality has yet to make it onto the big or small screen in any way. Meanwhile, Bryan Tyree Henry's Phastos in the much-delayed Eternals will, reportedly, be married to a man with whom he will share the MCU's first on-screen queer kiss. But seeing that Eternals is still in the finishing stages according to director Chloe Zhao, and not due out until 2021, we really will just have to wait and see.

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