Once again, Disney (DIS) – Get Walt Disney Company Report is finding itself embroiled in a political quagmire owing to its support of the LGBTQ community, after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis punished Disney for denouncing his “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” by seeking to revoke Disney World’s designation as a special tax district (which as we pointed out, is ultimately a meaningless gesture).
And once again, the company seems unwilling to back down in support for the LGBTQ community.
This time, it comes down to one of Disney’s crown jewels, Marvel Studios and the inclusion of a LGBTQ character in one of its hotly anticipated upcoming films.
Marvel Comics have openly featured LGBTQ characters in the comics since 1992, when the mutant and “Alpha Flight” character Northstar came out of the comics.
In 2005, Marvel introduced a new team of teenage superheroes called “Young Avengers,” which contained a number of LGBTQ characters, and is generally viewed as the moment when Marvel began making an effort to tell more stories featuring queer characters.
But Marvel Studios is a whole different matter, with a whole lot more money on the line, which is the sort of thing that makes executives overly cautious.
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially kicked off in 2008 with “Iron Man” and basically began conquering the film industry after the record-breaking success of 2012’s “The Avengers,” there weren’t any LGBTQ characters on screen.
That’s recently begun to change, and now it looks like Marvel is making its biggest push toward on-screen LGBTQ representation yet, though not without some pushback.
Which Marvel Film Is Generating Controversy?
Marvel on May 5 will release its latest film, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular sorcerer.
The film will see the introduction of the character America Chavez, a teenage superhero with super strength, flight and the useful ability to punch holes in reality that allow her to travel through the multiverse. (Marvel is all in on the multiverse these days.) In the comic books, America Chavez (who will be played by Xochitl Gomez) is a lesbian.
At first, Marvel President Kevin Feige hadn’t really gone on record as to whether the character would be portrayed as gay in the film, and reviews of the film have not yet been published.
But last week, news broke that the film had been banned in Saudi Arabia due to the portrayal of America Chavez, as the Hollywood Reporter notes “With homosexuality officially illegal across the Gulf, films that feature any LGBTQ references or issues often fail to get past censors.”
Now, Saudi Arabia’s cinema classification board is disputing those claims, saying that the film is not banned, but the board needs edits before it can be released in the region.
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Nawaf Alsabhan, Saudi Arabia’s general supervisor of cinema classification, has said the issue comes down to “12 seconds” from the film in which Chavez mentions her “two moms.”
The classification board has asked for those 12 seconds to be edited out, but so far Marvel is refusing to do so.
“Being in the Middle East, it’s very tough to pass something like this,” Alsabhan told Variety. “We sent it to the distributor, and the distributor sent it to Disney, and Disney has told us they are not willing.”
The film was set to open on May 5 in the Gulf, but so far it’s unclear whether that will happen or not.
Marvel Isn’t Backing Down On LGBTQ Characters
While Marvel would allow characters on its Netflix shows to be gay, including a character on “Jessica Jones,” it was more skittish about the movies. But it seems that pressure from both fans and creators for more LGBTQ inclusion is forcing the company’s hand.
Last year’s “Eternals” featured a gay charter named Phastos, who was played by Brian Tyree Henry and depicted as having a husband. The film was not released in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait because of the couple, prompting criticism from actress Angelina Jolie and other members of the cast. A version of the film with any reference to Phastos’ sexuality removed was released in United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.
China also regularly bans films that have LGBTQ content. “Eternals” wasn’t released in the country, but it’s been speculated that this was due as much to Phastos as director Chloé Zhao’s criticisms of the Chinese government.
While it’s unclear exactly how gay America Chavez will be allowed to be onscreen, Marvel has big plans for the fan-favorite character. She will appear in next year’s “The Marvels,” a sequel to 2019’s “Captain Marvel” featuring Brie Larson.
On the more speculative side of things, America Chavez has traditionally been a member of the Young Avengers, and while Marvel hasn’t announced a film or Disney+ show about the team, several characters from the comic were introduced last year, including the Kate Bishop version of Hawkeye in last year’s “Hawkeye” and the Scarlet Witch’s sons Speed and Wiccan were introduced in last year’s “WandaVision.” (In the comics, Wiccan is gay and in a relationship with his teammate Hulkling.)
With more teenager superheroes on the way from Marvel, including this summer’s “Ms. Marvel” (about a Pakistani-American teenager with shape-shifting powers) and next year’s “Ironheart” (about an African-American teenage genius that builds their own Iron Man armor) a next generation team-up event that will include Chavez as well as Wiccan seems inevitable.
Additionally, one frustrating-near miss for people that want to see greater inclusion in the Marvel films is that director Taika Waititi said that there was a scene in “Thor: Ragnarok” that would have confirmed Tessa Thompson’s superhero character Valkyrie as queer was cut for time.
But for the upcoming sequel “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which will be released on July 8, it will have a LGBTQ-focused romance for the character, as Feige has begun saying that Phastos is “just the start” of Marvel’s LGBTQ representation.