I almost titled this ‘nerd culture’ instead of pop, but I’m writing about Star Wars and Marvel movies, they’ve long ago crossed over from being in the domain of just the fringe to powerhouse pop culture institutions. And that’s the issue.
By the time of Avengers: Endgame, there had been 23 major motion pictures (I may be off by one or two), eight TV series between ABC and Netflix (plus the ones on CW, but they weren’t really connected, but neither were the ABC/Netflix ones, but that’s a different issue even before you throw Disney+ into the mix….I’m getting off track) and billions of dollars in revenue made.
I still have not seen all of those movies, and I’m probably forgetting lots of small details, but I can count off the top of my head, less than five queer characters. If I’m remembering correctly, the first gay male character we got was on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ABC), and was in two episodes before being written off.
So it was such big news that Joe Russo, one of Endgame’s directors, would play the first-ever gay character in a Marvel movie (I’m not sure about Valkeyrie here, I haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok yet).
It was hyped. It was set to be a huge moment.
The character didn’t even have a name.
Likewise, J.J. Abrams touted the first ever LGBT representation in a Star Wars movie (other media such as comics, books, video games, etc. have had representation before).
Again, it was a huge flop. Two characters, one of which did not have a name, the other was a minor, background character in the sequel trilogy are seen kissing in celebration.
To quote the wonderful article by Rosie Knight:
Queer people’s loves, lives, and partnerships aren’t accidental and don’t only exist when other queer people know them, though in the entire galaxy of the cinematic Star Wars universe we’re yet to see any true queer representation.
The brief and tacked-on moment was a slight that felt pointed after the choice to not pursue the natural chemistry between Poe and Finn, and it also reminded this writer of the Russos’ terrible attempt at “representation” in Avengers: Endgame. So why is there this sudden push to get brownie points for doing the bare minimum? Why don’t these directors just not promise anything and be honest about the fact they’re willing to ignore marginalized audiences?
We’ve seen time and time again the representation matters. It really, really matters.
When young people can see themselves in the franchise they love (and in politics and in sports, the list goes on and on), we have a sense of belonging. A sense that there is a place for us in a world that often feels like it rejects us.
We’re not just some box to be checked, but actual human beings. Including us should not be something that is huge news, especially in 2019 (when these movies came out), but it is because there is such a terrible track record at this point.
I enjoy the Marvel films, and I’ve always loved Star Wars, but it’s hard to see myself in these universes that very clearly have no room for me.
All my best,