Why Aren’t There Any Gay Superheroes in Film and on TV?

With every film studio trying to get in on the Marvel Cinematic Universe game and a slew of new superhero televisions shows (most also courtesy of Marvel), the question of why there aren’t more gay superheroes in movies and on TV demands to be asked.

While it’s encouraging that we are somewhat beyond the point where we need to ask why there isn’t more LGBTQ representation on television as a whole—shows like Looking, Orange Is The New Black, Grey’s Anatomy, Orphan Black, Modern Family, and others being on the front lines of that particular cultural war—we’re still a long way from universal acceptance. From a world where all forms of sexuality are categorized under the banner of mere sexuality, with no sense of otherness or alternatives to the norm. Still, many shows only have one token gay character, or one gay character plus a revolving door of love interests. This is hardly progress.

In the case of Arrow and Revenge, homosexuality is represented by a bisexual character who switches sides depending on narrative convenience. The depiction of bisexuality is a pervasive problem on television, since writers don’t make characters bisexual in order to say something profound, but because that way, they don’t have to add a bunch of other gay characters to the show and they can still have the character in question hook up with the opposite gender. It’s the television equivalent of getting some ass and eating it, too.

In film, unfortunately, the situation is bad. I was chatting with a friend and challenged her to come up with a movie that was about a gay couple—or had gays as the lead characters in situations unrelated to romance—in a mainstream film since Brokeback Mountain. She could not. I could not, either. Everyone thought Brokeback Mountain would open a floodgate of films where gay characters took the lead, but not one film since has dared.

Now comes word that an animated children’s fantasy film, How To Train Your Dragon 2, has a gay character. Enfin, some progress! But is it the lead character? Of course not. An important secondary character? No, not really. The comic relief? Duh. Because if anyone of significance were to be gay, then there would have to be other LGBTQ characters to support that person. They might even have to make a whole, entire film with gay characters. Break out the fainting couches, the executives are looking a little pale!

The state of affairs in non-fantastical film and television, while not exactly dire, is far from ideal. But as an avowed geek, the lack of LGBTQ representation in sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book stories pains me all the more. The very nature of the genre is to explore new worlds and new ideas, to make us feel the humanity in the alien, to underline how people made to feel other are just like everybody else, to think as far outside the box as possible. To boldly go. These writers and creators dream up the most death-defying and time-bending scenarios for their characters, but they can’t manage to squeeze in a few who aren’t heterosexual?

It’s a little bit outrageous, when you think about it. Let’s break it down:
-Marvel (Disney styles) has Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredible Hulk, Agents of Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z, Agent Carter, and four—count ’em, four—new TV series set to be streamed on Netflix within the next two years. Total LGBTQ characters: 0 (Joss, I’m calling you out for this. This isn’t like you and it stinks.)

-Fox has the X-Men—a fricking allegory about people being ostracized for being different! Total LGBTQ characters: 0 (I won’t add to your woes, Bryan Singer, but check yourself)

-Sony has the Spider-Man series, old and new school, which they are hoping to spin off into an Evil League of Evil franchise (actual name: Sinister Six). Total LGBTQ characters: 0.

-Warner Brothers/DC has Nolan’s Batman films, Snyder’s Superman film, Batman vs. Superman (with a cast of thousands) leading into an eventual Justice League, not to mention Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, and Constantine on TV. Total LGBTQ characters: 1. (Bisexual, natch. Arrow is otherwise flawless.)

(Note: I may be forgetting someone here. A couple of these shows haven’t premiered yet, so TBD. Please feel free to correct me in the comments and I will update. Still, one or two additions do not a revolution make.)

This list isn’t depressing just because it confirms that the corporate overlords who control these movies and series have succeeded in whitewashing them (people of color being poorly represented to an almost laughable degree as well). It’s depressing because it shows just how much these talented filmmakers and showrunners are lacking in the imagination department. They pay lip service to themes of diversity, self-acceptance, and what being a true hero really means, but do nothing to push those boundaries in their own work.

It’s about past time, isn’t it, that we got a little action between Cap and Bucky? (Maybe women are a thing of the past for both of them.) That Batman takes Robin in because he pushes buttons that the cowled one can no longer ignore? That Rogue figures out the person she would most want to touch her is Kitty Pride, even if she’ll never be able to? That Loki admits once and for all just why he’s so obsessed with Thor?

In the immortal words of no less than Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield:

“I was like, ‘What if MJ is a dude?’ Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking!…So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?…I’ve been obsessed with Michael B. Jordan since The Wire. He’s so charismatic and talented. It’d be even better—we’d have interracial bisexuality!”

Now that is the kind of courage and imagination I like to see in my superheroes.

Of course, this entire post was written as an excuse to show just how amazing Mr. Garfield really is. Check him out in the new video by Montreal darlings Arcade Fire, for “We Exist”, a song about someone coming out to their parents and one of my current faves:

Cheers,
Selina

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4 thoughts on “Why Aren’t There Any Gay Superheroes in Film and on TV?

  1. xmenxpert says:

    I agree. I’m a Marvel Zombie. I buy a good 15-20 Marvel comics every month. In comics, Marvel currently has a whopping 3 titles with openly LGBT characters in major roles. (Another title supposedly has an LGBT character but it hasn’t been revealed, another title is going to explore the main character’s sexuality but hasn’t really had a chance yet, and another had, until recently, a subplot about a lesbian supporting character.) 2013 was a great year for LGBT representation at Marvel, with at least 8 titles featuring LGBT characters.

    In terms of racial diversity, Marvel’s doing OK, but could do much, much better. They do seem to be trying, and I’ll give them credit for that.

    But in the movies? Marvel’s lack of diversity is ridiculous and borderline offensive. Where’s the Black Panther movie? Where’s the Captain Marvel movie? Where’s the prominent LGBT character? They don’t necessarily have to make one of the character’s who’s already appeared gay, but we’ve got Thor, so why not toss in Hercules as a bisexual? Why not add Bobbi Morse to Agents of SHIELD as a lesbian?

    And it’s long, LONG pas time that Marvel started making movies for minority and female characters.

    • selinakray says:

      I’m not as well-versed in the comics, but, yes, any kind of minority representation in the films and TV series is really lacking. And, to be fair, I don’t only blame the creators. The response to Michael B. Jordan being cast as Johnny Storm has been ridiculous (though who knows if that came from actual fans or from entertainment websites trying to get page views). I’ve already seen a ‘Why Peggy Carter is the lamest person to base a show around’ article, completely missing the fact that it’s an action show built around a woman by a female showrunner. Sometimes it really feels like two steps forward, one step back.

      Thanks for commenting! You’re my first!

      -S. ;D

  2. Heather says:

    The bisexual characters on Arrow and Revenge do not “switch sides based on narrative convenience.” That is some absolutely biphobic shit right there.

    • selinakray says:

      Hi, Heather,

      Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. I apologise if you were offended by what I wrote. My only intention in writing it was to point out that we need better and more diverse representation of LGBTQ+ characters on TV. It seems I failed to do that, and for that I’m very sorry.

      For the record, I think it’s great that there are bisexual characters on TV. I think there should be more! But I want creators to include bisexual characters that aren’t just bisexual so that the writers have the option of having them sleep with someone of the opposite sex, but because they want to honestly portray a character that way. Keeping in mind that I wrote this a year ago, and both Nolan and Sara have gone through a lot on their shows since then, it still seem suspicious to me that neither of those shows has introduced any other characters, except for love interests that almost never stick around, that fall anywhere on the spectrum other than hetero. Nolan and Sara are amazing characters, and the Flash/Arrow team has improved a lot over the last year (full disclosure–I stopped watching Revenge at Christmas), but I think we can do better.

      So thank you for pushing me to do better and elaborate on my arguments. I appreciate it, and I hope you’ll accept my apology.

      Selina

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