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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Review: Coriolanus

Theatre is in my blood. I love reading it, writing it, performing it, directing it. Whenever someone would ask me, “How would you like to die?” my answer was always, “Performing on stage in some septuagenarian production of an Agatha Christie play.” I used to live in London, England, and would haunt the West End every weekend, squeezing my behind into as many of their tiny, tiny seats as I could afford to during my time there. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say I saw over 100 plays, from dramas to musicals, Shakespeare to the modern masters, hole-in-the-wall productions to main events on Shaftsbury Avenue. Being so close to such culture is the one thing I miss the most (not to say that Montreal doesn’t have its share of culture).

When the National Theatre began to broadcast some of its plays in cinemas around the world, I discovered a new temple at which to worship. Theater should, after all, be for the people, and the fact that so many can now see the best actors, directors, writers, and stagecraft wizards of all time by taking the bus to their local and shilling a mere $20, well… Just another boon of the digital age. So far, I have seen both versions of the Danny Boyle production of Frankenstein starring our two contemporary TV Sherlock Holmeses (they alternated parts – the best was JLM as the monster and Benedict as Victor Frankenstein), Helen Mirren reprise the Queen in The Audience, Kenneth Branagh play Macbeth, the 50th Anniversary of the National Theatre celebration special, and, last night, Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston.

Tom Hiddleston, foreground, as Coriolanus, at the Donmar, London, December 2013.

A Donmar Warehouse production directed by Josie Rourke, Coriolanus is the story of an early Roman general who excels at being a war hero, but who self-destructs when his ambitions, arrogance, and snobbery lead him into politics. Raised by a domineering mother to be the ultimate one-percenter, he is a brave and loyal man with good intentions who can’t see past his own prejudices at a time when Rome isn’t the epicenter of the ancient world, but a county full of warring tribes.

This staging has allegedly done away with a lot of the pomp and circumstance of past productions, paring both the set and the text down to their bare essentials. This is the kind of minimalist theater that entrenches itself deep in the heart, rich with symbolism, centering on performance, leaving space for the audience’s imagination. With a bunch of black chairs, a few ladders, some paint, some graffiti, and a bucketful of fake blood, Ms. Rourke, her crew, and her actors conjure up a tragedy as if by Satanic ritual. As someone who had never seen the play before, I had no trouble at all understanding what was going on; this is what I love about modern British theatre. The actor’s speeches were lucid, not flowery, imbuing the poetic lines with meaning and power.

As Coriolanus, Tom Hiddleston owned the stage. He is young to play the role – it’s usually reserved for someone middle aged – but he’s so good that you can’t help but think that this is what Shakespeare must have meant the character to be all along. He gives the character so many shades – earnestness even in his naivety, principled-ness even at his most arrogant, paternal love even as takes a hard stance against his family – that the reasons he succumbs to his tragic flaw are, while inevitable, totally understandable. He handles the nuances of Shakespearean language as if it was his mother tongue, and gives his body entirely to the production: the fight scenes, the close-ups, the camaraderie, everything. Everyone else in the cast, right down to the ensemble players, is brilliant: Deborah Findlay as Volumnia, Hadley Fraser as Aufidius, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen as Virgilia. Triple-threat Sherlock producer and Whovian Mark Gatiss is especially suave and heartbreaking as Menenius, the perfect conniver until the tables are turned on him. The only sour note in the cast was struck by two actors who played Brutus and Sicinius, who were serviceable but who never really gelled as a pair (especially since they were supposed to be lover-schemers) or as a credible threat to Coriolanus.

There’s even a little homoerotic subtext made text for your viewing pleasure!

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Overall, a riveting production. There is an encore screening later in the month of February, and if you are lucky enough to live close to a cinema playing it, I wouldn’t miss it! All sorts of info about this and upcoming screenings can be found here: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/ I would particularly recommend the encore presentation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, since I saw that live in London last spring and it is easily one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. Whatever they are doing at the National Theatre, they are definitely doing it right!

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