Call the doctor: The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a problem, and it requires attention, diagnosis and prescription. There may be side effects, but ultimately the MCU will emerge from the other side in a healthier condition.
I'm talking about Marvel Studios' strange refusal to add LGBT characters (specifically superheroes) to the MCU. How is it that, in 2016, a film universe containing approximately 67 super-powered or God-like beings (that's the number of heroes the Russo brothers famously stated could appear in Avengers: Infinity War) includes precisely zero characters of an LGBT persuasion?
Stage One: Diagnosis
Before we reach the questions of how this situation came (and continues) to be, and how it might be rectified (or, for the doubters, why it should be rectified), it's first necessary to consider the MCU in the wider context of comic book history.
Comic books, traditionally, have been a conservative medium. It wasn't until 1992 that the first gay character appeared in Marvel comics, and even though the X-Men have long been a metaphor for minority groups like gay men and women, it's only in the last 25 years or so that characters in Marvel and DC comics have been explicitly written as gay or bisexual.
But in that space of time, and particularly in the last decade, comics have rapidly transformed themselves into one of the most progressive, inclusive mediums of literature. In the alternate dimension of Earth 12025, Wolverine is gay. That's not something that could have happened in the '80s. It's also not a change that Hollywood has been able to keep pace with.
While Miles Morales and Kamala Khan prove exceptionally popular on the page as people of color adopting the aliases of Spider-Man and Ms Marvel, respectively, the upcoming solo movies belonging to those two heroes will feature Peter Parker and Carol Danvers instead. There's no quota for non-white heroes on the screen (it should come organically), but creatively Peter Parker is pretty strung out after five stop-start cinematic adventures in the space of a few years. Would it have killed Marvel to put the black-latino Morales at the center of a movie instead?
The problem is not necessarily one of racism, or homophobia. Its roots are in conservatism, a fear of upsetting a chunk of the audience and taking less money as a result. In Hollywood, everything comes back to money, and the money men are convinced that nothing which represents a financial risk could possibly pay dividends. Presumably they think all the white kids would immediately break out in hives at the thought of a black-latino Spider-Man and just stay home instead.
They wouldn't, and by the same token, a straight audience isn't going to skip the next Captain America movie purely on account of one of its fifteen superheroes not being straight. The people who pay to watch movies aren't given the credit they deserve. Harley Quinn, a relatively new comic book heroine who only rose to prominence in the '90s, has consistently been written as bisexual on the page, but it seems her big-screen moment in Suicide Squad won't pay heed to the full spectrum of her sexuality. That's not a problem in itself, but when the situation is replicated across numerous characters in a variety of movies, it begins to feel like one.
The picture is brighter on television. Thought still under-represented, you'll find a wider spectrum of non-straight characters on superhero series. Arrow Season 4 introduced Curtis Holt, a character based on DC Comics' Mister Terrific. He's married, gay, and his sexuality is simply matter-of-fact. Marvel have something similar going on in Jessica Jones with the gender-swapped Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), a corporate shark with a wife and a mistress. If it's good enough for a man...
Stage Two: Prognosis
So where do we go from here? What are the chances of Marvel Studios breaking free from the shackles of its famously conservative owner Disney and introducing a progressive LGBT character into the MCU at some point before we're all dead — and does it really matter that there aren't any already?
As a matter of fact it does, and here's the crux of it: Our generation, those aged 15-35, are more liberal than our parents. Many of us voted for Obama. Not even 20 years ago, a black President would've been unthinkable. That's prime evidence of our ability to incite change. Conservatism is a luxury afforded to the old, but it's not the old whose tolerance, whose open-mindedness, whose voice will change the face of society for the next generation. It's the young. It's us.
Here's what Kevin Feige had to say last summer about the MCU's chances of getting an LGBT character or two:
"[Will it happen] within the next decade? I would think so for sure. In the drawing board going up to 2019 it remains to be seen ... It’s usually a five to ten-year cycle between when something happens in the comics and when we can do it in the movie, sometimes a little less ... So we always look at stuff that’s happening in the comics and go, ‘Where could we do that?’ Sometimes it’s sooner, but there’s no reason why that couldn’t happen in the next decade or sooner.”
As bomb-dive responses go, Feige's is hilariously and depressingly non-committal. He's essentially saying that it could happen and removing the responsibility from Marvel Studios by diverting attention to the comics. It's a particularly transparent tactic because the MCU rarely adapts stories word-for-word from the pages of Marvel Comics. Captain America: Civil War has very little in common with the comic arc it takes its title from. Ant-Man was the loosest of origin story adaptations, and the upcoming Doctor Strange (trailer below) is taking huge liberties with numerous aspects of the comics.
That movie is happy to reinvent a Tibetan man as a white woman (the Ancient One, in case you were wondering), but neither it nor any of the nine Marvel movies which will arrive before 2019 can bring itself to feature one LGBT hero. Again, it's all about the money: Marvel benefits from turning a Tibetan character white (they don't want to upset China and risk losing up to $150m in global box office), but they see no obvious financial benefit to representing the wider spectrum of sexuality.
If movies targeted primarily at the most liberal generation don't even have the balls to say a person can be gay, or bi, or confused, and be a superhero, what message does that send out? Somewhere in the region of 10-20% of the people who see an Avengers movie will be something other than straight. They deserve a hero they can relate to, in the same way that Scarlet Witch and Black Widow are relatable to female audiences as women who demand the same respect as their male counterparts.
That's simply what it boils down to. The idea that everybody, man or woman, straight or gay, Trump or Clinton supporter (OK, scratch the last one) deserves an equal voice. The idea that a young kid can watch a movie in which people put on ridiculous latex outfits and save the world from the bad guys (or, in 2016, from each other) and see that someone who's gay is no different from someone who's straight.
It may be a long wait for 2025, when Marvel might just get its first gay screen hero, but at least we have the X-Men comics. They bring all the gay.
Beautiful 'Age of Ultron' graphic header art by Territory Studios on Behance.
Will Marvel Ever Join The 21st Century And Add An LGBT Hero Into The MCU?