Eternals Finally Solves Disney’s Huge LGBTQ + Problem


Warning: Contains spoilers for Eternal.

MCUs Eternals goes a long way in resolving Disney and Marvel’s longstanding issues with LGBTQ + portrayal in their films. The first conversations around him seemed promising; members of the production often spoke about the inclusion of Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) as the MCU’s first openly gay superhero long before release. However, Disney’s story with a true LGBTQ + portrayal promising but only offering queerbaiting or clues has kept many from being overly optimistic about the portrayal.

As its release draws near, Marvel’s Eternals was the target of a review bomb on IMDb long before its release. Hundreds of 1-star reviews knocked the film’s ratings down before more than a few critics and early screens could see Eternals. The vast majority of these reviews focused on the fact that Eternals presents a homosexual kiss between Phastos and her husband, Ben (Haaz Sleiman).

Related: Eternals Review Bomb Proves Marvel Is On The Right Track

The story of Disney and the MCU’s LGBTQ + portrayal has garnered more and more attention over the past two decades. Here is exactly what this problem looks like and how Eternals goes a long way towards suggesting that they could finally be serious about this problem. More importantly, here’s what Disney and Marvel need to do to continue improving their LGBTQ + portrayal on screen, and why.

Disney and Marvel’s problem with LGBTQ + representation

Loki and Sylvie in Loki episode 3

Disney has long been criticized for not including LGBTQ + characters in their films and content produced by their subsidiaries like Pixar (purchased in 2006) and Marvel (purchased in 2009). Despite the sheer amount of material that Disney has created, the amount of LGBTQ + representation is minuscule and largely contained on television. This has slowly started to change over the past few years as they have come under increased pressure to provide better representation. However, when weird characters have been included in their content, it’s often in blinking moments and you’ll miss it, which has led to numerous accusations that Disney has baited its audience. Notable occurrences are the brief mention that a female character is married to a woman in Forward, an appearance by Joe Russo in Avengers: Endgame as a gay man in a support group, and recognition of Loki’s gender and non-cishet sexuality in brief moments of Loki.

The lack of LGBTQ + representation in Disney and Marvel is a real problem because it is extremely important for these marginalized communities to be represented on screen. Representation helps them feel more accepted by a society that too often can put forward anti-LGBTQ + voices and also helps others understand that these identities are very normal and should be embraced, not avoided. Disney has already gone beyond excluding openly LGBTQ + characters and relationships by pushing back on odd readings of fan stories (when a story isn’t explicitly LGBTQ + but queer viewers can see an analogous version of it. their own narratives or an implicit LGBTQ + feeling expressed). The most recent occurrences of this have been with Disney Pixar Luca, where director Enrico Casarosa first repelled those who thought that Luca served as a gay or trans allegory, and with Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, when Anthony Mackie complained that fans were excited that Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes were giving off weird vibes.

A common explanation why Disney avoids portraying LGBTQ + representation in its films is that the studio receives a large portion of its revenue from Chinese markets. China routinely censors all LGBTQ + performances of films and previously has completely banned the showing of films in the country due to LGBTQ + content. However, calls grew for Disney to stand up for values ​​rather than money, especially as their monopoly in the market continued to grow. Their choices in Eternals around LGBTQ + representation suggest they may finally be moving in that direction. Several countries in the Middle East have now banned Eternals after asking for changes to be made to their theatrical cuts to erase LGBTQ + portrayal and gay kissing, but Disney backed him and refused to make the changes.

Related: All 12 Marvel Movies Released After Eternals (& When)

How Eternals is doing their LGBTQ story

Gemma Chan as Sersi, Richard Madden as Ikaris, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Haaz Sleiman as Phastos Mari with their son in Eternals

There are many ways that an LGBTQ + story can fail. Two of the most common issues are that the characters can be irrelevant background figures, which suggests that the stories of the cishet characters are more important, or that queer characters are defined by their sexuality, presented as stereotypes rather than as stereotypes. completely rounded characters. Eternals really gets his LGBTQ + portrayal with Phastos. The portrayal of Phastos’ same-sex relationship with her husband Ben is shameless and wholesome, as the two are shown to love each other and care very much for their son Jack (Esai Daniel Cross). The scenes with the two carry as much, if not more, weight than any of the other relationships in Eternals and the film was able to deliver on the studio’s early promises that Phastos’ sexuality would simply be part of his character and not a defining characteristic.

The fact that Phastos is in a relationship with another man is less important to the plot of Eternals than the fact that he is in love with a human. He and Sersi have romantic relationships with humans during the film, and the biggest concern the Eternals express about these relationships is that the humans will someday die while the Eternals go on living forever. The only questions the Eternals have raised about Phastos’ relationship are not about his sexuality, but rather the fact that he had previously given up on humanity completely.

Eternals is the perfect movie to have included that first openly gay superhero (aside from the fact that it took 13 years and over 20 movies in the MCU for it to happen). The whole movie is structured around ideas of different types of love. This opened the door for another element of LGBTQ + representation that is discreetly included in the film but that hasn’t been talked about as much. Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok, credited as Don Lee) appear to be in an aromantic and / or asexual relationship, as the two express a deep and lasting love and care for one another. other, but do not appear to have any physical or explicitly romantic expression of this love. This is particularly appropriate for Thena as the character is inspired by the Greek goddess Athena, who was famous for being a virgin goddess and who avoided sexual advances.

Eternals goes all the way on its LGBTQ + portrayal by also including a character who is not explicitly LGBTQ + but who is easily left open for queer reading. The Sprite of the Eternals, who hates and resents humans for what they have, dresses androgynously and is distressed that she is stuck in a child’s body. Throughout the film, she expresses the feeling that her body is not suited to her identity and experiences a form of dysphoria about it. Her account speaks to the trans experience in a way Marvel has never done before, whether intentionally or not. However, Kieron Gillen’s recent project Eternals the comics indicate that Sprite may be trans or genderfluid, which lends credence to the idea that the parallels of trans experience in the film are intentional.

Related: Marvel’s Eternals Marketing Spoiled Its Big Turn

Future Disney and Marvel films may still improve the portrayal

Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos in Eternals' Hiroshima scene

Eternals’ The LGBTQ + portrayal of Phastos and Ben, Thena and Gilgamesh, and Sprite’s narrative, marks a big step forward for Disney and Marvel. However, Eternals currently stands out as being against the standard for studios and they still have a long way to go. This type of representation needs to become more mainstream and more expressive of the range of experiences in the LGBTQ + community. Gay and lesbian relationships between cis people are the most represented part of the community, so it’s no surprise that Phastos’ relationship was the MCU’s first big win. Going forward, Disney and Marvel need to show a wider range of identities, especially since recent studies have shown more and more Gen Zers identify as non-binary or queer in some way.

While Eternals’ the portrayal of these characters as having LGBTQ + identities that are fully embraced by everyone in the film is important, it is only one facet of the portrayal that both disney and marvel must aim for. To avoid portraying LGBTQ + experiences in a spurious way, they must recognize the struggles the community faces in society at large. These stories should be told with delicacy and avoid having characters entirely defined by the trauma the world inflicts on them. To do this effectively in the MCU beyond EternalsMarvel needs to make sure they focus on getting these stories told by those who lived them and working to hire more LGBTQ + actors, writers, and directors.

Next: Who’s The Voice Talking To Dane Whitman In Eternals Credits Scene

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