Queer Girl Friday: Marvel Looking to Cast First Gay Superhero (Why So Late?)

I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on film and TV! Good news, LGBTQIA+ Marvel fans: we could be seeing an out gay superhero in the MCU in the not-so-distant future if rumors about “The Eternals” are to be believed. But why did it take over ten years for us to get here? And why haven’t there been more openly queer characters in MCU films before this? Here are all the details I could glean from the buzzing internet, along with my own thoughts about superheroes, money, and diversity on the big screen.

As “Avengers: Endgame” looms on the horizon, Marvel is abuzz with new flicks to put into development after this era of the MCU ends. While most projects look to the future, a select few, including “The Eternals,” will give a few comic book superheroes the prequel treatment. The name comes from Marvel’s race of cosmic superbeings, who include the likes of Ego (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”) and Thanos (“Avengers: Infinity War”); the film will focus on Ikaris and Sersi, two Eternals with more benevolent views on humans. Here’s the brief synopsis of the film (via Comicbook), detailing most of what we know thus far:

“The story of The Eternals is set millions of years ago when the cosmic beings known as the Celestials genetically experimented on humans, creating the super-powered individuals as well as more villainous off-shoots known as the Deviants. The two groups went on to battle each other throughout history to see which would eventually become the ultimate race. The story involves the love story between Ikaris, a man fueled by cosmic energy, and Sersi, who relishes in moving amongst humans.”

While it looks like the film has no current cast linked to the project, the script has already been penned by Matthew and Ryan Firpo, with Chloe Zhao slated to direct (yay, female director!). Filming is set to begin August 1 in the UK, so they really need to kick things into gear in the coming months.

Ikaris, an Eternal and a Marvel superhero.

So where’s the gay superhero in all this? According to Cosmic Book News, the identity of the character is being kept secret, though they will have a “major presence” in the film alongside Sersi and Ikaris. But there aren’t any gay Eternals that I know of, so I’ve really got nothing to go on, canon-wise. The Hashtag Show reported that Marvel is looking for the lead of “The Eternals” to be gay, but we’ve got no confirmation that this gay superhero will get top billing (especially as the synopsis makes no mention of the other Eternals set to appear, besides Ikaris, Sersi and “Piper,” whom only The Hashtag Show has mentioned in reporting this week).

Sersi, an Eternal and a Marvel superhero.

So, we look to the casting call details. According to Out, Marvel’s currently searching for an actor, 30-49, who “physically looks like a superhero” (a.k.a. hot as hell), with the studio open to all ethnicities, but preferably looking for an openly gay actor. At the very least, we’ll be getting an actual gay man in a queer role, which means young Marvel fans will soon have a bonafide gay role model to look up to.

I’ll give kudos to Marvel on this point, at least: they’ve waited a long time to have an LGBTQIA+ representation in the Avengers corner of the MCU, and it looks like they’re trying to make sure they’ll get it right. Marvel’s production chief Victoria Alonso expounded upon how committed Marvel is to diversity at the L.A. premiere of “Captain Marvel,” clearly all for a future MCU with people of all races, genders and sexual orientations represented.

But here’s where this news has rubbed me the wrong way. Alonso told Variety, “The world is ready, the world is ready” for a gay superhero. But should it matter, really, whether or not the world is ready? Superheroes are, after all, a reflection of the underdogs of humanity, people with tragic backstories, ordinary emotions and extraordinary powers that they use for good, inspiring us to do the same. We know seeing superheroes thought of as minorities in most societies (women and non-binary folx, LGBTQIA+ folx, people of color) can help open the minds of their viewers. Storytelling, at its heart, gives listeners an opportunity to walk in other shoes, to see the world in a different way. Superheroes (in the comics) do this with aplomb, and they can often move their readers towards tolerance. So why did it take over 10 years for Marvel execs to finally take the idea of a gay superhero seriously?

Sadly, the answer is money. Until now, Marvel films have been monumental productions, each one carefully planned to fit in the final narrative of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.” Audiences had to unequivocally love the majority of the films before these finale projects, and the conservative backlash could’ve tanked that goal (not to mention the foreign market, which is a lot less comfortable with LGBTQIA+ content). So, films like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Captain America: Civil War,” which are practically dedicated to Steve Roger’s love for Bucky Barnes, included awkward, boring encounters with Sharon Carter to remind you Steve is apparently straight.

With all the money, manpower and hope shoved into every MCU film, choices were made for more conservative storylines and, perhaps, straighter characters. That’s a debate for another time, but I can’t help but be a little annoyed at how long it took for an openly gay superhero to be an option with anything to do with the Avengers. And in the wider MCU, only Negasonic Teenage Warhead (played by openly gay actress Brianna Hildebrand) and Yukio (Shiolo Kutsuna) have earned a romantic, queer storyline. And this victory is only possible due to the low budgets of the “Deadpool” films, which Scott Mendelson over at Forbes fantastically breaks down. Tl;dr, concerns over money have always trumped diverse storylines in the MCU, and I don’t see this changing overnight. I’m hopeful for this new gay superhero in “The Eternals,” but skeptical about his portrayal until I at least see a trailer.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m excited to see what happens with “The Eternals,” and ecstatic to hear a gay superhero could be coming to the MCU. But let’s not bestow praise just yet on Marvel’s new push for equality; the movie business is still business, and money has and will continue to have, more power over greenlights than the potential of a diverse MCU.

What do you think of Marvel’s planned casting for “Eternals”? What other Marvel superheroes should enter the MCU? Let me know in the comments below.

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