Superheroes: Trying to get LGBTQ+ Representation in Geek Media

Screenshot of Meng’er Zhang, Simu Liu, and Awkwafina from ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’. Copyright goes to Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures.

Hey! Hallie here!

I’ve been wanting to make a post about this subject for a while. I’ve talked about LGBTQ+ representation in multiple forms of entertainment, but the way geek entertainment has specifically either addressed or avoided this issue is interesting to me. And now we have yet another ship that’s become so popular, the director of ‘Shang-Chi’ himself is answering questions about it. I’ll be honest here and say that I haven’t seen ‘Shang-Chi’ yet. I was very vocal about getting out to see this movie if you could, but I live in a very conservative area where I find a lot less comfort going to the movie theater during our still shaky pandemic situation. But even though I still have to wait to see this movie, I know that many fans came out of it with a specific interest in the chemistry between the characters of Katy and Xialing. Recently, Destin Daniel Cretton, the film’s director, said in an interview that he wouldn’t be opposed to exploring that relationship in the future. He also cited multiple reasons as to why Shang-Chi and Katy’s relationship is important as a platonic friendship between a man and a woman, rightfully shutting down the people who don’t realize that pushing a male lead and a female lead into a random relationship is both unnecessary and frustrating. In other words, he refused the toxic idea that men and women can’t be friends by giving us hope for a possible LGBTQ+ relationship in the MCU in the future. But we all know that Marvel has had a rough past with giving us any representation of this kind. So has Disney. And many other forms of geeky media. So let’s explore some of the biggest LGBTQ+ ships in some of my favorite fandoms and why this community is still struggling for representation.

Marvel:

This conversation was brought up by Shang-Chi, so it’s only fair that I dive into the representation we’ve seen from Marvel. Or lack thereof. The only character that we have confirmed as a non-heterosexual individual in the MCU is Loki. But, famously, this whole situation didn’t go over well. For those who don’t know, in the Disney+ series ‘Loki’, Loki admitted to a woman variant of himself, Sylvie, that he was bisexual. However, this topic only came up in a throw away line about him dating “princesses or princes” before the series paired him up with Sylvie. It shouldn’t be difficult to gather that giving the LGBTQ+ community one small line and then putting Loki into a straight-passing relationship is not good representation. Of course, many bisexual people are in straight-passing relationships. But the point of representation is to demonstrate multiple types of relationships on screen, not simply the ones that involve a man and a woman falling in love. As for what fans have wanted in the MCU, we can sum most of it up to one word. Stucky. Steve and Bucky is by far the biggest LGBTQ+ ship in the entire MCU. And, of course, it’s popularity has lead to creatives and actors alike answering questions about it. But I can’t say any of it has really given fans hope. All of the creatives asked about it have sidestepped the question by saying they appreciate all of the adaptations fans have of Steve and Bucky’s relationship because it means they succeeded in creating a believably close relationship between them. Chris Evans has said that he wasn’t necessarily playing romance but he has no issue with fans seeing a romantic connection between Steve and Bucky. Sebastian Stan has made similar comments. So we haven’t really had anything LGBTQ+ related truly supported by either cast or creatives until ‘Loki’ and ‘Shang-Chi’. We can only hope that Destin Daniel Cretton manages to do better than ‘Loki’ and give the LGBTQ+ genuinely good representation in the MCU.

Star Wars:

Here we step into yet another mess. Star Wars has, of course, had a history of LGBTQ+ ships within its fandom. But none of these really made it into such a level of popularity that the cast and crew were forced to address them. That is, until ‘The Force Awakens’ came out. From there fans could easily see chemistry between the characters of Finn and Poe. And so could the actors. Fans of the supposed relationship between Poe and Finn were almost instantly supported by Oscar Isaac, who frequently spoke about how much he enjoyed the chemistry between Finn and Poe and how he attempted to play into it as an actor. While John Boyega wasn’t as talkative about the relationship, he made it clear that he supported it. When the third movie rolled around, it seemed that both the fans, actors, and some creatives were making enough noise that a relationship might actually be possible between the two. But then Poe got a potential love interest in the form of a randomly introduced woman from his past and Finn doubled down on his unrequited feelings for Rey. The only thing given to the LGBTQ+ community was two women kissing in the background of one of the final scenes. It’s more than Marvel has done, but it’s still abysmal. When Oscar Isaac was asked about this development after the third movie came out, he was very clearly unhappy. He noted that he had pushed for the Finn and Poe ship to be explored in the third movie, but blamed execs for being too cowardly to move forward with it. Fortunately for the fans, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega still cheekily hint at a relationship between their characters when the topic of Star Wars comes up. Unlike in Marvel, Star Wars LGBTQ+ fans have some support. But, much like Marvel, no actual representation at this point. Not even in the animated series, where a relationship between Ahsoka and Trace was hinted at but never actually realized. Do better Disney.

Star Trek:

Here you’re probably expecting me to talk about Kirk and Spock. They are, after all, one of the most popular LGBTQ+ ships in any fandom ever. But really, there isn’t a ton to talk about. The fans shipping Kirk and Spock were by no means ignored. However, at the time the original series was airing, even a hint at an LGBTQ+ relationship would have gotten them off the air. They already had a hard enough time airing an interracial kiss, which was possible thanks to William Shatner making an uncharacteristically awesome move by crossing his eyes during every take they did without the kiss between Kirk and Uhura. By the time ‘The Next Generation’ was coming around though, series creator Gene Roddenberry promised in public interviews that audiences would see LGBTQ+ relationships in Star Trek. He even had one of the writers, who was part of the community, pen a script for the series that would focus on the problems the LGBTQ+ community faced at the time. But then Rick Berman stepped onto the scene and he shut down every attempt to show this kind of representation. Which leads me to the actual ship I’ll be talking about here. Julian Bashir and Elim Garak from ‘Deep Space Nine’. This relationship was supported by almost everyone. The script writer for most of the episodes, Ira Steven Behr wanted to explore the relationship. Andrew Robinson, who played Garak, was clear that he meant for Garak to have feelings for Bashir. Alexander Siddig, who played Bashir, supported the couple as well. But once Rick Berman got the hint that a good chunk of the cast and crew were actively trying to make this relationship happen, he demanded that the characters of Garak and Bashir appear in less episodes together. Fortunately for the LGBTQ+ community, the character of Jadzia Dax did get a few female love interests during the series. And now Star Trek is way ahead of pretty much everyone else with both relationships between queer characters and representation for trans individuals. But you have to wonder what would have happened if Bashir and Garak had been allowed to be a couple back in the nineties, when Star Trek was more firmly in the public eye. At least Alexander Siddig and Andrew Robinson took the whole situation into their own hands and read aloud a fan-made script that solidifies the character’s relationship.

That’s all I’m going to talk about for now. There are tons more examples of LGBTQ+ representation struggles in geeky fandoms. Far too many for me to talk about here. I sincerely hope that Star Trek isn’t the only piece of media we see explore these themes. I love Star Trek, and I will absolutely dedicate a post to it at a later date, but I can’t say the new series are majorly popular. Not even among fans. So while the LGBTQ+ relationships are nice to see in a franchise as big as Star Trek, I want to see LGBTQ+ representation in media that reaches even more people. It’s long past time we see more diversity in the types of people and relationships we see in pop culture. As Oscar Isaac said, the entire problem is cowardly execs. And that cowardice should have been left behind a long time ago.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: