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06/06/2018 1:04 AM IST | Updated 06/06/2018 5:47 PM IST

It's 2018 And We're Still Wondering Whether Marvel Is Done Erasing Queer Characters

A Marvel producer explains why that LGBTQ scene was cut from “Black Panther,” and the “bigger character story” he hopes for in the future.

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Florence Kasumba is Ayo in "Black Panther."

Of all the numbers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — 19 movies, more than $15.5 billion at the box office, etc. — the most staggering is the amount of gay superheroes:

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

(For anyone who’s unclear, those aren’t the names of a superpowered trio; they’re just different ways of saying none.)

It’s not like this in the comics. If you open some Marvel books, you’ll find characters of all different gender identities and sexual preferences. LGBTQ themes were kept out of comics as recently as 30 years ago because of the now defunct Comics Code Authority, but since then, things have changed. Marvel had a character come out as gay in 1992. It staged the first same-sex wedding in a major comic back in 2012. Some of the well-known characters that appear in the movie franchise count themselves as queer on paper, including MCU staple villain Loki.

None of that, however, is confirmed on-screen. It’s 2018 — Pride month, no less— and we’re still wondering whether or not Marvel is done erasing queer characters.

Now, we should clarify: There are allegedly some LGBTQ characters in the existing MCU. As “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn once said, “I imagine that there are probably gay characters in the Marvel universe. We just don’t know who they are yet.”

In “Spider-man: Homecoming,” a character named Seymour (J.J. Totah) was perceived by fans to be one of such LGBTQ characters. However, Totah told The Wrap that Seymour “was never decided to identify with a specific orientation,” and there’s nothing in the movie that necessarily points to the character’s sexuality.

So really, the problem isn’t that there are no characters in existence, it’s that Marvel has provided no visibility for those characters and their queer identities.

If there are any LGBTQ superheroes or associates, their queerness is relegated to being behind the scenes — or worse, deleted before fans could see it. Some MCU movies have had queer scenes disappear faster than Thanos can snap his fingers. 

For example, “Thor: Ragnarok” actor Tessa Thompson confirmed on Twitter that her Marvel character, Valkyrie, is bisexual, but a scene showing a female lover leaving her bedroom didn’t make the final film. Thompson said director Taika Waititi wanted to keep the scene, but it was ultimately cut.

“He kept it in the film as long as he could; eventually the bit had to be cut because it distracted from the scene’s vital exposition,” Thompson explained to Rolling Stone.

The moment didn’t show up on the “Thor: Ragnarok” DVD’s deleted scenes either.

A similar thing happened in “Black Panther.”

Vanity Fair writer Joanna Robinson first brought our attention to some early footage that contains a moment between two of the film’s characters, Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and Okoye (Danai Gurira).

According to Robinson:

Okoye eyes Ayo flirtatiously for a long time as the camera pans in on them. Eventually, she says, appreciatively and appraisingly, “You look good.” Ayo responds in kind. Okoye grins and replies, “I know.”

The moment isn’t surprising given that Ayo is queer in Marvel’s “World of Wakanda” comics. But, like the scene in “Ragnarok,” it didn’t make it into the movie, nor did it appear in the deleted scenes on DVD.

“Black Panther” writer Joe Robert Cole confirmed the existence of the scene to Screen Crush’s E. Oliver Whitney, and Kasumba herself opened up to Vulture about it, admitting she didn’t know the reason it was cut.

Before the release of “Avengers: Infinity War,” I asked writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely about the deleted scene, and though the pair didn’t know specifics about the footage, they suggested it might have been dropped because of the film’s focus on the relationship between W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) and Okoye, who are married in the movie.

″[There are] a lot of good things from a lot of good movies that are cut because they’re simply not on [the script] and the thing’s running long. I personally don’t think Marvel would ever cut anything just because gay characters [are] in it,” Markus said.

Black Panther” producer and Marvel executive Nate Moore backed up this assumption in a recent interview with HuffPost around the release of “Black Panther” on DVD.

“What was interesting about that beat is that it wasn’t scripted,” he said of Ayo and Okoye’s scene. “Actually, it was improvised by Florence Kasumba, because what we had always intended, and what was even in the deleted scenes, were that Okoye and W’Kabi had a relationship, which I think is there in the final film but is definitely there even more when you watch the deleted scenes.”

Though a Marvel representative previously told Vanity Fair’s Robinson that the relationship between Gurira and Kasumba’s characters “is not a romantic one,” Moore talked about the moment with me, referring to it as the “Ayo/Okoye flirtation.”

He continued: “The Ayo/Okoye flirtation was something Florence improvised on the day because she was also a fan of the books and brought that to set, and we thought it was a fun moment. Again, that becomes one of those things in a world where you could have a four-hour cut that would be fun to sort of have in there, but as we started to pare down the film and make it as streamlined as possible, it was unfortunately something that went away.”

The producer added that it is “an idea again that I think we can revisit in future films.”

Marvel and Disney
Danai Gurira, Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o and Florence Kasumba in "Black Panther."

When it comes to queer representation in the Marvel movies, Moore said, “It is something that will definitely happen sooner rather than later.” But he wants to make sure it’s done right. To the producer, the “Ayo/Okoye flirtation” wasn’t enough.

“If you’re asking me personally, and I don’t know if [Marvel boss Kevin Feige] would have the same opinion, I think if we do it, it needs to be an important part of the storytelling, and I think the Ayo flirtation almost wouldn’t be enough for me,” he said. “I think there are ways to make that a bigger character story than just a throwaway because it hasn’t happened before, so it is important.” 

To the producer, having queer representation doesn’t mean “it has to be what the movie is about,” but “it has to be part of the character that we can explore a little bit, because you don’t get to see it a lot.”

“I’m always for telling the best version of the story and not the fastest version of the story, and it’s something very personal to me to get right, frankly,” Moore said.

Writers Markus and McFeely similarly said they would “love it” if there was more representation moving forward, so like Moore suggested, perhaps that will happen “sooner rather than later.” 

But with so many LGBTQ characters allegedly waiting behind the scenes, in this case, seeing is believing.

 #TheFutureIsQueer is HuffPost’s monthlong celebration of queerness, not just as an identity but as action in the world. Find all of our Pride Month coverage here.

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