Give Captain America a Boyfriend: The Campaigns to Make Disney’s Big Franchises More Gay-Friendly

The viral #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend follows #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and speculation on ‘Star Wars’ characters Finn and Poe.

When a hashtag campaign to #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend caught fire on Twitter this week, a common refrain echoed across the Internet aiming for the ears of Disney execs: Give the Marvel superhero a man to love… because he pretty much already has one.

When it comes to Captain America’s heart, everyone knows that ticker bleeds red, white, and blue, and that it belongs to one person. No, not Peggy Carter or her beautiful young niece, but Bucky Barnes, Cap’s long-lost bestie. Just about no one was really rooting for Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter to hook up in Captain America: Civil War—especially when he planted that shoehorned-in kiss on her so soon, too soon, after Peggy’s death. The better partner has been firmly entrenched in Cap’s heart since 1945.

‘Til the end of the line.

The epic love between the great American superhero and his oldest pal has been fueling fanfic fantasies for years, but when their decades-spanning bromance came to a head in this summer’s Civil War, the chemistry between stars Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan set legions of Stucky ‘shippers alight. Intentional or not, it transcended official Marvel canon and took on a life of its own in the hearts of fans—even seeping its way into the film’s press tour.

A nonplussed Stan expressed genuine appreciation for the fan artists who imagined the love that might blossom if Steve and Bucky’s palpable and deeply emotional connection was allowed to progress into something more than just friendship. “Of course!” he told The Daily Beast at the suggestion that Steve is motivated to risk it all because he truly loves Bucky. “He’s his only family.”

After all, Cap put his life, career, and friendships on the line just to protect his brooding BFF from the entire world. Swoon. Has he acted on even a fraction of that kind of balls-out emotion for the women who’ve crossed his path? Even within the platonic confines of the pair’s relationship within the MCU, the intensity of their bond has turned them into the Avengers’ most-shipped duo, one far more popular than any other heterosexual or homosexual (or however you might define the budding romance between Vision, an android, and Scarlet Witch) fantasy-pairing of the MCU’s heroes.

But Evans deftly shied away from the question in his Civil War interviews, probably very aware of the shitstorm that would erupt with traditional-minded fans and family-friendly Disney if he so much as validated the notion of Captain America coming out or partaking in an adult gay relationship. He did, at least, acknowledge the prevalence of the Stucky ‘ship in viewer’s minds. What if there really was a gay love story simmering beneath all those torrid glances and brawny displays of best friendship?

“That wouldn’t be so bad,” Evans told Flickering Myth. “It’s just never been part of my approach to the character. My subtext didn’t involve that dynamic. I think even with the first Captain America film you see how drawn he is to Peggy Carter. I think in that final scene when I’m putting that plane in the water, he’s far more concerned with not getting to see her again than he is to give his own life.”

Again, he continued, Peggy was always supposed to be Steve’s #1 crush. “Maybe I just didn’t do my damn job very well,” he said. “But that’s what I was going for. I think it was very clear that Peggy Carter was the first woman not just to give him the time of day, but to believe in him and to give him support and trust and honesty, and all these things I think he was hungry for. And I thought I put all that in the final scene, but maybe I didn’t. Maybe I was just gazing at Sebastian [Stan] too much.”Still, the heart wants what it wants. And some fans really want to see Stucky writ large onscreen, officially authenticated and endorsed by Marvel and Disney. By the time #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend started trending on Twitter, fans had already seen the fruits of another campaign for inclusiveness pay off. And if a Disney princess can get her gay happily ever after in the new millennium, why not Captain America?

The #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend campaign marks the second time this month that Disney’s been on the receiving end of pleas for LGBT representation in their massively successful billion-dollar properties—and this after a long history of making movies that have alternately endeared themselves to and alienated the LGBT community, delivering both classic camp icons and cringe-worthy caricatures alike.

Animated megahit Frozen gave ice princess Elsa a journey of self-realization, gender norm-rejection, and empowerment that has been enthusiastically interpreted by some as a veiled coming-out narrative. So when the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend campaign went viral, calling for Elsa to get a lesbian love story in the sequel to the $1.2 billion box office smash, fans rallied around the idea.They were only further heartened when the campaign stirred the crucial support of Frozenstar Idina Menzel herself. “I think it’s great,” Menzel told ET last weekend in response to #GiveElsaAGirlfriend. “Disney’s just gotta contend with that. I’ll let them figure that out.”Menzel was right to put the Frozen 2 onus on Disney, which will be hard-pressed to actually work a lesbian storyline into its crown jewel franchise aimed at young girls and boys. But Disney-owned Marvel faces a different pickle as it weighs just how to acknowledge the desires driving the #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend campaign within its older-skewing Marvel Cinematic Universe—if it responds to its fans at all.Disney flirted with a similar quandary in December when fans picked up on the unintentional sizzle between male fan favorite Star Wars: The Force Awakens characters Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), birthing a plethora of fanfic ‘shippers overnight. And with both characters set to return for upcoming installments, the door seemed open, if only hypothetically: What if the rogue storm trooper and the rascally pilot were destined to awaken deeper forces within one another?The progressive new Star Wars movie now boasted a female Jedi and a black stormtrooper. Disney may not have made it canon, but Isaac shipped the Finn-Poe romance—satisfaction enough for some fans. And as The Daily Beast reported in February, even Force Awakens helmer J.J. Abrams foresees a future in which gay characters exist in the Star Wars universe.

“Of course,” he said. “When I talk about inclusivity it’s not excluding gay characters. It’s about inclusivity. So of course. I would love it. To me, the fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility. So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn’t be a homosexual character in that world.”To that end, Disney now faces the same burning question over its three biggest franchises. Over at THR, Graeme McMillan ponders what the appropriate response is when a studio finds itself wielding the double-edged sword that is social media interaction, exploiting the benefits of mass engagement with an audience while simultaneously in the hot seat when said audience has its own demands to make of the material.Surely, to borrow from Abrams’ observation, gay characters exist in the Marvel world as they do in the real one. Sooner or later, as long as fans keep vocalizing their demands for inclusivity—be it based in racial, gender, or sexual orientation—Disney and other studios might actually have to answer for this stark contradiction between actual and cinematic life. Or, as McMillan posits it with piercing simplicity: “Sure, maybe Captain America isn’t gay, but why aren’t there any gay superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?”