As the press blitz for Solo: A Star Wars Story continues, wherein co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan has claimed that Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian is “pansexual,” Deadpool 2 has managed to slide mostly under the radar for making Marvel movie history.
The franchise, still owned by Fox as of its release but soon to be folded into the Disney umbrella alongside the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars universe, became the first Marvel film to feature a queer couple. And it did it without fanfare and without an extended press tour congratulating itself for being progressive. Imagine that.
As Deadpool 2 gets underway, the titular antihero teams up with the X-Men who aided him in the previous film: Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. As Negasonic enters the frame, she’s joined by Yukio, another mutant who she introduces as her girlfriend. After a joke that’s not at the expense of either woman’s sexuality (Deadpool mostly jokes that he can’t believe anyone at all would date Negasonic, whom he has a playfully contentious relationship with), the film continues without any further ado over Negasonic’s relationship or her sexuality.
It’s startling to see a textual queer relationship in a superhero movie, as opposed to the subtext that fans cling to and creators exploit to queerbait their audiences. It’s much more powerful to give even a side character a queer relationship rather than to give the response Kasdan did when asked if Lando was pansexual: “I mean, I would have loved to have gotten a more explicitly LGBT character into this movie. I think it’s time, certainly, for that, and I love the fluidity—sort of the spectrum of sexuality that Donald appeals to and that droids are a part of. He doesn’t make any hard and fast rules. I think it’s fun. I don’t know where it will go.”
For the longest time, we’ve had creators like J.J. Abrams promise queer characters in Star Wars to no avail—“When I talk about inclusivity, it’s not excluding gay characters. It’s about inclusivity,” he said in 2016. “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.” Or a half-hearted answer like when Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was asked if LGBTQ characters will appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe sometime in the next decade: “I would think so, for sure.”
Though the possibility of queer characters being introduced in those films still exists, on Tuesday GLAAD released a survey of the 109 films released theatrically by major studios in 2017, which showed that LGBTQ characters are actually vanishing on the big screen. This despite creators’ insistence that there are queer characters if you just look hard enough, or Hollywood’s self-congratulations for handing Moonlight the Academy Award for Best Picture and Call Me by Your Name Best Adapted Screenplay the following year. In fact, LGBTQ characters had the lowest representation in film since 2012.
GLAAD pointed out that superhero films like Thor: Ragnarok and Wonder Woman ignored their source material when it came to including queer characters, which is often the case. Even for how progressively Deadpool 2 presented Negasonic and Yukio’s relationship, its depiction of Deadpool’s pansexuality is often retrograde. Most scenes that point toward Deadpool having an attraction to another man are played for laughs and in a way that affirms dated forms of masculinity. It’s telling that when Deadpool even touches another man on screen, it elicits belly laughs from its mostly straight male audience because male homosexuality on screen when it’s not the main focus of a film is often treated like a stand-up routine.
Deadpool 2 makes a pointed joke toward its climax about how most of the X-Men films are still mired in an outdated allegory for racism that made more sense in the ’60s than it does today. The same can be said about the X-Men films’ allegories for homosexuality that were first introduced by Bryan Singer in his films—even going as far as having Iceman “come out” to his parents as a mutant. Iceman ironically came out as gay in the comic books years later, because creators realized that text is far more important than subtext when it comes to queer representation in stories.
Other superhero films and the rest of Hollywood would do well to learn the same lesson.