SPOILERS FOR ‘SHE-HULK: LAWYER HULKA’ 1×04
It is a story as old as time: Marvel fools around with queer representation. The LGTBIQ+ community remains hopeful. Marvel loses said representation. Queers are disappointed, but they keep watching anyway because: “Yasss Wanda!“
And now it’s the turn of ‘She-Hulk: Lawyer Hulka’ to join this fun and not exhausting merry-go-round thanks to a new reveal in episode four from the Disney+ series. But first, a bit of context.
In 2017, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ director James Gunn referred to a series of invisible queer characters that could exist in the MCU. Or not.
Awesome. Thank you very much.
Two years later, Marvel revealed its first LGBTQ+ character in Joe Russo’s symbolic cameo in ‘Avengers: Endgame’which left many fans wishing he had stayed invisible .
Since then, this all-too-familiar dance has led to weird moments being removed or toned down altogether, from ‘Black Panther’ to ‘Thor: Ragnarok’.
And when ‘Thor: Love & Thunder’ promised to make up for that with a bigger, “gaier” story for Valkyrie, what it actually meant was a kiss on the back of a woman’s hand.
Queer bait? Yes. But, in Marvel’s defense, this was technically more than what we saw in Ragnarok… In the sense that what we saw in Ragnarok was essentially nothing. So even a throwaway line about an ex-lover is kind of progress, right?
Oh, and don’t think we forgot that chichinabo gay wedding in ‘Marvel’s Runaways’.
MCU will point to the role of Phastos and his family in ‘Eternals’, as well as the debut of America Chavez in ‘Doctor Strange 2’and while it is true that both represent important advances, these examples are also left out of the narrative in comparison to other heterosexual relationships.
Combine all that with Disney’s lackluster response to Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ billand you’ll see that we’re not exactly ready to sing the praises of Marvel just yet.
But now we’re in a new era, one in which the MCU has extended its reach to television. So with that in mind, maybe you would hope there was more freedom for queer representation on the small screenaway from all the excuses that surrounded international censorship boards.
Okay, you were wrong. Aside from Bucky’s tiger pic on Tinder (don’t ask), and the empty pansexual gesture of ‘Loki’Well, Marvel’s TV slate has pretty much failed in this department as well. And despite a surprise reveal on ‘She-Hulk’ this week, Jen’s show remains the latest to do the bare minimum when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation.
The moment in question occurs in episode four during a conversation between Jen and her best friend, Nikki, where the two regret online dating.
What’s important here, though, is that Nikki, a character we still know very little about, casually points out a universal truth we’ve all come to learn: that “straight life is bleak”.
But wait, Does that mean Nikki isn’t “straight”? We all know that “straight life is bleak,” but only a queer observer would have the nerve, courage, nerve, audacity and common sense to say it out loud. And in a Disney show, no less.
When Digital Spy spoke with Ginger Gonzaga about this moment, the star confirmed that her character is indeed queer, specifically revealing that “she’s bi”.
“Nikki lives a very free life,” Ginger continued. “I live a very free love life, so that was something that was also very important to me and Tatiana… It’s very exciting for me and I love Nikki’s freedom in all areas. She is free with her words, he is free with his love, and it is very limitless, so it makes me very happy“.
The episode doesn’t really delve into Nikki’s identity beyond this line, and from what Ginger told us, it doesn’t seem like future episodes will do much either.
“I think there was a point… I think there was a point, just the way the cameras worked, I think that line was cut, so we were concerned because I wanted that to be able to be part of Nikki’s story.. That was who she was and that was what I was doing.”
It’s not very refreshing to hear that this line almost got cut due to specific queer content, it would have been pretty sleazy of Marvel given their overall track record.
And even then, that’s giving these four words a lot of credit when they really don’t deserve it. In itself, saying “straight life is bleak” really isn’t enough when it comes to powerful LGBTQ+ storytelling, especially when we had to question the actress involved to try and confirm Nikki’s status in the first place.
Still, it’s an important moment for Ginger, who notes that having more queer representation in the MCU is “definitely overdue”.
“It feels very special and yes it was very important to me“, he continues. “When we started, I didn’t want to have to pigeonhole [Nikki] into any kind of bad stereotype about what he would look like or how he would dress. I just wanted Nikki to be cool.. She wanted her clothes to be cool. She wanted you to see in her makeup and her clothes, which they allowed me to design a lot, she wanted you to see that she doesn’t follow the rules and that she doesn’t listen to what people tell her to do. So I think that’s how he talks to people and how he lives his life, in a very loving way.“.
That’s all well and good, but if Nikki isn’t given the freedom to explore her bisexuality later on in a meaningful way, what?what was the point of all this?
While there is something to be said for the organic incorporation of queerness without making much of it, this specific type of representation is only symbolic when there is no meaningful LGBTQ+ representation to balance this out.
Ginger says: “I’d like to think there are other characters in the MCU who maybe just haven’t articulated how they love or how they live their lives.And that’s a good idea, but it’s pretty depressing to rely on these kinds of wishful thinking when queer characters could play a more prominent role in the stories we see instead.
Even ‘Jessica Jones’ was more progressive in this regard, and that show started in 2015.
It’s time for Marvel to rewrite its history and give us something that’s truly authentic and meaningful to LGBTQ+ audiences. Less: “Yasss Wanda, and more “gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gayyyyyy!” (in the immortal words of Oscar Isaac).
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‘She-Hulk’ confirms that a character is queer, but there is a catch
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