Avengers: Endgame—and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, for that matter—has spurred a lot of discussion in recent years about its supposed lack of apparent diversity. Many of these remarks are valid; these movies could certainly have done more to put queer characters front and center.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the movie for anyone who hasn’t already seen it by the time this article runs. (And if this is you, put down this column and come back to me when you have. I promise it’s worth your time and money.)
But, for all its shortcomings, like Vision said in Avengers: Age of Ultron, “There is grace in their failings.” The Marvel cinematic universe spans 22 movies in a little more than 11 years; they’ve had to average two a year. In those years, we started with Iron Man in 2008, and finished this year with Endgame. The most recent movie is the capstone blockbuster rounding out over a decade of cinematic thrill rides. And really, it’s that legacy of storytelling that makes the MCU a queer story hub in my eyes.
Before you fire off a tweet blasting my opinion, let me explain. To me, the Marvel Universe has always been about making monsters lovable. At its center are a bunch of characters whom the rest of society might deem freaks, or, in Hulk’s case, literal monsters. Iron Man himself is a warmonger/arms manufacturer-turned-peace-loving defender of all humanity. Thor is, again, a callous, warmongering hulk of muscle who sees the light of peace in the wake of his younger brother’s quest for vengeance. Black Widow is a Russian assassin. Captain America is a scrawny boy from Brooklyn who becomes a juiced-up super soldier.
Sure, Marvel could have included more queer characters front-and-center along the way. But in a way, to me it feels like they already did.
As we know, as queer people, we aren’t always in control of our own stories and narratives. As a trans woman, I am intimately aware of the ways other people make monsters out of women like me and the violent responses that often accompany that familiar horror story.
But the Marvel movies aren’t about what these people are, or even who they were. We aren’t focused, in any of the movies, on romantic relationships or sexual orientations; these are consistently window-dressings for the main event. To me, the Marvel Cinematic Universe represents the possibility of any one person telling their own story, of looking destiny in the face and, as Thor remarks at one point in Endgame, choosing to be the best version of who we are, instead of consistently failing at who or what we thought we were supposed to be.
The best argument against shoehorning diversity in like it’s a new Disney movie-making quota comes from Endgame itself. One of the Russo brothers,the film’s directors, playing the role of a gay man dating in the world that exists after Thanos’ snap, delivers a ham-fisted monologue that buries the lede like some sort of dramatic reveal; gay people survived the snap, too! it seems to scream. It is, bar none, the most cringe-inducing moment of the three hours I sat in the theater.
If that’s what Marvel means by its new focus on diversity, I’d rather stick with the legacy of movies that came before: stories about the impossible becoming possible, if only through the sheer wit and will of the characters before us trying their hardest to succeed.
Even in queer spaces, surrounded by other queer folks, I’m used to transgender stories taking a backseat to gay, lesbian, and even bisexual stories.
To make do, so to speak, with the stories that are told already and reading myself in between the lines of dialogue delivered in every scene. That’s the world I’m used to, and I think it might be better in some ways than what we’ve seen so far. We don’t want token queers on the silver screen; we want to see ourselves played for who we’ve fought so hard to become, to mirror the actual struggles we faced in getting to that point.
The real Avengers, the original six, match that definition so much more than the one queer scene we got in 22 films. And Endgame is a demonstration about why you can’t judge a character by one moment; there’s more to that journey than just one film. That’s a queer movie to me, in the end.