by Paul Deeter
It's 2021 and four years ago we were in the middle of a big controversy about a certain character detail in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. The live action remake (reinvention?) of this film was a guaranteed success from the initial trailer and the casting of Emma Watson when her career was the hot hot hottest. It looked gorgeous, including original songs and new ones, and glimmered with that unmistakable Disney magic. And it was good! It did well critically at about 71% on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed over 500 million nationally! So what's the controversy? Well the issue was minor to invisible for most, but among the easily offended and often prudish Christian mothers of America, the issue was a clamorous insult. The issue at hand was simply a ridiculously brief moment where LeFou, (or Gaston's goofy and originally simple-minded sidekick) is caught dancing with another man at the final scene in the film. While this scene somehow managed to offend many uptight homophobic viewers, it also managed to be a scene disputed as a possible moment of representation for Disney. To represent a known character from the classic film as a gay man in a massive screen adaptation is no small feat. But while some people loved Josh Gad and his humor and charisma leading up to this solid tease, others simply felt underwhelmed by it's controversy. Imagine the upset if he had hugged or Lord Jesus in Heaven kissed another man? One could faint.
The LGBTQ+ community felt embarrassed as the hubbub over this moment was rebranded as a moment of representation by Disney. Brian A. Coussens of the Huffington Post says: "I found myself left wondering how long the LGBTQ+ community must wait to see a truly authentic performance of queerness by a main character in a Disney film." And while some may feel like Disney is playing a part in keeping things old-fashioned primarily in their kids productions, then it's even worse to think how slow things are going in the rest of their films. Despite talks of representing Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie as a bisexual character in Thor: Ragnarok, any proof of that claim made it onto the cutting floor. In fact it took until Avengers: Endgame the latest Marvel film actually, and 22 movies into the franchise to include any openly gay character. Again, it's just a brief moment, one where a character in a support circle with Cap says how the snap affecting his relationship with his husband. One quick line of dialogue matched by a supportive comment from ole' Boomer Cap himself, which to be fair is a nice testament to his character. There wasn't really a controversy here, but instead a nice response from more oppressed countries. It's nice to see, but it's not much to show for itself. Kevin Feige is talking about actual openly gay characters in the MCU. So where are they?
Hiding in plain sight, apparently. As of a recent easter egg in the latest Loki series trailer, a dossier page on the charismatic hero/villian showed that Loki's sex was listed as fluid. That's right. Our lovable trickster Loki has been announced officially to be gender fluid, the first character to be represented as so in a Marvel production. A significant moment of representation for one of the lead characters in its canon, and the protagonist of their own series. This is actually a throwback too, a representation of something that had been previously established in older iterations of the character. Kelli Boyle of Cheat Sheet states that... Loki has manifested in my many forms throughout the Marvel comics. His shape-shifting abilities allow him to transform into whatever he wants. And in one 2014 Marvel comic, Odin said Loki was both his son and daughter. But through the Marvel movies, Loki has been presented as a man. That is, Loki has never specified his gender identity or pronouns in any of the films. Loki is going to be represented as such, not re-written in the new series as a cis-character or a character whose gender is not addressed. This is big, at least in my opinion. It's a bit of a late announcement, and seems to be a little too well timed for Pride Month. But presenting Loki as a gender fluid character is a big sign for Disney's ability to progress.
This is also a start to broader approaches on the character's identity, including the 2019 news that Mackenzie Lee would be writing a comic series presenting Loki as genderqueer and pansexual, two years before this latest announcement. Even Tom Hiddleston has gone on to say in an Out magazine interview that he's known for over ten years that his character was gender fluid, with more than meets the eye tricks up his sleeves. He's opportunistic about what this means for the MCU going forward and so am I. So let's hope that Disney explores this further.
When I say that, I mean that in respect to the moments of brief representation over the past few years, Disney has toed the line of progression without making any huge steps. I think there's an even bigger problem that goes beyond LGBTQ+ representation. Disney had to gamble to put out an all black casted Black Panther and a female-led response to the successful DC film Wonder Woman with the less successful Captain Marvel. Marvel took its time with white-male heroes at center-stage. It's a shame that Black Panther wasn't released sooner, but when it did it was a hit. There's a sluggishness to these releases, with a slow approach to representation for the safety of guaranteed profit. Black Panther is a huge character in the MCU, but it took until 2017 to give him his own movie. It was a great movie, but a long time coming for sure.
I think with the controversy over the few seconds of LeFou's infamous dance in Beauty and the Beast, Disney is playing it safe. Too safe. It's not enough to momentarily include gay representation in films, they need to embrace the change. It's been years since gay marriage was made legal, and sure there's still rampant homophobia among the public, but change won't be made until the bigger film companies show that they're ready to embrace this effort. So has the opportunity to showcase this character's representation as a gender fluid presence on screen, but Disney really needs to step forward to guarantee Loki's gender is not just an Easter Egg in a trailer. Understandably there's always going to be bigots backlashing against these characters. The Internet has already been less than kind to this announcement, just as the casting of a black actor as a previously written white character ruffles feathers. Comic book fans can be cruel, as can the Internet as a whole. We all know this. But changes are made when steps are taken to normalize these choices.
In Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the previous Marvel series, I was blown away by the show's character study of the Falcon. It was as much about beating the bad guys as it was overcoming the fear of being judged as a black man in the role of the new Captain America. So let's hope this show is its own character study. Let's hope that Disney's Marvel series embrace more progress than their film productions can handle. I'm ready for Loki to make some change, but is Disney? The ball is in their court.