Minor spoilers for Avengers: Endgame ahead.
With its 22nd film, the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally reached a certain historic first: Avengers: Endgame is the first MCU film to feature a canonically gay character.
You’ll find him early in the movie, attending a support group with Captain America and casually discussing a recent date with another man.
Endgame director Joe Russo, who also portrayed the character onscreen, told Deadline the moment was “important” to him:
Representation is really important. It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them. We felt it was important that one of us play him, to ensure the integrity and show it is so important to the filmmakers that one of us is representing that.
On the one hand, that this character exists at all is an encouraging sign of progress in a franchise that has, more often than not, stayed stubbornly behind the times, taking 18 films to get to its first non-white lead and 21 to get to its first female-led standalone.
This character does represent a step forward for this particular franchise, even if it’s a relatively tiny one. And it’s at least refreshing to see a character who is definitively gay — in contrast to the “exclusively gay moments” from recent films like Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers, where the sexual orientations of the characters in question were left ambiguous, or the wishy-washy well-who-can-says of Guardians of the Galaxy.
In addition, Endgame director Anthony Russo (Joe’s brother) pointed out in that same interview, although the moment may not register as a huge deal to some audiences, it will to others.
“We’ve seen it now even in countries where people countries where homosexuality isn’t as free as it is here,” he said. “It’s actually one of those elements of these movies that I think resonates in challenged places in the world as well.”
Joe added, “As filmmakers of a massive franchise we’re saying, we support you.”
But on the other hand, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him character verbally confirming his sexual orientation feels like the lowest of low bars to clear in 2019, 22 films into an incredibly lucrative franchise.
The character doesn’t have a name, as far as we remember, and is never mentioned in the film again. We’re not exactly talking about the new face of the franchise here.
What we are discussing, we can hope, is the first of many steps toward queer representation in the MCU. In the same interview, Joe said that the character came at “a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity.”
For his part, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed last year that at least two LGBTQ characters would be coming to the series — “both ones you’ve seen and ones you haven’t seen,” he teased at the time. (Fans have speculated that Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie could be the existing queer character, though the studio hasn’t said as much.)
Production chief Victoria Alonso has sounded even more enthusiastic about the possibility of an LGBTQ superhero. “The world is ready, the world is ready,” she told Variety at the Captain Marvel premiere earlier this year.
Of course, promising better queer representation is one thing. Actually delivering it is another, and only time will tell how the studio does on that front.
So here’s to you, random support group guy in Avengers: Endgame, for finally crossing that line — and here’s to hoping that while you were the first, you’ll be far from the last.