This post includes one minor spoiler for Avengers: Endgame.
When the news broke that Avengers: Endgame would include the MCU’s first openly gay character, the natural assumption was to imagine… an actual character. Not necessarily an A-lister, but maybe a supporting hero like Valkyrie. The reality is more disappointing—not to mention weird.
Endgame’s gay character is actually a cameo from an unnamed civilian, introduced for a single scene where he talks about going on a date with a man. Oh, and this guy is played by the film’s co-director Joe Russo.
While the scene features a gay character in a casual, realistic way, it also feels tokenistic. After years of demands for LGBTQ representation, Marvel responded with a new character whose entire role is to be visibly gay for 90 seconds. Also, it’s distracting to have him be a director cameo. Many fans will recognize Russo on sight, turning this into a kind of Stan Lee Easter Egg moment and drawing focus from the content of the scene.
Discussing the role with Deadline, Russo said, “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. It is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity.”
The Russos may have had to push to include a gay character in their final film, but the “representation is really important” line feels a little clueless in the context of their casting choice. Instead of giving the character a bigger role or hiring an openly queer actor to play him, the Russos made this all about their own “integrity.”
Ironically, Avengers: Endgame highlights the glacially slow speed of Marvel’s quest for diversity. Since this film concludes the original Avengers franchise, it focuses on the original team… which consists of four white men and a white woman. They’re joined by Ant-Man, Nebula, and Rhodey, but while Rhodey (the only person of color in the main cast) has a lot of screentime, he doesn’t get an emotional arc like the main Avengers. The film’s promotional tour also over-emphasized Okoye’s presence to a misleading degree, implying that she has a significant role when she only appears for a few minutes.
Marvel’s first gay character was always going to attract a lot of scrutinies, and it’s understandable for people to have mixed feelings about how this panned out. On the one hand, this is technically a groundbreaking moment for the MCU. On the other hand, it’s an obvious example of what people refer to as “table scraps.” Not only is Marvel expecting fans to celebrate an arguably tokenistic walk-on role, but Russo hogged the spotlight by playing that character himself.