opinion

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness isn't a win for the LGBTQ community

Marvel and Disney have once again overpromised and underdelivered when it comes to LGBTQ representation on screen, writes Tom Chapman.

2022-05-13

Words: Tom Chapman; pictures: Walt Disney Studios

While Sam Raimi’s Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an eye-catching adventure that takes us through some vibrant realities, it's not quite flying the bright colours of the Pride flag like many hoped it would.

We’ve come a long way from the white cis-male dominated days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's (MCU) Phase 1 where Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans reigned supreme. Even if they were nice to look at, it was hardly the diverse slate of heroes we have today.

2021's Eternals gave us the franchise’s first openly gay and deaf heroes, Phastos and Makkari. Moon Knight has introduced an Egyptian hero, and the upcoming Ms. Marvel will do the same for Muslim representation. Still, the world’s highest-grossing franchise is struggling to find a place for its LGBTQ contingent.

Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Photo: Walt Disney Studios)

Hopes for Multiverse of Madness were pinned early on on the character of America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez. Canonically a lesbian Latina in the comics, she doesn't just tick a box in the movie thanks to her powers of traversing the Multiverse via star-shaped portals.

Eagle-eyed fans spotted her glittery Pride pin in the promos, leading to hopes her comic book backstory would get its time to shine. Instead, there’s barely a mention of Chavez’s queer identity.

What we do get is about 12 seconds of footage and a mention that America was raised by her two mums. Said mothers are seen briefly passing each other some flowers (not even exchanging a kiss) before they get blasted through the Multiverse to their possible deaths…

Ahead of the film's release, countries including Saudi Arabia and Egypt demanded these references be cut, but Raimi and Disney stood by the community and refused.

It's ludicrous to think a whole movie was banned over just 12 seconds.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange and Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Photo: Walt Disney Studios)

And while America's jacket includes the faded phrase “Amor es amor es amor” ("love is love"), it's hardly making a statement. Overall, the film makes her LGBTQ history about as relevant as the fake Infinity Gauntlet found in Odin’s vault. 

But the stars went on the usual media circus to promote America’s LGBTQ credentials. Speaking to ComicBook.com, Benedict Wong, who plays Sorcerer Supreme in the film, hyped the MCU’s diversity but only pointed at Shang-Chi and Ms. Marvel without mentioning his own latest movie.

Gomez told the site viewers would be able to see themselves in her character saying: “America represents so many people and I feel like with her on the screen, so many people are going to feel represented and that's important.”

The good doctor himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, did better calling the ban “sad” (via Metro) and putting the blame at the feet of “repressive regimes” with a “lack of tolerance.”

Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Photo: Walt Disney Studios)

The subduing of Chavez's queerness sadly mirrors what happened with Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos in Eternals.

Feige and co. built up the MCU’s first openly gay hero, and while we briefly got to see Phastos’ home life with his husband and son, his sexuality felt more like a shoehorned virtue signal rather than anything else.

There was speculation before Eternals debuted, that Richard Madden’s Ikaris would be the gay hero... Heaven forbid the main character is LGBTQ!

Still, at least Phastos’ sexuality is recognised. Chavez’s wouldn’t have been an issue if Marvel hadn’t made such a big deal about her romantic preferences. Gomez even faced a barrage of abuse online - giving a grim indication of where we’re still at in 2022.

Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Photo: Walt Disney Studios)

Despite Marvel boss Kevin Feige promising more LGBTQ+ inclusion in a post-Eternals MCU, America's erasure doesn’t bode well for what’s next. July sees the release of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder, where Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie will supposedly be looking for her ‘queen’.

Love and Thunder could also introduce Hercules, a character from the comics known for his bisexuality as well as being a member of the Avengers. So, there’s plenty of potential for more representation in the MCU. 

And there are a whole plethora of characters we've yet to see at all. What about the X-Men's Iceman, who's gay, or a bisexual Moondragon joining the Guardians of the Galaxy.

With Chavez, there is the silver lining of her continued place in the MCU and the confirmation that “Dr. Strange will return”. Hopefully with Chavez in tow and greater development for her.

As for having a gay hero on the main line up of the Avengers, right now, it seems like it’ll be a cold day in Muspelheim before that happens.

The Attitude May/June issue is out now.