Early reviews for Marvel Studios' Black Panther have praised the upcoming blockbuster for shining the spotlight on not just African culture but the film's large female cast, both of which signify a major step forward in terms of representation in superhero films. However, according to screenwriter Joe Robert Cole, a chance to inject even more diversity into Black Panther in the form of an on-screen gay relationship, although discussed, was ultimately left on the cutting room floor.
Last April, details of a scene featuring Danai Gurira’s Okoye and Florence Kasumba’s Ayo -- two members of T'Challa's security force known as the Dora Milaje -- were reported on by Vanity Fair. According to the description, "Okoye eyes Ayo flirtatiously for a long time as the camera pans in on them. Eventually, she says, appreciatively and appraisingly, ‘You look good.’ Ayo responds in kind. Okoye grins and replies, ‘I know.’"
Unfortunately, this scene never made it to the final cut of the film.
When pressed in a phone interview by ScreenCrush, Cole seemed to at least confirm the idea of an on-screen gay relationship being thrown around. However, he remained somewhat cagey about the exact details.
"I think the short answer is yes," he explained. "I know that there were quite a few conversations around different things, different directions with different characters, and characters that we may have. We thought, ‘Well, maybe we’ll work it this way with an arc or work it that way with an arc.’ The scene you’re talking about, I don’t remember. I can’t remember the exact exchange you’re talking about, but I think it was really brief. I’m not sure. I know that it was not – there wasn’t some major theme through that we were looking to explore with that in terms of the story. We didn’t like, pull out a full thread of some theme. But your friend quite possibly could be right, or I’m maybe having a brain fart here and just can’t remember."
News of a possible queer romance being scrapped from Black Panther will no doubt be disheartening for fans hoping to see more inclusion in mainstream media, but it's even more frustrating given the Hollywood trend of teasing these themes without ever showing them on-screen. The most recent example was when we learned Albus Dumbledore's canonical homosexuality wouldn't be explicitly addressed in the upcoming Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. However, even Marvel Studios is guilty of this bait-and-switch tactic. After Thor: Ragnarok co-star Tessa Thompson confirmed her version of Valkyrie was bisexual, it was revealed that it wouldn't be explicitly addressed, either, and that a scene implying her sexuality was actually cut from the film.
Directed by Ryan Coogler from a script he wrote with Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Letitia Wright as Shuri, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross, Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue, Winston Duke as M’Baku and Forest Whitaker as Zuri. The film opens Feb. 16.