It makes absolutely no sense why anyone sees queer characters as somehow “inappropriate.” Reasonably, same sex romances shouldn’t be treated as any more “scandalous” than heterosexual pairings. Alas, societal homophobia is so deeply engrained around the world that including queer representation is often a struggle. Movie studios will use international censorship as an excuse, comics companies are inconsistent in regards to their inclusion and childrens’ cartoons couldn’t even dare approach the subject until very recently.
This list recounts 15 instances where the makers of a movie, comic or cartoon wanted to include queer characters, but external forces shut down their attempts at inclusion. This list does not include characters whose sexuality is the subject of mere fan speculation; as much as Finn and Poe Dameron or Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes might seem like the perfect couple, there’s no proof such ships were ever officially meant to be and then censored before release. Instead, these are characters we know for certain the writers fully intended to be queer, but whose identities ended up erased in the final product. One can only hope that in the near future, such forms of erasure and unjust censorship become relics of the past.
15. AYO AND OKOYE
Black Panther is a landmark movie, deserving of the high praise it’s received for its representation of black heroes, particularly the powerful women of the Dora Milaje. Yet the Dora Milaje almost broke even more ground in terms of representation. At an April 2017 screening of advanced footage, Vanity Fair reported on a flirtatious training scene between Ayo and Okoye. Ayo is a lesbian in the comics; it’s unclear if Okoye was meant to be bisexual or if her romance with W’Kabi was a last minute addition.
A Marvel representative immediately contacted Vanity Fair claiming the Ayo and Okoye have no romantic involvement. Ten months later, the scene is gone entirely from the final cut of the movie. So first they claim the scene isn’t gay despite the source material, then panic and delete the scene to remove even a vague interpretation? Black Panther’s still amazing, but nevertheless this deletion disappoints.
The Black Panther controversy might not sting as much if the exact same issue didn’t just play out with the previous Marvel movie. Tessa Thompson proposed to play the character of Valkyrie as bisexual, and director Taika Waititi filmed a scene where another woman exits her bedroom. In a sadly predictable occurrence, this scene got cut.
It’s worth noting that Thor: Ragnarok is still the queerest Marvel movie even without any explicit representation. In addition to Thompson’s Valkyrie, it features the characters of Korg, who’s gay in the comics, and Loki, who’s bi and genderfluid. Neither’s identity is addressed in-film, but the character whose queerness is most heavily hinted at in the movie oddly isn’t queer in the comics, but is instead The Grandmaster. He hits on Loki and describes Thor as “seductive.” Even without any official confirmation, it’s easy to assume he’s not completely straight.
Finn and Poe hooking up might just be a distant dream for the fans (and Oscar Isaac) at this point, but Star Wars: Episode VII – The Last Jedi does contain a canonically queer character (and surprisingly, it’s not C3PO). Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s pansexuality was made official in the novel Leia: Princess of Alderaan, in which she mocks Leia’s preference for “just humanoid males” as “limiting.”
Yet unless you read too deep into her hand-holding goodbye to Leia, or alternately made the sillier shallower assumption that “purple hair=queer,” you wouldn’t have any idea just from what’s on-screen. You probably won’t get the chance to see her sexuality addressed on-screen any time soon, given she dies in a kamikaze mission. Once again, a canonically queer character’s identity is avoided.
12. DUMBLEDORE AND GRINDELWALD
J.K. Rowling’s recieved a good deal of heat in regards to shoehorning in diversity through after-the-fact announcements rather than including it in her writing. Her announcement that Dumbledore was in love with the evil wizard Grindelwald was actually less forced than others. It made sense of his motivations, and a decade ago mentioning this even outside the actual Harry Potter books was groundbreaking.
The 2019 movie Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald would seem like the perfect opportunity to actually address this topic in-universe, given it’s all about the conflict between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Director David Yates, however, has announced the characters’ past relationship won’t be addressed at all, effectively removing a good deal of the story’s drama. Fans are naturally disappointed at this missed opportunity, though those who were boycotting the film anyway due to Johnny Depp’s casting now have additional justification for their outrage.
11. LÈON ROM (THE LEGEND OF TARZAN)
David Yates strikes again! An early cut of the director’s 2016 The Legend of Tarzan featured a scene in which Léon Rom, the Belgian soldier played by Christoph Waltz, kisses Alexander Skarsgård’s Tarzan while the latter is unconscious. Following the kiss, he told Jane “Your husband’s wildness disturbs me more than I can even express.”
Supposedly this seemingly straightforward “closeted villain is confused and upset by his attraction to the hero” subplot confused test audiences. David Yates claims it was “too clever and overworked” and “was almost too much.” It’s not as if The Legend of Tarzan would have gone down as a landmark of gay representation even if the scene was kept in, but the excuse that introducing a character’s homosexuality is somehow confusing for audience still rings hollow and the edits disappointing.
10. STORM AND YUKIO
Before 1989, the Comics Code Authority prohibited the portrayal of gay characters in mainstream American comics. While DC started testing the waters for gay characters in a few Code-unapproved titles in the ’80s, Marvel held to a strict “No Gays in the Marvel Universe” under Editor in Chief Jim Shooter… only making an exception for a bizarre homophobic moment in Hulk Magazine #23.
This didn’t prevent writers from including subtext, however. Chris Claremont envisioned many of the X-Men as bisexual, and while same sex pairings could never be made official, it was still pretty easy to tell what his intentions were. Storm and Yukio were written as a couple, the latter’s daredevil attitude inspiring former’s edgy mohawk phase. Living with Yukio in Tokyo was presented as Storm’s “heart’s desire.”
The case of Marvel Comics’ version of Hercules is a particularly frustrating one because for a while he was out as being bisexual… until they changed him to straight in 2015. Marvel Editor in Chief Axel Alonso tried to pass this off not as straightwashing, but as merely alternate universe versions, claiming that Hercules is bi in the X-Treme X-Men alternate universe but straight in the main 616 universe.
While Hercules was shown in a same sex relationship with Wolverine in X-Treme X-Men, in the 616 universe there were still references to Hercules’ male lovers, notably Northstar and Hylas. Given the Hercules of Greco-Roman mythology was bisexual, this characterization made perfect sense, and it’s disappointing that he had to become “straight” for his 2015 solo series.
8. BLACK CANARY
This is an odd situation because the straightwashing of Black Canary wasn’t an intentional act of censorship but rather an act of careless editing. When writing Birds of Prey, Gail Simone thought of Black Canary as bisexual, and in issue #92 wrote a line where she described herself as “70% hetero.” She wanted to polish the wording, so she changed it to “hetero to the bone” to get a better rhythm in placeholder dialogue, expecting to be able to do her usual final pass on the dialogue.
Alas, the issue went behind schedule, so the final pass never got done, and Black Canary became completely heterosexual by accident. It wasn’t a malicious act of homophobia; Simone’s editor on the book was actually a lesbian. Yet that accident ended up erasing potential representation in the DC universe, and remains one of Simone’s biggest regrets.
7. MARCELINE AND BUBBLEGUM
Children’s cartoons have grown significantly more progressive in regards to queer issues in recent years. The Legend of Korra, Steven Universe, The Loud House, Clarence and Danger and Eggs all feature LGBTQ characters. Adventure Time in some ways paved the way, but is still held back. While the show gets away with the robot BMO regularly changing genders and love interests, a promotional video even proposing the possibility of a Marceline/Bubblegum pairing got immediately pulled from Youtube.
Marceline’s voice actress Olivia Olson claimed at a 2014 book signing that the two characters did date at one point, but the show isn’t allowed to address that directly. She pointed to international censorship as the reason, even though Steven Universe manages to include openly gay characters despite also airing censored versions in less tolerant countries. Whatever the case, the subtext between the two has grown increasingly obvious over the years.
6. LEXINGTON (GARGOYLES)
If including openly gay cartoon characters is still controversial in the 2010s, it was utterly unimaginable in the 1990s. To include one in a Disney cartoon was even more impossible. While there’s always been speculation about the Genie, Timon and Pumbaa, and at least half the Disney villains, Disney is generally extremely cautious in regards to potential controversies.
How did Greg Weisman approach writing a gay character in Gargoyles, a ’90s Disney cartoon which could never openly acknowledge homosexuality? Make it so the character “hasn’t fully realized that he’s gay yet.” That’s Weisman’s attitude in regards to Lexington, the tech geek gargoyle who shows a marked lack of interest in women compared to his peers. The comics sequel from Slave Labor Graphics was able to address this aspect of the character in more detail than the show was allowed to.
5. HARLEY AND IVY
Pretty much everyone knew Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy were a couple long before the ship became canon. As much as a relationship based on supervillainy can be considered healthy, Ivy is certainly a better match for Harley than The Joker is. While they were officially only “friends” in Batman: The Animated Series, it was easy to read their daliances together as an affair.
Paul Dini, Harley Quinn’s creator, confirmed the sapphic overtones were completely intentional. Comics hinted heavier at the nature of their relationship than the show could. Eventually, the DC Comics: Bombshells comic series showed Harley and Ivy kissing and officially announced what everyone had pretty much known already: that the two supervillains are dating. Hopefully the Gotham City Sirens movie actually has the guts to address the couple.
4. MAGGIE SAWYER (SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)
Maggie Sawyer came out as a lesbian in the Superman comics in 1988, just a year after she was introduced as Captain of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit. She entered a long term relationship with Metropolis Star reporter Toby Raines. Sawyer appeared in eight episodes of Superman: The Animated Series, but addressing her sexuality directly was off-limits for Kids WB.
Bruce Timm found subtle ways to allude to this well-established aspect of the character. In the two-part episode Apokolips… Now!, a woman identifiable as Raines visits Sawyer when she’s in the hospital. Later on, the two stand together at Dan Turpin’s funeral. Fans of the comics knew what the deal was even if casual viewers might be confused what this random woman was doing there.
3. GEAR (STATIC SHOCK)
Richie Foley in the Static Shock cartoon is not the same character as Rick Stone in the Static Shock comics, but there are obvious similarities between the two incarnations of Static’s best friend and sidekick Gear. One similarity which creator Dwayne McDuffie confirmed but couldn’t get away with revealing in the cartoon is that like Rick, Richie is gay.
Rick’s whole story arc is heavily based upon facing homophobia, surviving a violent gay bashing. In contrast, you wouldn’t be able to guess Richie’s sexuality without knowing this background information. That simply wasn’t a topic TV-Y7 series covered in the early 2000s. The most the writers could get away with at the time in terms of addressing the subject was having Richie overcompensate pretending to be heterosexual.
2. MIGUEL AND TULIO
Dreamworks was a risk-taker when the animation studio first burst onto the scene. Remember, its first two films were Antz, a political satire with dirty jokes and decapitations, and The Prince of Egypt, a serious-minded Bible adaptation that chillingly captures the horror elements of its source material. Yet even as Dreamworks took on projects edgier than your typical family film, it decided some risks were too big.
The Road to El Dorado was originally intended as a PG-13 drama. It ended up a PG-rated comedy. In the process of rejiggering the film, producer Jeffrey Katzenberg cut out a number of moments suggesting romantic affection between the protagonists Miguel and Tulio (the original script had them constantly referring to each other as “darling”). The film’s a missed opportunity, but there are still many who read into the finished movie’s “bromance” as something more.
1. SAILOR URANUS AND NEPTUNE
While Japan has its own issues with homophobia, including LGBTQ characters in anime and manga has never been as taboo as it has been in American cartoons and comics. Haruka and Michiru, Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune in the classic magical girl series Sailor Moon, have always been a couple in the Japanese releases. In America, it’s a different story.
Cloverway’s heavily censored English dub tried to explain away the two Sailor Scouts’ feelings for each other as them being “cousins.” This attempt at lesbian erasure didn’t fool anyone, and a relationship that was perfectly sweet in its original version suddenly felt like a creepy incest story. Thankfully Viz’s recent rereleases of the Sailor Moon anime are completely uncensored, with a new, more faithful dub.
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