Yo, Disney —
It seems like it’s beyond you. Over and over again you promise us LGTBI+ representation in your movies, and over and over again you disappoint us. But you know what? I think we need to be constructive about this. Let’s propose instead of protest! I mean, that has always led to substantial transformations, right?
"You don't need a union because we're a family here." https://t.co/KdqgQSSyBj— Nicolas Gonzalez 🪶 (@NicoSGonzalez) June 22, 2021
So what we are going to do instead is show you, free of charge, the one massive IP property you own (big surprise there) in which you could finally let go of your queer panic anxieties and include real LGTBI+ representation. And we are gonna go the extra mile and support our proposal with actual facts, as in data. Because as someone once said, facts want you to believe in yourself and embrace your feelings.
That IP property happens to come from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’re talking sequels here, so no need to lay the groundwork for an entire new set of characters, maybe one or two.
And I know what you’re gonna say Disney, “but Pajiba columnist who uses a pseudo-academic plural form in order to make people think this is an actual editorial line and not just his own ramblings, we will have our first openly gay characters later this year, in Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao’s Eternals! A gay kiss no less ! (did you hear we also let her use natural light and film outside? did you hear we also let her use natural light and film outside? )”. Yeah, color me skeptical. I remember what you did the last two times: An inconsequential segment by unnamed characters that you could easily edit out for the Chinese and Russian markets? I bet this is just going to be a moment where Phastos gives a chaste kiss to his husband and spends time with his family, while the entire movie makes zero mention of the character’s queerness. Plus, considering how the Chinese government dealt with Zhao’s previous movie, I bet they won’t even screen it in the PRC.
No, what we need is true representation, where a character’s queerness is not their sole defining feature but informs their development, personality, and interaction with their universe. If there is one property that could do this with minimal risk to your box office returns, it’s Black Panther.
I think Hollywood hasn’t really processed what a staggering success the first Black Panther movie was everywhere. It was, of course, a huge success in the US market. One of the most oppressed and underserved communities in the US finally had a blockbuster that spoke to them, by them. With over 47 million Black people in the US and Canada, it was no wonder that it grossed over $700 million in that territory alone. But its “overseas” receipts were also on par with pre-Thanos Avengers movies, grossing over $647 million dollars. It gets really interesting when you search where Black Panther hit it big. In short, it became one of the biggest, non-Avengers MCU movies in countries like the UK, France, Brazil. What do those countries have in common? Equal marriage and majority support for gay rights. Relatively. Despite Bolsonaro’s best attempts.
In practice, legalization of equal marriage doesn’t really tell you much about a country’s acceptance of gender dissidence. Consider South Africa for example. But it does show a sizeable stronghold of support. So, for now, I will simply add the international box office receipts of Black Panther in countries where equal marriage is the national law as of today, using Box Office Mojo’s figures. They amount to $275 million dollars. Add the receipts from countries that are this close to approving equal marriage (like Chile and Switzerland), the ones where it was legalized in most states (like Mexico), those in which support for it has crossed the 50% threshold (like Italy, Japan and the Czech Republic) or countries where support is growing and pushed along by the youth (as in South Korea), and it adds at least $96 million dollars.
That, of course, still puts it slightly below 60%. Then there’s the dreaded Chinese and Russian market, which together amounted to $124 million of Black Panther’s international gross. Throw in there around $40 million from markets where equal marriage is banned and/or there is barely any recognition of LGTBI+ rights, like India, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. But then again, it’s not like the topic is not on the table.
Box office is a game of every little bit counts, sure, and losing at least 10% of your overall gross just because the film got banned would seem like the kind of choice only independent films can risk, ironically. But then again, don’t forget that Black Panther made SEVEN HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS all over the USA, as support for basic LGTB+ rights has reached an all-time high, including an exponential growth among Black Americans.
Perhaps, maybe, instead of trying to appease every market, you could try cultivating certain markets with certain offerings. Max up your specs! I promise you, new and old audiences will respond in kind. And remember, there’s no greater promotion for a movie than being banned by an authoritarian government. It’s a guarantee that the audiences in those countries will do everything possible to get their hands on the movie. Even in North Korea (Seriously Disney? Feigning heart symptoms after only the implication of piracy? You know damn well we ALL do it). And maybe, just maybe that could help change, little by little, perceptions about LGTBI+ minorities, like silting. Take the plunge!
Because otherwise, if you keep insisting on this lame-ass First Gay Characters Ever, don’t. Stop trying. We will always have Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
Header Image Source: Disney/Marvel