Image: Marvel Studios
Thor: Ragnarok is a great movie – but one area where it falters is with Valkyrie. Not because of characterization, because she’s just as great, kickass, and engaging as the rest of the cast. But Ragnarok‘s Valkyrie was meant to be bisexual, and the erasure of that identity in the film is profoundly disappointing.
A few weeks ago during an online Q&A with fans, Tessa Thompson, who plays the delightfully surly-turned-heroic warrior Valkyrie in Ragnarok, dropped a bombshell: her take on Valkyrie is that she’s bisexual, just as the character is in the comics. As Thompson’s comment started spreading, a few days later she had to add an important clarification to her previous reveal – Valkyrie’s sexuality is never made explicit in the film itself.
She’s bi. And yes, she cares very little about what men think of her. What a joy to play! https://t.co/d0LZKTHCfL
— Tessa Thompson (@TessaThompson_x) October 21, 2017
YES! Val is Bi in the comics & I was faithful to that in her depiction. But her sexuality isn’t explicitly addressed in Thor: Ragnarok. https://t.co/hmb5lYN5to
— Tessa Thompson (@TessaThompson_x) October 23, 2017
Left there, the story would have been a bizarre oddity, courting the positive attention of LGBTQ representation without actually… you know, representing. But eventually, through a profile with Rolling Stone, it was revealed that there was going to be a moment where Valkyrie’s bisexuality would have been acknowledged on screen. Thompson lobbied director Taika Waititi to shoot a small moment including a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom. Despite Thompson and Waititi fighting for the brief moment to stay in the film, it was eventually cut, because it was considered a “distraction” from the expository dialogue going on elsewhere.
Thompson’s remark to Rolling Stone about the scene being cut is unsurprising for the play-it-safe politics of making mainstream, wide-appeal blockbusters, but it’s still a grim reminder of where LGBTQ representation is at for these kinds of movies:
There were things that we talked about that we allowed to exist in the characterization, but maybe not be explicit in the film. There’s a great shot of me falling back from one of my sisters who’s just been slain [in the Valkyrie flashback with Hela]. In my mind, that was my lover.
And what is allowed to “maybe not be explicit” in Ragnarok is specifically the LGBTQ elements of Valkyrie’s character. Elswhere, the movie is fine cracking jokes about sexuality as a topic — the size of Hulk’s wang and shots of his gamma-irradiated buttcheeks are played for laughs. The Grandmaster’s luxury spaceship (Thor and the gang’s chosen method of escape from the planet Sakaar) was used to host dazzlingly disco orgies, complete with fireworks displays, plays a small but crucial role in the film’s big chase scene.
While it’s kept fairly subtle — a knowing glance here and there every once in a while — the movie is also fine with indicating that sparks could fly between Valkyrie and Thor several times. But apparently a couple-second-long shot of a woman leaving Valkyrie’s bedroom would have been too distracting from the narrative of a scene? That sucks. Not just because the excuse of why the scene ended up being cut rings hollow, but because it serves as a reminder of just how painfully short what passes for LGBTQ representation on the big screen still falls. It’s especially disappointing for Marvel Studios, whose failure to introduce more diverse characters in their movies, including LGBTQ ones, is amplified by the fact their TV output has had considerably fewer issues on this front — Agents of SHIELD, for example, introduced gay Inhuman Joey Gutierrez in season three, and his sexuality was integrated into the character’s backstory without being a “distraction” to the show’s narrative.
There’s a fantastical surreality to the sorts of scifi and fantasy movies we cover here at io9 that audiences are more than willing to buy into more often than not. People are perfectly fine accepting someone can be a space alien or a giant goat person, but apparently the concept of said space alien/goat person being attracted to a member of the same sex is a step too far. What’s even more discouraging, though, is that while queer representation in these films is actually on the “rise,” it’s only in the barest of manners possible.
Beauty and the Beast heavily touted its “exclusively gay moment” with Josh Gad’s character Le Fou in the run-up to release, only for it to be a literal moment — a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dance with another man in the film’s closing musical number. Power Rangers sought to cut off middling reviews by revealing, days before release, that Yellow Ranger Trini would become the first on-screen LGBTQ superhero. But Trini’s “outing” to her fellow heroes in the movie itself, is couched in such vagueness and avoidance, that it still feels like a half-step. And now we have Valkyrie, Marvel Studio’s first LGBTQ superhero, who you’d only know as such as long as you followed Tessa Thompson on Twitter, because her actual “exclusively gay moment” ended up on the cutting room floor.
Images: Disney and Lionsgate.
In a world where even these tiniest scenes — which, if we inverted them and put straight characters in their place would be so banal and nondescript that they wouldn’t be even worth mentioning — are seen as bold and daring examples of representation, the fact that Ragnarok couldn’t even get that far is even more disappointing. And yet, there will be headlines anyway, because LGBTQ people are meant to applaud and be fine with just the tiniest, tiniest moments of representation, even when Ragnarok‘s offering didn’t even actually appear in the final movie. Small steps forward are still steps forward, right?
The problem is, mainstream studios are still petrified of taking anything further than those first small steps. To LGBTQ people, those further steps — the steps where we actually get to see people like ourselves on the big screen, being themselves like the myriad ways straight characters are allowed to be, instead of their sexuality being an offhand declaration treated like an easter egg — are the ones that are vital. To see people like yourself, openly accepted and acknowledged as such, as they get to fight bad guys and save the day like someone like Valkyrie does? That is powerful, important imagery, and it’s something LGBTQ people rarely get to see in big-ticket genre entertainment.
Nearly a decade after Iron Man changed the superhero movie game forever, we’re still waiting on Marvel’s first openly LGBTQ movie hero to be explicitly acknowledged as such on screen (we’re also, alarmingly, still waiting on their first female or first non-white lead, but at least we know those are actually on the way relatively soon). A few years ago, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige told Collider the first openly LGBTQ character could appear in a Marvel movie by 2025. 2025! And that was meant to be a positive statement! Imagine saying that about any other form of minority representation, and there would be understandable outrage. But for LGBTQ audiences, that’s about as much as you can hope for when it comes to big blockbuster entertainment: We’re worth a headline-grabbing moment every once in a while, but not much else beyond that.
Two years on from that comment from Feige, and try as Thor: Ragnarok might, we’re still waiting for that openly LGBTQ hero. But at least Valkyrie is here, and has opportunities to be queer in future movies. It’s a shame we couldn’t be getting right now, instead of having to continue to wait for it.