Mild Spoiler: The preoccupation on today’s opener Avengers: Endgame will be about a near-billion-dollar first-weekend gross fueled by 24-hour showings, its assault on the all-time box office record books and the resetting of the Marvel Comics Universe. The film also breaks ground on a cultural level. It is a small moment but a milestone nonetheless in such a global appeal blockbuster. Avengers: Endgame introduces the first openly gay character to appear in a Disney/Marvel movie.
That character isn’t a superhero, and he is played in an early scene by Joe Russo, who co-directed with brother Anthony Russo. The character is an average guy who is part of a support group of people trying to move on from the grief of losing loved ones who vanished at the end of Avengers: Infinity War at the hands of Thanos. He talks about going on his first date since losing his male partner. It’s as simple as that, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. Russo, one of the stars of the Russo Brothers’ first film Pieces, usually gets listed in the cast credits under the name Gozie Agbo when he does small parts in their films. Here he is uncredited, but his appearance is a pointed moment of inclusion that was important to the filmmakers, who exit MCU after directing two Captain America and two Avengers films in the past seven years.
I noticed the moment during the film’s Los Angeles premiere screening, and asked the Russo Brothers about it as part of a different interview. Their press tour has included much evasive maneuvering to keep various spoilers under wraps, but they were willing to talk about this one and how it came about.
“Representation is really important,” Joe Russo said. “It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them. We felt it was important that one of us play him, to ensure the integrity and show it is so important to the filmmakers that one of us is representing that. It is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity.”
There has been speculation that Marvel will add an openly gay superhero at some point, and online rumors have pegged The Eternals as a possibility. Valkyrie, the character that Tessa Thompson reprises from Thor: Ragnarok, is depicted as bisexual in the comics, but that hasn’t yet manifested itself on a movie screen. Disney will inherit a gay character, Negasonic Teegage Warhead, from Fox’s Deadpool and Deadpool 2, the latter of which included her girlfriend. This small step for Disney in Avengers: Endgame, said Anthony Russo, fit as seamlessly into the storytelling as inclusive moments like one showing a wealth of female Marvel superheroes that underscored how far Marvel has come in a decade, when its superheroes were mostly white males.
“The fact that the character is gay will get attention but it isn’t where the scene started,” he said. “When you have a story point that includes killing half of all humans on Earth, you’re telling a bigger story than The Avengers. So that scene was important to us in telling the story of the larger world. We wanted to have a voice that was talking about the experience of people that went beyond The Avengers. That’s why we felt we really needed it in the movie. Otherwise, it just became too hermetic and insular. That character that Joe is playing really came from that point of view, him being an everyman who has suffered from Thanos’ act.”
“We wanted it to be casual, with the fact that the character is gay tied into the fabric of the storytelling and representing what everyday life is,” Joe Russo said. “We’re trying to represent everyone in everyday life. These are global movies that reach a lot of people. They are important to a lot of people and everyone has the right to see themselves on the screen and identify somewhere.”
The brothers have just returned from opening the film in countries all over the world, and the moment got noticed, they said.
“We’ve seen it now even in countries where people countries where homosexuality isn’t as free as it is here,” Anthony Russo said. “It’s actually one of those elements of these movies that I think resonates in challenged places in the world as well.”
Said Joe Russo: “As filmmakers of a massive franchise we’re saying, we support you.”