A report suggests the DC Movies first LGBT character will be Ewan McGregor’s take on Roman Sionis A.K.A the Black Mask. The antagonist of the upcoming Birds of Prey film, featuring Margot Robbie reprising her role as Harley Quinn, will not explicitly “come out,” according to a vaguely-sourced report. Instead, it seems that Black Mask will have “palpable” sexual tension with Victor Zsasz, another Batman rogue. The site also suggests that Rosie Perez’s Detective Renee Montoya, an out lesbian in the comics, will retain that characterization for the film. Also, Quinn is bisexual (in the comics) being tied to Poison Ivy, something the animated DC Universe series will explore. Take this report with an entire pillar of salt, however, because the source is notorious for publishing “insider reports” that are pure fantasy. Still, it’s reasonable that DC Movies first LGBT character may be in this film.
The Reaction of Some ‘Fans’ Is Why This Matters
In a world where all things were equal, none of this would matter beyond whether there’d be a love story B (or C) plot in the film or not. Yet, outside of an unnamed character in Avengers: Endgame, there has never been an openly-gay superhero (or super-villain) character on the big screen. In today’s era especially, the representation of historically-oppressed demographics is an important thing for storytellers to consider. These films have a wide reach and will, as Richard Donner’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman before the, have a long shelf-life. So, the inclusion of female, ethnic, and LGBT+ characters is important to ensuring that every group that exists in our real world is felt in the fictional world of these films. The other reason this is important is that comic books were incubators for so-called “social justice” messages since the dawn of the Silver Age and before.
Captain America fought Nazis. The X-Men are a thinly veiled allegory against bigotry and prejudice against those who are “different” and seem “scary” to a traditionalist majority. Characters like Black Panther or series like Green Arrow and Green Lantern delved into real-world political issues. Since the main audience for these books, at the time, are children, this was a sneaky way to get progressive political messages past traditionalist parents and the restrictive Comics Code Authority. So, when angry “fans” complain about the live-action media continuing this tradition, it shows that perhaps the subtle messages of tolerance found in comics’ pages were perhaps too subtle. Yet, the other purpose of these films is to make money, and studio executives try to avoid controversy that might affect the bottom line. Still, it’s fair to ask the question if DC Movies first LGBT character is being “forced” in a way that’s unnatural.
DC Movies First LGBT Character Needs to Be Handled Carefully
Before we continue, we must note that many people against inclusivity in this type of media use the argument that it’s “forced” and not natural to the story. While their justifications may be just south of ludicrous, proponents for the first gay character in DC films share this concern. GLAAD, an American civil rights organization advocating for the rights of LGBT+ people, share this concern because they want to ensure that LGBT+ characters are fully-formed in their own right. They introduced the Vito Russo test, named after their co-founder, to help guide storytellers.
The Vito Russo Test
- The film contains an identifiably LGBT+ character.
- This character is not solely defined by the fact that they are LGBT+
- This character must be significant enough that their removal would significantly affect the plot or narrative of the story.
So, whether it’s Black Mask, Montoya, or just Quinn herself, the DC Movies first LGBT character would pass this test. Of course, because of the way these issues are discussed in the partisan political media, that likely won’t matter. Those against visibility for LGBT+ people will argue that it’s “social justice” shoehorned into a movie to shove a specific “agenda” in their faces. Those for more visibility for LGBT+ would want the character’s sexuality to be explored more, rather than be just another character detail. (And they also certainly want to see LGBT+ heroes lead their own films.) When entertainment becomes a battleground for a political discussion, the result often leaves many unsatisfied. However, the real feat will be how the characters play in the story itself.
The Story Is the Thing
Whoever the first DC Movies LGBT+ character will be, if they movie they are in is poorly executed it won’t really matter. Even worse, short-sighted studio executives could think the inclusion of a gay or bisexual character is “the reason” the movie failed. Yet, artists don’t just make art for the people who will see it in the first ten weeks of its existence. When the dust settles around the political clickbait, if the story resonates and the characters feel real, the details about them will also feel like they simply belong there. Tests like the Vito Russo test or the Bechdel test are not the ultimate determination of what art is “good” or “bad” from a social justice context. Rather they are simple, basic questions asked to storytellers that are meant to make them recognize how they are utilizing their characters.
One-dimensional characters never enrich a story. They only devalue the entire effort. So, the filmmakers and actors need to focus on making sure they story they tell is a worthy one. The first film featuring Robbie’s Quinn, Suicide Squad, was a financial success (and won an Oscar!). However, only the most devoted DC fans find the movie enjoyable or worth a rewatch. That’s the real pitfall to avoid. Including LGBT+ characters is important, because it better reflects the real world these modern myths are meant to emulate. And for future fans of these movies, their inclusion will not be jarring or even controversial. This hang-up is unique to this time in history, and there is no better way to deliver messages about social issues than through comic-style stories, just like in the past.
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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.