In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, current Spiderman actor Andrew Garfield hints at what fun it would be to play a Spiderman that sexually experiments with men. Maybe so. But the gay community and gay men in particular have been teased with the prospect of their favorite superhero over and over without any tangible results. Garfield told Entertainment Weekly that he had a discussion with producer Matt Tolmach wherein he expressed his desire to test out Peter Parker's sexuality:
And I was like, ‘What if MJ is a dude?’ Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking! … So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?
Garfield's sentiments aren't bad. Just throwing that type of question out there can start a positive conversation about the way we think of superheroes, role models, and anyone young people look up to. And an accurate and legitimate portrayal of bisexuality in a superhero film, or any mainstream film for that matter, would be brilliant. Gay blogs like Queerty and Towleroad have already jumped on the quote with enthusiasm. "He’s been gay in our fantasies since before you were born, Mr. Garfield, and we fully approve of you making out with other men in or out of costume" wrote Queery's Matthew Tharett. Tharett's randy fantasies aside, people are genuinely excited and entertained by Garfield's comments.
The only problem is that Garfield's sentiments come amid a long history of really handsome actors, and really popular authors publicly playing with the possibility of turning their onscreen characters gay, and studios never really delivering. In 2006, during the height of the James Bond reboot, Daniel Craig publicly pushed for a gay scene not unlike what Garfield suggested. "Why not? I think in this day and age, fans would have accepted it. I mean, look at Doctor Who—that has had gay scenes in it and no one blinks an eye," Craig said in a widely circulated interview. Some six years later, that storyline never happened except for a wink and nod in Skyfall. And Craig came out and flatly denied that James Bond could be gay, telling E News:
"No," Craig said when I asked if he could ever imagine a "gay James Bond."
"Because he's not gay," he said. "And I don't think Javier's character is either—I think he'd f--k anything."
Similarly, in the world of powerful gay wizards. Harry Potter fans were surprised when J.K Rowling announced in 2007, months after the last Harry Potter book was published and long after Albus Dumbledore died, that Dumbledore was gay. "In fact, recently I was in a script read-through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script, saying, 'I knew a girl once, whose hair..."I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter —'Dumbledore's gay!' she told fans. As with Garfield's interview, Rowling's comments were widely and excitedly picked up by gay blogs. But despite Rowling's reminders in the margin, Dumbledore did not have any distinctly Brokeback moments in any of the movies, and many fans still believe Rowling's outing to be a publicity stunt or something of an afterthought.
And back in 2012, DC Comics announced that one of its major characters would be coming out of the closet, which led to speculation that it might be Superman or Batman. The much-hyped announcement was the outing of an alternate-universe Green Lantern—a "second-string" hero, as Think Progress's Alyssa Rosenberg put it.
With those examples on the table, you can understand my reservations about getting heavily invested in Garfield's expressed curiosity. Studios haven't delivered, and even the comics companies creating the storylines have short-changed the stories they've been hyping. And in the context of Garfield and Craig, it makes you question whether this is an organic feeling or a measured and opportunistic marketing scheme. We are after all talking about Spiderman when we really should still be in the Man of Steel afterglow, and those comments come one week ahead of San Diego Comic Con.
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If the gay men and women really do want a gay superhero to root for and great fictional characters, there are plenty of them who already exist outside of the hyping in interviews by the likes of Garfield or Craig. There's Archie's Kevin Keller, Marvel's North Star (a Canadian superhero who has super speed and can shoot blasts of blinding light when paired up with his sister) and most recently the X-Woman Psylocke (if you read Uncanny X-Force, please email me so we can discuss the bonkers storyline that's going on right now), D.C.'s Batwoman and the aforementioned gay Green Lantern who is not Ryan Reynolds.
Since moviemakers don't seem to want to deviate from the traditional comics, investing in a gay character from the get-go might be the only way to get a gay character on a big, mainstream screen. Buying into the hype and falling into the nice and cushy world of possibility put forth by people like Garfield and Craig, feels good, but history shows that those aspirational thoughts about gay characters and heroes never really make it off the paper or Internet page they're written on and into the movies. And perhaps it's time to start believing in or demanding a character that actually might.