Captain Marvel's feminist problem
In under a month, the new Marvel Studios film “Captain Marvel” has climbed to its position as tenth highest grossing Marvel film of all time. Sure, there’s been a lot of talk about this film in terms of best-portrayed origin story – but there’s also been a lot of talk that Captain Marvel might be gay.
The comic books on which the film is based, nor the film itself, make reference to the character’s sexual orientation. In fact, there is no love interest in the film, at all – and this is precisely why people think Captain Marvel is gay.
In his Inverse article “Fans Are Praising ‘Captain Marvel’ as the First, Best Gay MCU Movie,” Corey Plante states Marvel Studios missed an opportunity between Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), who becomes Captain Marvel, and her best friend Maria. “If Captain Marvel has one failing, it’s that Marvel Studios played it too safe with this one. Making Carol and Maria’s story ‘text’ would’ve been a major improvement.” Plante explains what “text” means in that “…their romantic story was presented merely as ‘subtext,’ or an underlying fact that’s merely implied. Making something ‘text’ is the opposite: making it explicit…”
Some fans praise the studio for being forward thinking and pro-feminist, but viewers like Plante see it differently. The studio is concerned with sales, and wanted to test the gay waters before diving into the “text” of the film with viewership.
Herein lies the true problem – a lack of romantic interest in a storyline leads us to believe a character is gay. While these works aid in LGBTQ+ inclusivity and female visibility, it masks an issue that permeates society as a whole: we are not defined by our selves, but are defined by our attachment to another.
The irony is that we as a society default to thinking something is wrong with someone if they don’t express romantic interest. As we have a need to define people by their interest in another, we justify this thought by defaulting to “oh, that person must be gay.” The subconscious implication is that being gay is the “something wrong.” In the new millennium, however, we immediately catch ourselves and accept this person, praising them for being part of an underrepresented community, championing their cause for a collective voice.
Our own approval of our assumptions furthers the proof that we define ourselves through another. We then approve this idea because we, in this situation, are the “other” giving definition to the person in question.
Not only does this shed light on the larger societal issue of perception, but this also damages the fragile concept of “unconditional love” and the bond two people of the same sex can share without the desire for romance. We aren’t taught about “unconditional love” in schools, nor are we often exposed to this love throughout life.
At the film’s open, Carol is emotionally attached to her training instructor. She needs his approval and follows his orders; if she disobeys or deviates, she will suffer consequences. When she then reconnects with her past and finds Maria, she is given the security and support to explore her true self.
Through this exploration, she finds the strength to confront her attachments, fight them, and walks away as a self-supporting individual defined only as herself: Captain Marvel.