Warning: Contains spoilers for Eternal.
With Eternal, Marvel correctly introduced the representation of LGBTQ + identities in MCU, and they chose the perfect story to do so as it represents so many different types of love. Brian Tyree Henry and Haaz Sleiman’s portraits of Phastos and Ben and MCU’s first same-sex kiss on screen got a lot of press. However, Eternal went further than that and provided a lot of nuanced conditions that did Eternal really a movie about love.
MCU has had a bad track record with LGBTQ + representation before Eternal. It took until Avengers: Endgame for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to include an overtly gay character, and when they did, it was only a minor character in a blink-and-you-will-miss-it scene. However, the MCU has committed itself to this be better with its LGBTQ + representation. In the 2021 TV series Loki helped develop some LGBTQ + identities but did not really investigate what those identities meant. IN Eternal, a more varied and nuanced approach is taken, and it has been reported that future MCU projects will build on this LGBTQ + representative, where Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is canonically bisexual and is looking for a queen in Thor: Love and Thunder.
While a common reason for MCU’s lack of LGBTQ + representation has to do with financial concerns regarding censorship of their films abroad, another element is at stake. Portraying LGBTQ + and minority identities for the first time would always be a big deal for MCU, and another superficial mention as with Avengers: Endgame could have been a step back. However, Eternal has a narrative which is based on love and how different forms of love manifest themselves, are expressed and can be valid. This is especially evident as Eternal money on MCUs tend to largely not focus on relationships, as most Marvel movies spend some time on them. In contrast, almost all members of the Eternal are involved in some form of expression of love. Here’s how the story came to be Eternal the perfect movie to introduce true LGBTQ + representation to MCU.
Ajak And The Eternals: Family / Parental Love
Despite a relatively small amount of screen time, Ajak (Salma Hayek) gives the central thrust Eternal through her expression of love. As the Eternal Prime Minister and point of contact with Arishem, she is in fact the leader of the Eternal, but with her that role manifests itself to a great extent in a parental form. Ajak states several times throughout the film that she loves the Eternal, and it seems that it is Sersi who embraces this kind of love, which leads to Ajak choosing Sersi as his successor as Eternal Premier over Ikaris or a second, as she has that love for the eternal and for people. This also seems to give her the power to enable the group to work as one to stop the heavenly Tiamut after Ajak’s death. The love that Ajak shows is arbitrary throughout the group, but is also not blind to any of the Eternals’ faults or shortcomings.
Phastos and Ben: Gay and Family Love
The relationship between Phastos and Ben to appear on the screen in the MCU is groundbreaking in itself, but also serves to drive some major elements home of Eternal narrative and themes. The couple have a healthy relationship, and for the rest of Eternals, it’s much bigger news that Phastos is in a relationship with a human being than with a man. It is important that love has been able to break the possible divide, and it is crucial that Phastos and Ben have an adopted child, Jack (Esai Daniel Cross), whom they love in parallel with how Ajak loves the eternal.
Sersi and Ikaris: Immature love
One of the things that does Eternal‘narrative that love works well is showing a less flattering representation of love. It showed the relationship between Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) is immature. Their relationship has little depth and it seems to be originally driven by physical attraction. When Ikaris hears about Arishem’s plans from Ajak and cannot see the value in continuing his relationship with Sersi further, instead of trying to discuss the matter with Sersi, he simply goes without explanation.
Sersi and Dane Whitman: Mature Love
In sharp contrast, Eternal also shows a relationship based on maturity and a deeper love. Sersi’s relationship with Dane Whiteman (Kit Harrington) seems to have evolved from a common interest and collaboration and is something Sersi pursues gently and at a distance as she knows how her immortality will complicate the relationship. While Sersi and Ikaris’ relationship acts as a warning story for the rest of the love-based tales to be based on, her relationship with Dane presents a more positive idea, and she is able to grow in that relationship by seeing the successful love between Ben and Phastos.
Thena and Gilgamesh: Asexual / Aromatic Love
To many viewers, Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok, like Don Lee) may not seem to be in a relationship. Thena and Gilgamesh, however, can be read as portraying a kind of love that Hollywood tends to shy away from and that is generally underrepresented in the media. The two maintained a loving platonic relationship for thousands of years in what appears to be aromatic and asexual. After Thena appears to be hit by Mahd W’yry, Gilgamesh takes care of her, and the two express love and affection for each other in a purely emotional way that goes beyond their interaction with any of the other Eternals. In a medium so often dependent on physical signs of love, their relationship is as important as Phastos ‘and Bens’ to the LGBTQ + community and demonstrates another valid form of relationship.
Kingo: Narcissistic / self-love
Most of the characters in Eternal is paired with someone in the movie. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) is an obvious exception to this rule. After separation from the rest of the eternal, it seems that the closest Kingo has a connection with another person is with his co-worker Karun (Harish Patel) and he is in fact completely cut off from everyone else. Having created his own dynasty of movie star identities, Kingo has developed an adoring fanbase and seems to thrive on the idolization of others and his own narcissistic self-love. While this may make him seem self-absorbed, this expression of love is not rejected or judged by Eternal but probably represents part of the reason he was not elected as the new Eternal Prime Minister.
Sprite And Ikaris: Unrequited Love
Possibly the saddest narrative and representation of love centers around Sprite (Lia McHugh). Her love for Ikaris is completely unhappy. While many films have used unrequited love as a problem for both the pining party and the object of affection, Eternal does not shy away from showing it as a problem only negatively affects Sprite. Her unrequited love for Ikaris causes her to be jealous and to become self-hated by her body, which she does not feel represents her (an element attached to a possible queer reading of Sprite), and it ultimately leaves her be open to manipulation by Ikaris, who plays a major role in the central battle.
The love portrayed in Eternal is never a side story, as it might be in many superhero movies. The different kinds of love that Eternal displays are the key to how the characters interact with each other and the world and provide a greater statement in the narrative. It all does Eternal the perfect place for the MCU to have brought LGBTQ + identities with full force as it allows them to be meaningfully portrayed without having to be highlighted for their diversity.
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- Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release Date: July 8, 2022
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever / Black Panther 2 (2022)Release Date: November 11, 2022
- The Marvels / Captain Marvel 2 (2023)Release Date: February 17, 2023
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)Release Date: May 5, 2023
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)Release Date: July 28, 2023
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