- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” is being hailed as the most diverse superhero movie in Hollywood history, but it’s not diverse enough for some progressives who want to know: Where are all the gay characters?

The latest comic-book-to-film adaptation checked off a number of identity boxes with its almost exclusively black cast and cohort of strong female characters. But filmmakers ditched a lesbian romance subplot from the original comic books, prompting an outcry from the LGBT community.

Actress Florence Kasumba stoked the flames of outrage when she revealed that scenes of lesbian flirtation filmed during production were left on the cutting-room floor.

“The final result that we’ve seen, there were a few scenes that have been cut,” Ms. Kasumba told Vulture. “Different scenes, also. They didn’t make it into the movie for certain reasons, and at that point, I have to say: What their reason is, I can’t tell you, because nobody told me about whether it’s in or not.”

LGBT advocates had every reason to hope that “Black Panther” would be the first Marvel Studios film to feature an openly gay character.

The comic book series is written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a prominent commentator on race.

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Mr. Coates tapped feminist writers Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey to create a spinoff comic series, “World of Wakanda,” that follows around two members of the Dora Milaje, the fictional African nation’s all-female special forces unit.

The main characters in “World of Wakanda,” Ayo and Aneka, are in a lesbian relationship.

Although Aneka is not in the movie, rumors of a lesbian romance spread when Vanity Fair reported seeing the rough cut of a scene featuring another female warrior, Okoye, looking “flirtatiously” into Ayo’s eyes.

Marvel Studios quickly shot down the rumors, saying the nature of the relationship between Ayo and Okoye is not romantic.

When asked about the deleted scene, screenwriter Joe Robert Cole said there were talks about including a gay love story in the movie, but those plans didn’t pan out.

“I think the short answer is yes,” Mr. Cole told ScreenCrush. “I know that there were quite a few conversations around different things, different directions with different characters, and characters that we may have. We thought, ‘Well, maybe we’ll work it this way with an arc or work it that way with an arc.’”

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This led to accusations from the gay rights community of “LGBT erasure.”

The Advocate, a popular LGBT magazine, panned Mr. Cole’s explanation for cutting the scene as “vague.”

“The very few LGBTQ characters in past Marvel films have been either closeted or unmentioned,” the magazine said in a video titled “What About LGBTQ Representation in Black Panther?” “It seems Black Panther won’t be breaking the mold.”

Writing at Gizmodo, Charles Pulliam-Moore argued there was room in the film for a romantic lesbian subplot.

“A romance between Okoye and Ayo is the sort of thing that easily could have been included in Black Panther with something as simple as a longing look and a bit of flirting kiss,” Mr. Pulliam-Moore wrote, “but it looks like we’re going to have to wait even longer for the MCU’s films to catch up with the times.”

The lack of a lesbian romance doesn’t appear to have affected the film’s success at the box office. “Black Panther” shattered records with an estimated $201.8 million opening weekend, easily besting the $132 million pulled in by 20th Century Fox’s “Deadpool” when it debuted in 2016.

Christian Toto, a film critic who runs the Hollywood in Toto blog, said Marvel Studios tends to shy away from romance, heterosexual or homosexual.

“It’s just not a main component of the story,” said Mr. Toto, who contributes articles to The Washington Times. “And also, with a movie like ‘Black Panther,’ you have to do so much. You have to establish the world, the villain, the motivation — what is Wakanda? There are so many things that are competing for screen time.”

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, said praising or criticizing art based on whether it showcases certain identities is to have an “impoverished” understanding of art.

“To look upon art as primarily a means of expressing social complaint is to summon an art that is impoverished, because it is putting ideological concerns ahead of any concern about aesthetic vision,” Mr. Wood said. “I can understand that some may say their aesthetic vision is a matter of group identity; I would lament that that is a very impoverished way of viewing both identity and art.”

Despite its lack of LGBT representation, Mr. Toto said, it’s hard to imagine a superhero movie more geared toward social justice.

“You just can’t win with the hard left,” he said.

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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