“...it’s the right way to be. It is the way the world should be. And one of the great things about movies is you get to showcase the world that you want to reflect and the way you want the world to be.”
-Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios President in an interview with the LA Times
Captain Marvel is gay. At least, Carol Danvers was. Now, you may be thinking, “Rebekah, what on Earth are you talking about? Where in ‘Captain Marvel’ does anyone say that she was gay? Where is it in the movie?” To which I would respond by saying, “It’s literally everywhere in the movie. Were we watching the same thing? Are you blind?!” Over the course of this treatise I will be outlining and discussing every detail I am able to remember from the film that I consider evidence of a relationship between Carol Danvers and Maria Rambeau, research I’ve done that reinforces this evidence, why it isn’t explicitly addressed in this film, why it matters, and why I genuinely like this film more because of how they handled it. If you’re already on board the gay train, or at some point you decide you want to get to my point faster, feel free to scroll around. I’ve labeled the sections so it will be easier to navigate and I understand that there is a lot of information here. There’s no pressure to read every word of this in one shot.
*Spoilers for Captain Marvel. Obviously.*
Let’s get into it.
IN THE FILM
It would be a bit of an understatement to suggest that memory plays a huge role in this film. The film opens inside Carol’s memory of the day she crashed, the skrulls dig through her memories to try to find Mar-Vell, the fact that Carol can’t remember so much of her past prompts much of the action of the film. Her memories are suppressed, her memories are used, her memories haunt her, her memories motivate her. Memory is central to how this film works. And I’d say, conservatively, about 75% of the memories shown in the film are of Maria. Now, I don’t know how the technology they’re using works, but we can ascertain from what they want to find that they are scrubbing through memories of significant people and events from Carol’s past. Carol’s subconscious tagged a lot of memories of Maria as significant. However, many of the memories we see of Maria don’t seem to be significant in the same way as the other memories we see. We see Maria at Pegasus, going to work with Carol, we see Maria at Poncho’s bar, doing karaoke with Carol, having a drink with Carol, playing pool with Carol, we see Maria calling Carol and Monica in for dinner, which is also when we see that Carol has an established nickname for Monica, and those are just the ones that are shown through the skrull machine.
The other memories we see from Carol’s past are these big, somewhat pivotal, moments that developed her character. These memories consist of a moment of confrontation, establishing a strained relationship, with her father at a go-kart track, a fall during her air force training, some dickhead at Poncho’s saying, “you know why they call it a cockpit, don’t you,” a sweet moment between her and her brother, a conversation with Dr. Lawson, and the crash. These are memories of single events and the people within them, with the exception of Dr. Lawson being in the plane when it goes down as well as the conversation that is shown, only appear once throughout all of her memories. The memories themselves are repeated but the only person with multiple memories centered on their character is Maria.
The significance of the memories not involving Maria are generally pretty easy to discern. Most of them; her father, the fall at training, the guy at the bar, have something to do with her drive to become exactly what she wants despite the constraints people would place on her. The one with her brother shows that she isn’t completely hardened to everyone around her, she has relationships that she values. The memories with Dr. Lawson show the mentor/mentee relationship that they had and how Dr. Lawson trusted Carol and wanted her to succeed in becoming the best that she could be. They all have this pivotal energy behind them. That was probably the first time she stood up to her father. The fall might have been the moment decided whether or not to finish training. The encounter at the bar could have been her first experience with harassment as a member of the air force. The memories of Maria seem so different and, honestly, almost out of place compared to the other memories because they are relatively mundane moments that they shared. It is my view that these memories are made all the more significant because of their apparent mundanity. Karaoke, a simple drink, dinner, these things don’t really mean anything until you factor in what Maria meant to Carol. Where the skrull technology is trying to find importance, it finds, mostly, Maria. Carol is holding on to the moments she shared with Maria.
When Carol first lands on Earth, the first thing she does is seek out the bar where a lot of her memories of Maria are. She knows the name of the base by this point, she knows that’s what the skrulls were after, but she goes to Poncho’s. The bar itself is host to a couple more memories that are also of Maria. We see a little more of their karaoke performance and I think one other thing that escapes my memory at the moment. During this sequence there’s also a brief flash of Carol playing an arcade game at which point, and I fully accept that I might have just been hearing things but I swear, she says, “Hey, babe, come look at this.” Like I said, I’ve only seen the film twice so far but I wasn’t expecting her to say anything like that and it took me by surprise so I don’t think I made it up. The only person she really associates with this bar is Maria so, one would assume, that’s who she’s talking to. Regardless of what I heard in that one instance, the shear volume of memories centered on Maria and Carol’s relationship really speaks for itself. Her subconscious is holding these memories and, despite what her mission should be, Vers’ (the name Carol’s kree captors gave her) first priority seems to be finding Maria.
There are a few personal items of Carol’s that are in Maria’s possession that I think are important to address. The first of these is Carol’s jacket. We don’t know the full background of the jacket but we do know the significance that Maria and Monica seem to place on it. It’s one of the first things Monica brings up to Carol, stating that she used to wear it all the time until she spilled ketchup on it, at which point Maria had it cleaned and revoked that privilege. This tells us a few things, first and foremost the sentimentality attached to that item of clothing for Maria and Monica. It is important to remember that, in Maria and Monica’s world, Carol is dead. Monica felt close enough to Carol that she wanted to wear her jacket, “all the time.” We see in Carol’s memories that she and Monica had a relationship but this reinforces that and puts more weight on just how close they were. Carol wasn’t just one of mom’s friends. She was an important part of Monica’s life. One that Monica wanted to hold on to not just in memory, but physically as well. The jacket also shows that Maria is protective of Carol’s memory. She acknowledged the importance of the relationship between Monica and Carol by allowing Monica to wear the jacket but as soon as there was any danger of ruining it she took it away. We can assume that this jacket was a staple of Carol’s wardrobe. It probably smelled like her. It probably felt like her. This jacket isn’t just a visual reminder, it’s a full sensory experience that both Maria and Monica put a lot of value in. The last thing I’ll say about the jacket is that its significance and the way Maria handles it bears a striking resemblance to another item of clothing in a totally unknown and very subtle film in queer culture; the flannel in “Brokeback Mountain.”
Next up, photos. There are so. many. photos. Holidays, military ceremonies, Carol and Maria together, Carol and Monica together, all three of them together. There’s barely enough time to register all the ones that are in the frame let alone the ones that are partially cut off or out of the frame entirely. Now, pictures are one thing, we all have pictures with the people in our lives, but there are so many. And, keep in mind, these pictures would have to have been printed, from a camera, off of film, at a film development store. Judging by the “True Lies” (released to VHS in 1995) cutout that Vers shoots when she crashes into a blockbuster, the last time Carol would have been able to be photographed is 1989 or 1990. Printing photos used to take a lot of time and money. These people aren’t just in each other’s lives, their lives are inextricably linked. About 75% of Carol’s memories are of Maria, and about 75% of the photos in Maria’s house are of Carol.
Maria also has Carol’s dog tags. I honestly don’t know a lot about how the military works but one thing I did know the first time I watched the film is that they don’t give your stuff to just anyone when you die. I’ll have a lot more on this later in the outside research portion but even with the very little knowledge I had going into this, I knew the fact that Maria had those dog tags was super significant. I’m mostly putting this here to plant it in your heads for later because I think this is one of the more important pieces of evidence that we get from the film.
This section is going to be a little less concrete. It hinges pretty heavily on how I interpreted the body language and word choices between certain characters, usually Carol and Maria, and how I think the performances in the film are adding to my theory that there was a relationship between Carol and Maria.
I’m going to start with some interactions I find important in Carol’s memories to give things a sort of linear timeline to follow. At the bar when we see them together, they’re usually by themselves. There aren’t a lot of group interactions in Carol’s memories. Carol and Maria seem to be pretty focused on each other. When we see them performing karaoke, neither of them is facing the bar or the patrons that we can assume are there. Their bodies are fully turned toward each other and they are making eye contact. To me this reads as two people singing a song to each other that holds significance to their relationship rather than performing a song to a bar full of people. And what line are they singing? “Kiss me deadly.” I’ll have more to say on the full song later.
Additionally, there’s a memory in which Carol and Maria are sitting at a booth, alone, having a drink and talking. If I’m remembering correctly, they’re both sitting toward the edge of their benches and leaning toward each other. Seems pretty intimate in my opinion.
The last memory interaction I want to bring up was actually originally going to be put a little later in this piece in a general miscellaneous section but, the more I thought about it, the more I think it is actually pretty important so I’m going to move it up here. It could also be put in the outside research section because I did have to check a couple things but I think it fits better here. When Maria and Carol are exiting the hangar at Pegasus (I’m guessing. At this point we don’t really know where they are but I think it’s safe to assume), Maria says, “‘Bout to show these boys how we do it. You ready?” To which Carol responds, “Higher, further, faster, baby.” As far as I can tell, “Higher, further, faster,” is a phrase commonly associated with the character of Captain Marvel, especially since the arc entitled, “Higher, Further, Faster, More,” was written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. I couldn’t find anything about it being a catchphrase of the character, only that the line in the film was a reference to this comic arc. The phrase, in all instances I can find, before the release of this film did not include the word, “baby.” I can’t speak for anyone else really, but I for one don’t call my friends, “baby.” I’m not saying people don’t use pet names for their friends. I’ll throw out the occasional “babe,” a “hon,” here or there, maybe a “sweetie,” but “baby?” that’s different. If this was just an exchange between friends the line I would have written would have been, “higher, further, faster, girl.” Honestly when I first watched the film I just thought that was the catchphrase. I didn’t pay much attention to it. But it’s not the catchphrase. And the way she says it in the clip indicates that she’s said it before. This Carol Danvers uses this phrase frequently and, more importantly, addresses Maria as, “baby.” That seems pretty clear to me.
Now I’m going to go through the interactions I think are significant from the time Carol crashes on Earth to when she leaves again, starting with when she shows up at Maria’s house. This first encounter between Maria and Carol is key because it sets up Maria’s mindset and expectations for pretty much the rest of the film. Monica sees Carol first and exclaims with excitement that “Auntie Carol” is here. Maria looks up from what she’s doing and, at first, looks so happy. You can see disbelief as well but there’s pretty clearly hope in her expression. But then Monica runs up to Carol to hug her and she doesn’t react the way she should. She’s distant. The person standing in their driveway doesn’t know Monica the way Carol did. Carol even says, “I don’t think I’m who you think I am.” The next time we see Maria her face has hardened. You can see her slow down and watch her face fall. She seems confused and the hope that I saw before has receded almost completely. It’s important to note here that Maria is a very intelligent woman. Even though she wants Carol back, she knows that this person is different. Maria doesn’t know what happened to Carol or why she’s back. Maria doesn’t know what Carol wants or even if this really is Carol. Everything Maria does from this moment until, I’d say, when they part ways on Mar-Vel’s lab, is done to determine what Carol remembers, and what, if anything, she might be able to remember in the future.
After a brief group discussion in the kitchen, Carol and Maria get some time alone. Maria starts explaining to this person in front of her exactly what she lost when Carol died. I don’t have the whole speech memorized but she talks about how hard things got after the crash. How much she missed her best friend. You can feel and see Maria’s full range of emotions as she’s speaking. There’s sadness and grief, but there’s also anger. Anger at being left alone, at knowing now that Carol was alive somewhere, at realizing that this person doesn’t remember hardly anything about her, at seeing this person in front of her now and feeling all over again that pain of losing Carol because, whoever this is, it isn’t her Carol. Carol doesn’t have much of a reaction to all of this. She’s affected by the story she’s being told but there is still a separation. As Maria describes the events of the day leading up to Carol getting in the aircraft that would effectively kill her, there’s no recognition from Carol. However, when Maria gets to the part where Carol insists on going with Dr. Lawson on the mission that day, Carol does seem to remember something. They both say that Carol insisted on going because “there were lives at stake.” When Carol says this with Maria, Maria immediately perks up. This is an opening she can maybe work with. Which propels us toward the next important nugget.
Have I mentioned that there are some important pictures in this film? Pretty much the next event that takes place is Maria and Monica going through some of the pictures with Carol, eventually landing on the dog tags. The dog tags are really what’s important to the story at this point. We really don’t need to see any of the pictures. And even if we did, we definitely didn’t need the whole box. But the whole box is what we get. Maria purposefully brings everything she can find that might remind Carol of the life they had before. What else would you do to try to help someone suffering memory loss? Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to trigger anything else from Carol.
Later, after Carol learns that her entire life for the past six years has been founded on murder and lies and is freaking out a bit, Maria approaches her and reminds Carol just how strong she is. A specific phrase I want to pull out here is, “you supported me as a mother, and a pilot, when no one else would.” The words that are chosen here, and more specifically their order, is so important. Maria is revealing more about how important her relationship with Carol was. The fact that she says that Carol supported her as a mother first, and the gaping pause she leaves before continuing, is extremely telling. It’s almost as though she doesn’t want to add the second part of the sentence. She’s begging Carol to remember here. Everything she says during this speech is saturated in the love she holds for Carol. You can feel, or at least I could, how much she wants to comfort and protect the woman she knew. But all she can do is try to convince this stranger of the strength of a dead woman.
When they begin their expedition to space, after Carol and Monica perform an adorable and very natural feeling tag team on Maria to convince her to come on the mission, their ship enters a state of zero gravity. To fully grasp the significance of what happens here I just want to remind everyone that these women were test pilots in the air force together. They were both very passionate about the work they did, so much so that even though Maria is no longer serving, she still fixes and, one can assume, flies planes as a hobby. However, neither of them was ever allowed to fly a real combat mission due to restrictions in the air force at the time. This is the first real mission they’ve ever been able to fly together. Carol doesn’t remember this but Maria definitely does. So when Maria’s hand starts floating toward Carol’s when they get into zero gravity, I don’t see it as something that’s just happening. Maria wants so badly to share this moment with Carol, something they both wanted during their time of service, as an intimate one. They break through this barrier and for the briefest of moments Maria forgets that it isn’t really Carol sitting next to her and she reaches out for the familiar hand of the woman she loved.
On Mar-Vel’s lab it is revealed that Talos wasn’t actually interested in finding the mysterious power core at all. Mar-Vel had been harboring skrull refugees on her ship and Talos’ family are within their ranks. When they board the ship, Talos can barely contain himself. He starts almost running to the main room of the ship and, once there, lets out this desperate cry, not yet fully believing that he is about to see his family again. His wife emerges from the shadows first and you can see Talos just melt. They embrace and press their foreheads together, overcome with the relief of seeing each other alive. A few moments pass and his daughter also emerges. She’s young and timid, probably struggling to recognize her father for the duration of their separation. But they do eventually join together, enveloped in each others arms, confident that their separation is finally over. And all the while this is happening, the film keeps showing us Maria. Other characters are shown as well but where there is confused joy and happiness on most faces, Maria’s shows sadness, anger, and jealousy. She sees this family reunited and can only think of the reunion that she and Carol should have had. Talos embraces his wife and simultaneously pours salt in the still fresh wound that Carol’s lack of recognition ripped through Maria. This should have been her reunion, her relief, her happiness. But it wasn’t. And it won’t be.
The last time Carol and Maria interact in the film is just before Carol leaves Earth to try to help end the war between the skrulls and kree and find a safe place for Talos and the other refugees to stay. This scene is more important for what isn’t said than what is. Not in small part due to the fact that they don’t say much of anything at all to each other before Carol flies off. Before I get into what happens in this scene, I want to address something that isn’t said in any of their exchanges throughout the film. At no point does Maria say the phrase, “I love you,” or, “I loved you.” Now, yes, this would have given a lot away if there was, as I firmly believe, a romantic relationship between the two of them. But I think it gives just as much away that she doesn’t say it. If this were a film where nothing changed except Carol and Maria were two men who had been best friends before Carol crashed, it would be strange to not have one of them say, “I love you, man,” or something along those lines. Even if they were still women but there wasn’t a relationship between them, someone would say, “I love you.” It’s not an uncommon line to use when trying to convey the closeness of a friendship to an audience that doesn’t have the whole backstory. I think Maria doesn’t say that phrase because there is no way for her to say it without completely giving away the fact that they were in love. As I said before I think most of the choices Maria makes throughout the film are in an effort to see if this Carol can remember her. Saying, “I love you,” would give too much away too fast and potentially change how Carol acts around her from then on. She needs to know that Carol can remember without telling her what she’s supposed to be remembering. Unfortunately, Carol isn’t going to remember. When Maria comes out to say goodbye, she and Carol sort of just stare at each other for a while. You can see that Maria wants to say something but she doesn’t know how, or what to say. She knows now that this person in front of her isn’t Carol. Maria can’t say anything here because she’s already said goodbye to Carol. She’s already grieved her. Trying to do that again, knowing she’ll more than likely never see this person again, is way too much. What she does do, is give Carol’s jacket back. I see this as a physical representation of Maria fully accepting that Carol is not coming back. Whatever it was that Carol went through ultimately changed her beyond anything Maria could recover. Maria has accepted that her Carol really did die when that plane went down. This exchange of the jacket is her letting go of ever getting Carol back.
Before I end this section I do want to acknowledge that I neglected a lot of the interactions between Carol and Monica. I had a few of them written down but realized I really wanted to focus on the relationship between Carol and Maria a lot more heavily. I think the way Monica interacts with Maria is also quite telling though. Monica is so comfortable around Carol. I mentioned briefly that they teamed up on Maria to get her to go on the mission and the rhythm they fell into was so natural, like they’d done it before. One of Carol’s memories is of the two of them stargazing while Maria cooks dinner. Monica was just as attached to the jacket as Maria was. The relationship between them really does read, at least to me, more like that between a parent and child than a child and one of their mom’s friends.
These are just a few things that caught my attention in the film but that I really don’t have a lot to say about. I just think they’re fun or interesting and not entirely irrelevant to my argument.
When Carol first lands back on Earth, she discovers that she needs a wardrobe change in order to blend in more easily. She proceeds to steal a motorcycle, a leather jacket, and a flannel.
In Maria’s kitchen, Carol heats up a pot of water with the energy from her hands. Maria and Monica react with the appropriate shock and awe. Nick Fury says the words, “She can do a lot more than make tea with those hands.” We cut back to Maria who just ever so slightly cocks an eyebrow. I laughed for a solid five minutes in the theater when I watched this the first time.
Talos returns to a wife and daughter. Carol returns to Maria and Monica. Parallels and symmetry are a very common tool in film language.
As I’ve already stated, I think that pile of photographs is absolutely fascinating and packed with significance and information. One bit of information that I found especially noteworthy is that in one of the photos, Carol, Maria, and Monica all have matching Christmas pajamas. I don’t know about everyone else but I have never had matching pajamas with any of my friends. I have, however, had matching pajamas with my family. I’m pretty sure Carol actually moves this particular photo out of the way to get to other stuff. It’s not in the background or cut off by other pictures. The film wants you to notice this one.
A lot of this section is to mitigate concerns about things that I’ve heard people bring up that could undermine or eliminate the possibility of Carol and Maria having a relationship. I do apologize if I get any of this information wrong. I’m not in the military but I put a lot of effort into getting the information I use right.
Let’s start with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. This is the most common thing I’ve seen discussed in regard to a potential relationship between Maria and Carol which is honestly strange considering it didn’t go into effect until 1994, years after Carol went down in the crash. I understand that this fact would ultimately make it more difficult for a relationship to exist due to the ludicrous restrictions that existed before this policy came into effect, but that’s really only if you assume that the world where Carol and Maria exist is identical to our own. It obviously isn’t. There are aliens, superheroes, more aliens, secret wars, time and space travel, etc. This world is not the one we live in. I don’t have much of an argument for anyone who wants to cite these rules as evidence in opposition to my position on the film other than suggesting that maybe, just maybe, this world is different enough to not have implemented these insane regulations to begin with.
Something that made me pause a bit when combing through the film was the matter of who was taking care of Monica while Maria was going to work at Pegasus every day. I initially came across some false information that stated that single parents couldn’t serve in the military but, after more research and straight up asking a friend of mine who’s currently serving, I learned that as long as parents have a consistent and reliable childcare plan, there really aren’t any issues. We never see any evidence that Maria has a partner or is even in touch with Monica’s father. We do see that Maria is close with her own parents, though, and calls them to watch Monica when she goes on the mission with Carol. It’s unclear exactly where Pegasus is located or whether Maria’s parents moved when she did or were already close to where she moved. In any case, Monica and who was taking care of her doesn’t actually prove or disprove anything. Maria could have been single, married, dating, or whatever and it would make no difference as long as she had a good babysitter.
Finally, let’s tackle those dog tags. I think they’re one of, if not the, most important thing to this whole argument. If Maria and Carol were just friends, Maria should not have those tags. Basically, as I understand it, when you enter the military you set up something similar to a living will that determines who gets your life insurance and has power over your property and your body when you die. It becomes more extensive if you deploy to a combat area but we know that Maria and Carol weren’t because they say in the film that women weren’t allowed to fly combat when they were serving. There don’t appear to be restrictions on who you can name as the beneficiary of this living will but, according to my friend from earlier, even if Maria had been named the beneficiary, she still would have run into some issues getting the dog tags that Carol died with if Carol still had family alive. We know from Carol’s memories that she has a brother and father. She doesn’t try to contact them at any point during the film and we know that her relationship with her father at least was strained. But at no point does the film indicate that either or both of them has died. Yet Maria seems to have been given the dog tags directly after the crash. The only person that the military would prioritize over an immediate family member, is a spouse.
KISS ME DEADLY
Lita Ford’s song, “Kiss Me Deadly,” is the song that Carol and Maria are singing at karaoke during one of Carol’s memories. While straight herself, Ford began her career as the lead guitarist for the very gay rock group, The Runaways in the 70s and went on to have a successful solo career in the 80s. “Kiss Me Deadly,” became one of her most popular songs. I’ll point out again that during the clip we see of them singing, Carol and Maria are singing directly to each other. The specific line we hear is from the chorus and the full line is, “come on pretty baby, kiss me deadly.” The clip is very short and we really only hear them sing the words, “kiss me.” At each other. I’ll link the full song but here are the lyrics to the chorus:
But I know what I like
I know I like dancing with you
And I know what you like
I know you like dancing with me oh yeah
Kiss me once
Kiss me twice
Come on pretty baby kiss me deadly
While it really doesn’t make much of a difference because Marvel takes a lot of liberties with their characters in the MCU, I was curious to see if there was precedent for the character of Captain Marvel to be queer. Most versions of Captain Marvel are straight but I did find one that is confirmed to be a lesbian. Phyla-Vell is the daughter of Mar-Vell and her love story with her partner is apparently very important to a couple story arcs in her comics.
Marvel is extremely strict about what information is revealed about the MCU and when it is revealed. We all know this. They’ve even somehow managed to basically put a gag order on the entire internet for nearly a week after all of their movies are released in order to prevent spoilers. Marvel is a powerful entity. As I was planning and doing research about this piece, I came across two very interesting pieces of information. The first is how apparently Tom Holland was not given a full script to Endgame nor did he always know who he was even acting against in his scenes. That is directly from a statement made by the director of the film. The reason for this withholding of information? Tom Holland is bad at keeping secrets. This information served to reinforce to me just how measured Marvel is about who knows what about their films and how information is revealed about them. Which brings us to the second bit of information. Brie Larson and Tessa Thompson’s twitter accounts.
These two women have been unabashedly flirting through their MCU characters since the release of Captain Marvel. When I had last checked there where at least three separate exchanges between the two sharing queer fanart of their characters together with captions like “we cute,” “will never stop loving this ship,” and, “in love w/ it.” I just checked again while writing this and there are more than five exchanges now. One of the newer ones is not of fanart but Brie Larson calls Tessa Thompson her “dream girl” and Tessa calls Brie “dreamy” in return. As I’ve already noted, Marvel doesn’t let people involved in the MCU just say things about their movies or characters before they want them to. Tessa Thompson’s MCU character, Valkyrie, is confirmed to be bisexual and was supposed to have scenes with her girlfriend in the last movie she appeared in although those scenes were ultimately cut. If it was just Brie Larson tweeting art or flirting more one-sidedly I wouldn’t think much of this at all. Captain Marvel is not exactly an expendable asset for Marvel right now and Brie Larson is someone I can see taking some risks and pushing boundaries set for her regardless. But Valkyrie seems pretty expendable to me. I would imagine Tessa Thompson being a little more hesitant to start publically shipping these two characters. We won’t know for sure what all of this means until Endgame or possibly beyond but I really hope this isn’t just some company sanctioned queer bait. I honestly think it means we are going to get some confirmation in either Endgame or a sequel to Captain Marvel. I think Marvel has been building to this for a long time and the pot is about to boil over.
WHY NOT CALL A SPADE A SPADE
There’s obviously a lot going on in this film that seems to indicate that there was a relationship between Carol Danvers and Maria Rambeau. So why didn’t the film just come out (lol) and say it? A lot of it comes down to money. I can pretty confidently say that the MCU is the most profitable film franchise right now, and, probably ever. Unfortunately, a lot of those profits come from countries that have laws or regulations stipulating restrictions on queer characters in films and other media. On average, Marvel films pull about 60% of their profits from overseas. A big chunk of that comes from China. China has an extremely selective censorship board. I couldn’t find anything on specific laws banning LGBT content in cinema, in fact,I found a lot about a thriving underground queer film scene which is pretty neat, but these censors hold a lot of power when it comes to foreign films being released to their mainstream film scene. They’ve cut scenes from films like Bohemian Rhapsody and completely refused to release films like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name. Admittedly, an MCU film being banned from release in countries like China would be a significant blow to the company’s margins but, to be perfectly fair, I think the company could handle it. We’ve seen repeatedly over the past few years with Get Out and Marvel’s own Black Panther that diversity and representation have the potential to destroy expectations of profitability. People want to see themselves on screen. This is no different for the LGBT community. And with the sway that Marvel currently holds over the global cultural sphere, I think they truly have the potential to make some pretty awesome waves of change throughout the world if they decide to take on the risk of maybe not quite making a billion dollars on one or two of their films.
WHY I LOVE THIS FILM
For the next minute or two I’m going to ask you to come on a journey with me. A journey to a world in which the subtleties that I believe to exist in this film can thrive. A world where Carol and Maria’s relationship is just as obvious to the casual viewer as the one between Talos and his family. If everyone watching this film knows without a doubt and from minute one that Carol and Maria were in love and raising Monica together, everything in the film has a different tone from what it would have if they didn’t. I think some of my scene descriptions demonstrated this a bit already but just think for a minute what it means if Maria knows that she and Carol were in love, that they weren’t just copilots but co-parents, that they were supposed to spend their lives together, and she says nothing. Just imagine the strength that takes. The self control. The wisdom. It adds so much complexity to Maria’s character and so much tension to the film in general. When I think about the active and controlled decision that Maria made to wait and see who this person in her driveway was instead of just collapsing in relief at the very sight of her partner who was supposed to be dead, I legitimately get choked up.
Would an explicit acknowledgement of everything I know to be true have hurt my viewing? Probably not. Would it have helped everyone else? Absolutely. Just something little could have done it. Maria could have subtly, and unnoticed by the other characters, slipped a wedding photo out of the pile sprawled across the table and hid it away in her pocket. Fury could have pulled Maria aside and asked why she wasn’t saying anything to Carol to which she could have replied, “I need to see if she can remember first.” When Maria is trying to explain why she doesn’t want to go on the mission, how it’s too dangerous, she could easily have lost her composure momentarily and blurted out to Monica, “You’ve already lost one of us, I can’t risk you losing me too.” Can you imagine the absolute emotional gut punch that would have happened if Monica had stopped Maria in a hallway and asked, quietly and timidly, “Mom, why doesn’t she remember us?” Maria doesn’t know the answer. But she is absolutely determined to find out. And then when she accepts that Carol can’t remember them? I dare you not to cry.
WHY IT MATTERS
I’ve spent a lot of time and energy putting this together over the past month because I firmly believe that we become better when when we are able to think critically about the media we consume. It was genuinely quite fun for me to lay out all of these things I saw in one place and be able to back some of them up concretely. I probably could have left about half of what I wrote about out and my argument would have been almost as strong. But I really wanted to demonstrate just how much of the film was working to create this perception I had. I wanted it to be somewhat overwhelming. Sure, there is no actual verbal confirmation in the film that Carol and Maria had any kind of relationship beyond close friends. But there is no verbal confirmation that the individuals that Talos embraces are his wife and daughter either. That their reunion brought such an immediate understanding that they were, in fact, a family though, truly demonstrates why I’ve felt compelled to spend so much time and energy compiling and delineating all of the above information. Talos and his wife and child share the screen for all of probably five collective minutes. Carol and Maria are together for most of the film.
In my viewing of Captain Marvel, there is no way that Carol Danvers and Maria Rambeau were not in a relationship. But there are people who watched a completely different movie from the one that I watched. There are people who glossed over the photographs and the memories and the body language and thought, “Wow, look at those gals. They’re such good pals.” There are people who will read this entire piece and still not fully buy that a relationship was even possible. And honestly, I can’t blame them. As solid as I believe all of my evidence to be, it’s ultimately all speculation; me putting meaning on to images and applying outside knowledge to create the world in which I wish this film lived. Is it a risk for Marvel to make one of their highest grossing non-ensemble properties queer? I guess. But there was also a time when there was absolutely no possibility of and entirely black led and directed Marvel film. Black Panther is currently the highest grossing Marvel film to date (domestic, second highest adjusted, fourth worldwide; boxofficemojo.com). People rally around the media that represents them and the queer community has been waiting for something to rally around. We’ve been baited and jerked around by big budget, mainstream cinema for far too long. There are countless movies, from How to Train Your Dragon 2 to Star Trek to Thor: Ragnarok that said there would be queer characters and then either left them out, the film had nothing to concretely confirm their identities, or the scenes were so short that literally anyone not looking explicitly for it would miss it. Seeing kids light up when they watch a film and see themselves taking down the bad guys is absolutely amazing. Feeling connected to a community of people you knew existed but might not have experienced due to where you live or how you were raised because a character you admire, who’s like you, gave you something to aspire to is invaluable. Wanting to connect to the people around you, to feel like you aren’t alone, like there are people like you who aren’t afraid to be exactly who they are, is simply part of the human condition.
You can’t cut a scene from Black Panther and make its characters less black. But you can trim Bohemian Rhapsody until Freddie Mercury is just eccentric. You can leave a scene out of Thor: Ragnarok and people have to search to find out Valkyrie is bisexual. You can fail to provide undeniable confirmation of Carol and Maria’s relationship and they become just besties. Captain Marvel exists in the gray area that allows me to find breadcrumbs of the relationship I want them to have while half the world is able to ignore it and continue imprisoning or executing their queer citizens. We need films that are as undeniably queer as Black Panther is undeniably black. We need directors and writers who refuse to put so little of us in their films that we can be erased. We need companies like Marvel to stop being silent partners in other people's bigotry. There are queer people killing themselves every day because they feel alone and like the world doesn’t want them. We need people to see us. We need to see each other. There is no place for this gray area anymore. There never was. We need better than gray area. We need a hero.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
My mom, who knows nothing about Marvel but tried her best to help me edit this anyway.
Tasha Smith, for helping me polish and edit.
BJ Colangelo, for giving me that hot Brokeback Mountain tip and assisting in my incessant need to put a timeline on everything.
Lena Richardson, for answering my many pestering questions about the military. I hope I didn’t do too poor a job applying what you told me.
My roommates, who allow me to yell at them constantly and at all hours about gay shit so that I can sound intelligent when I finally write things down instead of like a maniac.
LA Times article featuring Kevin Feige:
Lita Ford’s Kiss Me Deadly:
Box Office Stats:
Higher, Further, Faster:
Promo clip of the Higher, Further, Faster scene:
SOME EXTRA STUFF FOR YOU TO CHECK OUT
Rowan Ellis is a YouTube content creator that I really admire and she produced a video right after she watched Captain Marvel that’s a bit more...animated than my writing here.
More videos on queerbaiting: