The ever-candid Sir Ian McKellen is none too pleased with the state of queer representation in superhero movies, or his rather dull costume from the X-Men franchise. In blockbuster cinema as in the real world, the discussion of representation has been a driving force behind a number of issues. For some in the majority, it’s often a non-issue as they’ve never lived in a world where they can’t see themselves as heroes and powerful people. For many others, however, they see a false representation of the world on the screen or page.
Comics and genre TV have slowly provided fans who identify as LGBTQI more and more opportunities to see themselves represented as three-dimensional characters. And while movies are filled with many wonderful queer characters, the intersection between LGBTQI lives and genre cinema is noticeably lacking — aside from a few paltry examples. As a gay man who’s played not only a number of fantastical roles, but a super-powered character, Ian McKellen knows all too well that the growing industry fails to showcase people like him. And despite a plethora of mainstream queer superheroes and villains to pull from, neither Marvel or DC have made much of an effort on the big screen.
Variety recently spoke with McKellen at Cannes Lions about a number of topics, from Trump to James Bond. During the interview, they also asked him about queer representation in blockbusters and superhero movies, with the actor lamenting Hollywood’s dismal track record so far:
“I wouldn’t say the films coming out of the mainstream are quite as related to what’s going on in the real world as I would like them to be. One indication of that is LGBT people don’t really get quite a big enough say. If you’re one of those initials yourself, you do notice that actually these movies are not about me at all.”
As McKellen points out, his issue is not just that queer people don’t see themselves on screen, but the fact that the real world isn’t properly represented. And while superhero movies are fantastical in nature, many attempt to be grounded and reflect political and social issues. In fact, the best fantasy and science fiction has long been used as a way to comment on socio-political issues. It’s that above all else that makes the lack of LGBTQI faces in superhero movies so disappointing. That said, McKellen isn’t so sure every superhero on the big screen is straight.
“Frankly looking at the images of some of these superheroes it’s a surprise to me they aren’t gay.”
While his comment is tongue-in-cheek, it does touch on an interesting issue. From Mystique to Wonder Woman to Harley Quinn, we have seen a number of queer and gender fluid heroes and villains on screen already. The problem is, they’ve all been presented as straight, despite their comic book history. And though that canon can be argued about all day, it points toward a willful denial of a character’s backstory and a missed opportunity when it comes to proper representation.
Of course, McKellen doesn’t think all of the costumes in superhero movies are as flamboyant as they should be. Like many fans, the actor was disappointed that his Magneto outfit didn’t live up to the absurdity of his comic book counterpart.
“I wasn’t allowed to wear that outfit. I don’t look like Magneto in the comics — always shot from the crotch level.”
When it comes to McKellen, he’s never shy about speaking his mind. He recently opened up about the very personal reason why he passed on playing gay fantasy icon Dumbledore. Sadly, Dumbledore too hasn’t had his sexuality displayed in the films, though it’s not super evident in the source material either. Still, it’s fun to imagine McKellen as Dumbledore or a more camp Magneto. Hopefully, we’ll soon see a future of blockbusters more like the one McKellen and many queer fans envision.
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