The time? 2019. The place? San Diego Comic-Con—Thor: Love and Thunder panel. The promise? That Valkyrie would find her queen in the upcoming Thor movie and finally get to express her sexuality in a meaningful way. Tessa Thompson, the actress who plays Valkyrie, told the crowd, “As new king, she needs to find her queen. So that will be her first order of business. She has some ideas. Keep you posted.”
And this wasn’t just something noted by the actress alone. Kevin Feige echoed the sentiment in an interview with io9. On the topic of whether Valkyrie would have an LGBTQ+ storyline in Thor: Love and Thunder, Feige seemed very clear. “The answer is yes,” He said. “How that impacts the story remains to be seen with that level of representation you’ll see across our films, not in just Thor 4.” And the MCU stood up to collect the applause. The results of this promise to deliver a solid level of LGBTQ+ representation in Thor: Love and Thunder and across the MCU? Nonexistent. If anything, insulting.
But really, shame on us. Once again, a Disney property has promised us a “first-ever” queer character and did not deliver any meaningful LGBTQ+ representation. This isn’t new, but it continues to be embarrassing for the franchise and disappointing to many of its fans. If the MCU doesn’t intend to offer LGBTQ+ representation in Thor: Love and Thunder or in any of its movies, whether that be for financial, political, or other concerns, it should just say so. But to stand up and bask in cheers and then offer nothing is beyond the pale.
Valkyrie is queer in Thor: Love and Thunder. But she is obviously queer instead of overtly queer. She is blink-and-you-miss-it-queer and not visually queer. Yes, she feels queer, but movies are visual mediums and their most powerful messaging comes not in feelings, or conversations, but in actual portrayals of intent. In the case of movies, “text” translates to what we visibly see on-screen and “subtext” is everything else. In the world of the MCU, LGBTQ+ relationships remain subtext, like in Valkyrie’s case, or set-dressing, like the queer-if-you-really-squint worried moms from New Asgard. Do not talk to me about the gay rocks. (But, while we’re talking about it, even the gay rocks can’t kiss to mate, let alone anything else; instead, they hold hands… Even though the only living part of them is their mouth. Fascinating.)
Once again, the heteronormative relationship takes center stage in the MCU, and the LGBTQ+ characters sit to the side and sigh about lost love for scenes that last no longer than thirty seconds. By Thor’s own recollection, he and Jane have been apart for over eight years, and yet they can waltz back into one another’s arms, swoon, and kiss, and be at the core of the story.
But heaven forbid if Valkyrie even touches the hands of a woman with a name; if any queer-feeling scene get to last longer than the really verging on a gay-joke moment between Thor and Star-Lord; if any character that is human-shaped got to do more than mention their sexuality in passing. (And again, the rocks, the rocks get to be queerer than any of the humans, though for no longer than 30 seconds, of course. Kevin Feige, if you’re reading this, that is not what anyone means when they ask for representation.)
Tessa Thompson recently addressed the LGBTQ+ aspect of Thor: Love and Thunder in an interview. She noted, “We’ve had lots of conversations about it, I think there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I. But I also think [it’s important] not to hang the character’s hat solely on her sexual identity just because she’s a queer character. I think that’s one way of minimizing her humanity, actually, if that’s the only facet that you get to explore her in.”
With all due respect to Thompson, who certainly does not get to make creative calls, this line of argument is absolutely in bad faith in a way that turns queer rhetoric against itself. In reality, no queer person has to demonstrate their sexuality in any way. They simply know they are queer and that is enough. In an MCU movie like Thor: Love and Thunder, Valkyrie has no agency. As a character, she is written by a series of decision-makers. And those decision-makers get to dictate how her sexuality does or does not manifest. It is not minimizing Valkyrie’s fictional humanity for actually human queer fans to want to see her queerness appear palpably. Instead, it is crucial to interrogate why, in a movie where love is supposedly front and center, queerness can only exist in the ether.
Somehow, Thor and Jane are easily able to manifest their love. Without any kind of fanfare, Thor can even have a montage of his past lovers, wherein he “doesn’t discriminate” in his amorousness, but, of course, only woos women-shaped characters. But when it comes to Valkyrie, naturally, she needs to be concerned with every other facet of her existence except this one.
Or as, Taika Waititi adds, she needs to be “someone who’s OK with being alone” as she learns how to love herself. But funnily enough, every heteronormative character gets to learn how to love themselves alongside someone else. Only LGBTQ+ characters somehow desire solitude. Queer characters can exist now in the MCU, but only invisibly. Always in a unit of one and no more. That is not really something to celebrate.
Unfortunately, Thor: Love and Thunder and the MCU fail yet again when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. King Valkyrie does not, in the end, get to find her queen. Instead, she inhabits the same old, tired place that queer characters are placed into again and again because their sexuality is too scary to countenance if it’s active, if it’s text, if it’s seen enacted. In the end, Valkyrie’s love story does not get to exist… She does not get to find joy and comfort in her queerness. For her own good, of course. For the sake of her humanity.
It seems that, for now, we’ll have to wait for the next “first-ever” character to appear and see what they have in store for us. Perhaps we’ll get a full minute of content this time if we’re lucky. Maybe gay Joe Russo can find time in his schedule for Thor 5.