The release of Avengers: Endgame reaffirmed the common knowledge among fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that a number of characters would reach the completion of their story arcs. And the movie has managed to unravel the character of one of its key figures — Captain America. While certain fans are extremely satisfied, there are others like me who are less than pleased. We are frustrated with Marvel because of the “queerbaiting” surrounding Captain America. His story, spanning a trilogy and four Avengers movies, has never revolved around a romantic partner, as his selflessness and the need to stand up for what is “right” has kept his stories packed with conflict and action, preventing him from pursuing any steady romantic interest.
In his first movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, he meets Peggy Carter, who is not (yet!) reduced to simply being a love interest for Cap. A competent and resilient woman, Peggy refused to be the damsel in distress, and moved on with her own life when the hero went missing. She eventually became the co-founder of SHIELD, which would later become a major organisation in the MCU. Even when Captain America turned up, 70 years later, she expressed no regret or desire to change the life that she lived in his absence.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier generally steered clear of a female romantic interest for Cap. However, it introduced a new variable — Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s long-lost, childhood best friend, who turns up as a brainwashed assassin in the 21st century. Unlike Peggy, Bucky did somewhat fit into the damsel role, eliciting strong displays of loyalty for Captain America. Being such an integral part of the Cap’s life, many MCU fans saw Bucky as a potential love interest. Over the span of his trilogy, Cap continued to prioritise Bucky over everything else — fighting the government and even the rest of the Avengers in order to protect him. By the end of the trilogy, Cap-Bucky had become an extremely popular pairing.
However, it became clear that Marvel’s insistence on romance only goes far enough to include straight couples. In a brash attempt to downplay the Captain’s possible homosexuality, he was pushed into a contrived romance with Sharon Carter — none other than Peggy Carter’s niece.
As fans made their disapproval of this pairing clear, Marvel changed tactics and resorted to a strategy that a vast majority of Hollywood loves — queerbaiting. It refers to a marketing technique used by creators of fiction to hint at, but not actually depict, a same-sex romance. This is done in order to draw audiences attracted to the prospect of such a relationship. At the same time, it does not require the creators to face any potential backlash that the depiction of such a relationship may cause.
Marvel has been promising its fans greater representation for years, but has so far done almost nothing to act on it. After the release of Avengers: Infinity War, fans were told to expect LGBTQ+ characters in future movies. As Avengers: Endgame neared, the directors of the movie revealed the inclusion of a gay male character in the movie. However, this long awaited gay character merely turned out to be one of the directors, in nothing more than a glorified cameo.
Marvel screenwriters and directors have utilised the Cap-Bucky pairing for years during press tours and interviews — fans have even started the online campaign #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend: This stemmed from a press interview in which Samuel Jackson (who plays Nick Fury in the MCU) dubbed him as “The first LGBT Captain America”.
And when Avengers: Endgame released, it came as the last straw in denying the LGBTQ+ community the representation it deserves within the MCU. The Cap’s worldview — learning to live without a war — could have easily been lent a relevant edge by having Cap retire into a peaceful life in the 21st century with Bucky. Instead, he is, literally, sent back in time to be with Peggy Carter — erasing her life, family and accomplishments, and effectively reducing her to a prize for the hero of the story. Captain America, the paragon of “American values”, can under no circumstances be in a same-sex relationship. This illogical and unnecessary conclusion points to Marvel following conservative values implying that any “real family” — for Cap or otherwise — must be that between a man and a woman. For a character that was originally created to fight for inclusivity, this closure is a massive failure on Marvel’s part.
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 13, 2019, under the title ‘How Marvel Failed Cap’. The writer, 18, is based in Pune and has just finished school