Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness introduces America Chavez, but doesn’t overtly portray her sexuality – and that’s a good thing.
With the release of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness comes the introduction of a new multiverse-hopping character, America Chavez.
The character is Marvel Comics’ first Latin-American LGBTQ+ superhero, and she’s always been portrayed as a lesbian. The Doctor Strange sequel, in which Chavez is played by Xochitl Gomez, doesn’t focus on her sexuality and only lightly references LGBTQ+ characters. It may be debatable as to just how progressive this is, especially with Disney itself insisting it supports gay rights with ‘inspiring content’, but also making donations to backers of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. Nonetheless there’s an argument to be made as to why understated representation is actually a positive step, and not just tokenism.
Throughout the film Chavez wears a pin of the progress pride flag, which features not just the rainbow colours, but also extra stripes representing marginalised LGBTQ+ people of colour, and the trans community. In a film with a packed (and slightly messy) plot where there’s little time to develop America’s character, this is a simple way of showing her belonging to this community. But it’s more than just an easy identifier – it’s a small but significant way of normalising her sexuality and communicating it to the audience in an organic way.
Often LGBTQ+ characters in film have prominent storylines associated with their sexuality and/or the struggle of coming out (like in Love, Simon), and that runs the risk of making that the main focus. Is it not preferable and more progressive to normalise these characters by writing them as people who just happen to be gay, as opposed to focusing on them as gay people?
But the representation in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness doesn’t end with a pin badge. There’s also a flashback showing America growing up with her lesbian mothers. It’s brief, but it’s also treated as completely normal and nothing out-of-the-ordinary, which is great.
Surely the best way to normalise depicting something in the media is to treat it as normal.
Let’s not forget also that the MCU is a huge and ongoing franchise, with America Chavez sure to feature, or star, in future films or Disney+ shows. So while her sexuality hasn’t come up in this film specifically, there’s still plenty of time for that to happen, and to potentially happen in gradually more overt ways. Disney has often shied away from more obvious representation (to its detriment), but it would be good to see it come into their films more, especially if it’s done in this normalising, no-big-deal kind of way.
It may take a while for this to happen. In the meantime, it’s counterproductive to dismiss the small things as tokenism. It all contributes towards a progressive and naturalistic representation of LGBTQ+ characters that doesn’t reduce them to just their sexuality.
It may not be adequate long-term, but for now it’s a good place to start.
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