Any casual perusal of right-leaning news outlets reveals a belief in a powerful “gay agenda” waging a cultural war on heteronormativity, but a glance at more centrist forms of media clearly demonstrates that the so-called war isn’t going all that well. Despite a much-more gay friendly public than in decades past, LGBTQ+ characters continue to be few and far between in major Hollywood productions, and those that do appear are often portrayed in troubling ways. Worst of all is the trend of erasure, or “straight-washing,” in which characters that are canonically queer in other forms of media are turned hetero for the benefit of the mainstream box office.
Hollywood has come a long way when it comes to representation of sexual orientation and gender identity, but the prevalence of straight-washing proves there’s still a long way to go before true equity of representation is achieved. Producers and directors continue to come up with all manner of excuses for erasing their characters' LGBTQ+ identities, but the overall trend is clear, and it’s not hard to imagine what the real motivation for the erasure is.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was the 2018 sequel to one of the highest-grossing films of all time, so it represented an impressive platform upon which to promote LGBTQ+ representation. And it almost made the final cut.
According to actor Daniella Pineda, her character, Dr. Zia Rodriguez, was written as a lesbian, but the moment in which she referenced her sexuality ended up on the cutting room floor. Pineda explains the scene was ditched because of time constraints. "It's me and Chris Pratt and we are in a military vehicle with all of these mercenaries," she says. "I look at Chris and am like, 'Yeah. Square jaw. Good bone structure. Tall. Muscles. I don't date men, but if I did, it would be you. It would gross me out, but I would do it.'"
Deadpool has been canonically pansexual for the majority of his fictional character history, but he’s also becoming notorious for having that sexual identity in name only. While Marvel and Fox seem eager to tout Wade Wilson as a progressive character, his non-heterosexual encounters are miniscule in the comics and utterly nonexistent when it comes to the big screen.
Two Deadpool films have come and gone without any onscreen LGBTQ+ content, despite Ryan Reynolds’s reported willingness to make it happen. Leave it to Deadpool to be all talk.
On multiple occasions, Marvel Studios has flirted with bringing some overt queer representation into the MCU, and then has changed course at the last minute. Such was the case with Black Panther and the character of Ayo, portrayed by Florence Kasumba.
Ayo is a lesbian in the comics who has a relationship with a fellow Dora Milaje named Aneka, and those who saw early screenings of Black Panther reported a flirtatious scene between Ayo and Danai Gurira’s Okoye. For whatever reason, that scene was not in the film by the time it hit theaters, and a Marvel spokesperson went as far as to address the rumors by stating that “the nature of the relationship... is not a romantic one.” The theatrical release included no reference to Ayo’s sexuality at all, nor much in the way of any characterization.
The 2017 film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell drew plenty of criticism for whitewashing after Scarlett Johansson was cast to play protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi. Unfortunately, the film also engaged in some straight-washing, too, and some have gone as far as to accuse the film’s creators of “queerbaiting.”
As evidence, critics point to the fact that Motoko is canonically bisexual, and that one trailer featured a lesbian kiss between her and another character. However, that kiss was removed from the actual film, and replaced with a barely intimate interaction and no other hints of Motoko’s sexuality. It was just one more questionable decision from a highly problematic film.