Warning: Contains spoilers for Eternals.
With Eternals, Marvel properly introduced the representation of LGBTQ+ identities into the MCU, and they chose the perfect story to do so as it represents so many different types of love. Brian Tyree Henry and Haaz Sleiman’s portrayals of Phastos and Ben and the MCU’s first on-screen same-sex kiss received a lot of press. However, Eternals went further than that and provided a lot of nuanced relationships that made Eternals truly a film about love.
The MCU has had a poor track record with LGBTQ+ representation prior to Eternals. It took until Avengers: Endgame for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to include an openly gay character, and when they did, it was only a minor character in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene. However, the MCU has committed to being better about its LGBTQ+ representation. In 2021 the TV series Loki helped develop some LGBTQ+ identities but didn’t really explore what those identities meant. In Eternals, a more varied and nuanced approach is taken, and it has been reported that future MCU projects will build on this LGBTQ+ rep with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie being canonically bisexual and searching for a queen in Thor: Love & Thunder.
While a common reason cited for the MCU’s lack of LGBTQ+ representation has to do with financial concerns regarding the censoring of their films overseas, there is another element at play. Portraying LGBTQ+ and minority identities for the first time was always going to be a big deal for the MCU, and another cursory mention as with Avengers: Endgame could have been a step back. However, Eternals has a narrative that is built on love and how different forms of love manifest, are expressed and can be valid. This is particularly apparent as Eternals bucks the MCU’s trend of largely not focusing on relationships, as most Marvel movies spend little time on them. In contrast, almost every member of the Eternals is involved in some form of expression of love. Here’s how the narrative made Eternals the perfect movie to introduce true LGBTQ+ representation to the MCU.
Ajak And The Eternals: Familial/Parental Love
Despite a relatively small amount of screen time, Ajak (Salma Hayek) provides the central thrust of Eternals through her expression of love. As the Prime Eternal and point of contact with Arishem, she is effectively the Eternals’ leader, but with her, that role largely manifests in a parental form. Ajak states multiple times throughout the movie that she loves the Eternals, and it appears that it is Sersi embracing this form of love that leads to Ajak choosing Sersi as her successor as Prime Eternal over Ikaris or someone else as she has that love for the Eternals and for humans. This appears to also give her to power to enable the group to work as one to stop the Celestial Tiamut after Ajak has died. The love Ajak shows is indiscriminate throughout the group but is also not blind to some of the Eternals’ flaws or shortcomings.
Phastos And Ben: Homosexual And Familial Love
Phastos’ and Ben’s relationship being shown on screen in the MCU is groundbreaking in itself but also serves to drive home some larger elements of Eternals narrative and themes. The pair have a healthy relationship, and for the rest of the Eternals, it is much bigger news that Phastos is in a relationship with a human than with a man. It is important that love has been able to breach that possible divide, and, crucially, Phastos and Ben have an adopted child, Jack (Esai Daniel Cross), who they love in parallel to how Ajak loves the Eternals.
Sersi And Ikaris: Immature Love
One of the things that make Eternals’ narrative about love function well is by showing a less flattering representation of love. The relationship shown between Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) is marked by immaturity. Their relationship has little depth, and it appears to be originally driven by physical attraction. When Ikaris learns of Arishem’s plans from Ajak and cannot see the value in continuing his relationship with Sersi further, rather than attempting to discuss the matter with Sersi, he simply leaves without explanation.
Sersi And Dane Whitman: Mature Love
In stark contrast, Eternals also shows a relationship that is based around maturity and a deeper love. Sersi’s relationship with Dane Whiteman (Kit Harrington) seems to have developed from a shared interest and working together and is something that Sersi is pursuing cautiously and from a distance, as she knows how her immortality will complicate the relationship. While Sersi and Ikaris’ relationship serves as a cautionary tale for the rest of the love-based narratives to be grounded around, her relationship with Dane presents a more positive idea, and she is able to grow in that relationship by seeing the successful love between Ben and Phastos.
Thena And Gilgamesh: Asexual/Aromantic Love
To many viewers, Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok, as Don Lee) might not appear to be in a relationship. However, Thena and Gilgamesh can be read as portraying a kind of love that Hollywood tends to shy away from and which is generally underrepresented in media. The two maintained a loving platonic relationship for thousands of years in what appears to be aromantic and asexual. After Thena appears to be struck with Mahd W’yry, Gilgamesh cares for her, and the two express love and affection for each other in a purely emotional way that goes beyond their interactions with any of the other Eternals. In a media that so often relies on physical signs of love, their relationship is just as important as Phastos’ and Ben’s for the LGBTQ+ community and demonstrates another valid form of relationship.
Most of the characters in Eternals are paired with someone in the movie. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) is an obvious exception to this rule. After separating from the rest of the Eternals, it appears that the closest thing Kingo has to a connection with another individual is with his employee Karun (Harish Patel), and really he is entirely shut off from everyone else. Having created his own dynasty of movie star identities, Kingo has developed an adoring fanbase and seems to thrive on the idolization of others and his own narcissistic self-love. While this might make him seem self-involved, this expression of love isn’t dismissed or judged by Eternals but likely represents a part of the reason he is not chosen as the new Prime Eternal.
Sprite And Ikaris: Unrequited Love
Possibly the saddest narrative and representation of love centers around Sprite (Lia McHugh). Her love for Ikaris is entirely unrequited. While many movies have used unrequited love as a problem for both the pining party and the object of affection, Eternals doesn’t shy away from showing it as a problem that only affects Sprite negatively. Her unrequited love for Ikaris leads her to be jealous and to become self-loathing of her body, which she doesn’t feel represents her (an element that ties into a possible queer-reading of Sprite), and it ultimately leaves her open to manipulation by Ikaris that plays a large part in the central battle.
The love that is portrayed in Eternals is never a side story, as it might be in many superhero movies. The different forms of love that Eternals displays are key to how the characters interact with each other and the world and make a larger statement within the narrative. This all makes Eternals the perfect place for the MCU to have brought in LGBTQ+ identities in full force, as it allows them to be meaningfully portrayed without needing to be singled out for their diversity.
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release date: May 06, 2022
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: Jul 08, 2022
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever/Black Panther 2 (2022)Release date: Nov 11, 2022
- The Marvels/Captain Marvel 2 (2023)Release date: Feb 17, 2023
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)Release date: May 05, 2023
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)Release date: Jul 28, 2023
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