The recent revelation that Marvel has no plans of bringing a lesbian character’s sexuality onto the screen in the upcoming Black Panther is just the most recent example of Hollywood wanting to greenlight a work of fiction while closeting a hero. It's a tale as old as time, dating back to the Hays Code, where depictions of out LGBT people were forbidden on the silver screen. The long tradition of straightwashing continues with movies and television shows today, even as the act garners criticism and poor press. Here are a few of the most egregious examples of orientation (other than straight) and identity failing to make the final cut.
Nerds got excited when publicity photos for the upcoming Black Panther film seemed to show a flirtatious stare between Ayo, played by Florence Kasumba, and Okoye, portrayed by Danai Gurira. Ayo has been shown in comics to be engaged in a lesbian relationship with the character Aneka, so the long-awaited arrival of the Marvel cinematic universe’s first queer characters seemed upon us at last. But as soon as Vanity Fair reported such speculation, Marvel execs quickly swatted down the notion these characters would be in a romantic relationship in the film. This has spawned outrage and the hashtag #LetAyoHaveAGirlfriend. The movie doesn’t hit theaters until 2018, so maybe there’s still hope.
Achilles, perhaps the most masculine warrior of all Greek myth, in the Iliad maintains a connection with shieldbearer Patroclus that most scholars consider a gay relationship. It’s only in Patroclus’s presence that Achilles allows his emotions to show, and when the younger man is killed by Hector, it inspires Achilles to challenge and kill the Trojan prince in an act of vengeance. But not in the Brad Pitt version. No, in Troy, Patroclus becomes a younger cousin of Achilles, who also beds a Trojan woman in the film, one of a litany of deviations from the source material.
The central character of Tanya Huff’s Blood Ties is Henry Fitzroy, the vampiric bastard child of Henry VIII. Fitzroy enjoys the company of men and women through the ages, including the gay Tony Foster. But Henry’s bisexuality couldn’t survive a Lifetime series adaptation, where every romantic liaison the character enjoys is with a woman. As for Tony, he gets replaced with the female Coreen.
Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whiste Stop Café revolves around the burgeoning sexual relationship between Idgie and Ruth, but the 1991 film just pegs the women as close gal pals, something critic Emanuel Levy called out. That just don’t make no kind of sense.
The live-action Ghost in the Shell film could have been subtitled “Problematic Adventures in Cyberspace.” The flop earned endless bad press for casting lily-white Scarlett Johansson in the lead role of Motoko, an Asian action hero from the beloved manga and anime. In the original, Motoko also is shown to be bisexual through various plotlines, including the management of an e-sex ring where she’s shown having sex with a woman. An early trailer for the Ghost film gave some indication that element of her character would get play, but the final cut only showed Motoko having a relatively chaste encounter with a woman.
The beloved DC comic book character has made clear he’s had relationships with men and women, including magic users Nick Necro and Zatanna. But when he got a network television series, the show couldn’t handle a bisexual lead and made the character straight. That followed a similar straightwashing of the character in the Keanu Reeves film. Dark magic’s at work here.
Even a character avoiding sex with anyone still seems a controversial subject in Hollywood. A year after Archie Comics made clear that Jughead was asexual, the minds behind the CW show Riverdale decided that before reaching such a conclusion, he’d probably want to engage in some heteronormative relationships. All they had to do was leave the man to his burgers.
Raven Darkholme, a shape-shifting mutant in the Marvel comics universe, takes gender fluidity to its extreme. The villain has had romantic and sexual relationships in the source material with male and female characters, her most significant relationship with Destiny, a fellow member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants with whom she raised a child. But you couldn’t glean any of that from the X-Men films, where Mystique has transformed from Rebecca Romijm to Jennifer Lawrence but never taken any interest in a female paramour. Some 16 years into the on-screen X-verse, fans are getting tired of the bi erasure.
In Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels, Pussy Galore gets introduced as the leader of an all-lesbian crime ring called the Cement Mixers. The1959 pulp novel hardly set high standards for representation — Fleming would later say Bond “cured” Galore of her lesbianism — but at least she was obviously lesbian at a time when LGBT characters hardly ever played a major role in fiction. But when the book got adapted in 1964 as perhaps the most famous film in the entire Bond series, Galore, played by Honor Blackman, showed no interest in pussy herself (sorry, too easy). The closest nod to the character’s initial sexuality came when she told Bond she was “immune” to his charm, but that proves untrue when Sean Connery forcibly kisses Blackman and makes her switch teams — away from villain Goldfinger’s squad.
In the World War II classic The Thin Red Line by James Jones, the character of Jeffrey Fife finds wartime comfort in the bed of Private Edward Bead, something Jones’s family members say was an attempt even in the face of publishing censors to show the reality of homosexuality in the military, and how men away from the wives would “help each other out.” Yet when a film version, directed by Terrence Malick, hit screens in 1998, no such relationship manifested on film, with Fife’s sexuality becoming just another casualty of cinematic war.
The classic Charles Jackson novel The Lost Weekend reveals the story of an alcoholic on a four-day bender who ultimately blames his drinking problems on guilt over homosexual attraction to a college friend. But the source material would be forgotten after the 1945 adaptation of the story swept the Academy Awards. Director Billy Wilder said censors at his studio would never approve of protagonist Don Birnam being a closeted gay man in addition to a surly drunk, so any hint of same-sex desire got scrubbed from the script.
In the 1972 novel by Isabelle Holland, Justin McLeod, the titular man without a face, was explicitly gay and developed a relationship that clearly moved toward the sexual with young Chuck Norstadt. When the movie, starring Mel Gibson as McLeod, made it to the screen in 1993, the relationship between McLeod and Norstadt became purely platonic, though McLeod did hint on a past connection with a former student who was clearly attracted to him. Gibson later said he didn’t care for the direction of the characters in the book, and the film has been criticized for erasing messages about sexuality and homophobia ever since.
In Alice Walker’s great novel, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983, protagonist Celie lives a life of abuse and rape at the hands of her father but finds personal freedom and sexual awakening during an intimate encounter with a woman, Shug Avery. But director Steven Speilberg dramatically toned down the lesbian portrayals in the 1985 film version, reducing any romantic connection between the women to a single kiss. Whoopi Goldberg, who played Celie on-screen, told critic Roger Ebert she considered the movie kiss one of sisterly affection. “It has nothing to do with lesbianism,” she said. Don’t tell Alice Walker.
The narrator of the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, really a stand-in for gay author Truman Capote, is clearly a homosexual, at one point expressing an attraction to the character of Jose. But when the story turned into a classic film starring Aubrey Hepburn, the narrator got fleshed out into the character of Paul Varjak, played by George Peppard. The film also decided to take the plot, originally more a collection of observations about the character Holly Golightly’s life, and turn it into a romance between Paul and Holly.
The Greek hero Hercules may be mythology’s first macho man, and he’s also famously bisexual. Of course, the culture in ancient Greece in the days of myth was not as homophobic as Europe would become after the rise of Christianity, and for many years, depictions of Hercules signaled a more libertine view of sexuality. Yet virtually every depiction of Hercules on film, from Kevin Sorbo to Dwayne Johnson, shows the character as exclusively heterosexual.
Bret Easton Ellis’s 1987 novel The Rules of Attraction tells the story of the manipulative Sean Bateman, brother to American Psycho character Patrick Bateman, who deals dope and has sex with both of the book’s other main characters, Lauren and Paul. But somehow, it’s only the hetero hookups with Lauren that make it to the 2002 silver screen adaptation, where Sean flatly rejects Paul’s romantic advances.
The Daniel Woodrell novel that would help Jennifer Lawrence get her first Oscar nomination included a clear lesbian connection between the main character Ree Dolly and her best friend Gail, but none of that bled into the 2010 film, where the entire relationship with Gail gets minimized. Blogger Daniel Williamson labeled the decision to excise the connection a “disservice to the audience as well as the author.”
Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series makes very clear that the vampire Lestat engages regularly in sexual relationships with male and female companions, including the vitally important long-term relationship with Louis. Indeed, Louis in the novel Interview With the Vampire introduces readers to Lestat “lying down beside him so intimately.” Yet none of that made it into a 1994 adaptation, where Tom Cruise plays Lestat and Brad Pitt portrays Louis, but the two do not appear to be romantically involved with each other.
David Gerrold in 1995 published the novelette The Martian Child, a semiautobiographical piece about his experience as a gay man adopting a child, but one where the child believes he may be an alien. The John Cusack-led film adaptation, released in 2007, changed David into a straight widower, a switch done to appease Mormon financiers, according to an interview Gerrold gave to TV Shows on DVD.
Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour opened on Broadway in 1934 to great acclaim with its story about how two women who run a private girls’ school are ruined when a student starts a rumor that the women are lovers. The 1961 film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine was pretty faithful to the play (and, spoiler alert, it doesn’t end well). But Hollywood also adapted the play back in 1936 into a straight-washed version titled These Three. In that one, Martha (Miriam Hopkins) was accused of having a love affair not with Karen (Merle Oberon) but with Karen’s fiancé, Joe (Joel McCrea). Sam Goldwyn, whose studio produced These Three, was reportedly told he couldn’t make a film about lesbians (forbidden by the Production Code followed by Hollywood filmmakers) and responded, “We can always call them Bulgarians.” Well, the story is probably apocryphal, but Goldwyn was prone to malapropisms, and “Bulgarians” was apparently a popular theatrical euphemism for queer people.
Crossfire is a terrific 1947 film noir about tensions among a group of stateside soldiers, one of whom ends up killing a Jewish man (Joseph Samuels, played by Sam Levene) in an anti-Semitic rage. But it was based on a novel by Richard Brooks (who would become a noted screenwriter and director) in which the victim was a gay man, Mr. Edwards, whose killer was motivated by homophobia. So, good movie, but a missed opportunity to address antigay hate crimes — although the Hollywood Production Code probably wouldn't have permitted it.
Famed and brilliant composer-lyricist Cole Porter was as openly gay as one could be in the first half of the 20th century, but when it came time for a biopic about him, Hollywood made him heterosexual and completely devoted to his wife, Linda. Cary Grant, himself widely believed to be gay or bisexual, played Porter in this film, Night and Day, released in 1946, and Alexis Smith portrayed Linda. Hollywood tried a Porter biopic again in 2004 with De-Lovely, starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd. "To the movie's credit, it explores Porter's complicated marriage in which Linda tolerates her husband's homosexuality," wrote San Francisco Chronicle critic Ruthe Stein, who otherwise didn't think much of the film.