Captain Marvel inspired comic book fans around the world when she became the first woman to lead a Marvel film this March. And immediately her relationship with her best friend Maria sparked a queer debate that needs settling.
When Maria and her daughter Monica flip through their photo books, hoping to remind Carol of the past that was stolen from her, Maria and Monica refer to Carol as family. Monica uses the title Auntie, but in every photo Carol and Maria are the consistent parental figures standing behind a beaming Monica.
What many people assumed in this moment was that they were partners, but a clear answer was never given. And many began asking questions: Is Captain Marvel queer- coded? Or is it just queer-baiting us? Or are we just projecting onto a movie that is not queer at all?
To get some answers, we decided to investigate by speaking with three queer women of Film Twitter, the area of the platform dedicated to discussing films, in an attempt to decipher the queer symbolism in Captain Marvel.
And quick note: there are spoilers below. Queers ones, but still spoilers.
So, is it queer-baiting?
If queer-baiting takes place in a film it's generally in the advertisement.
Whip It, a film starring international gay warrior Ellen Page and directed by known ally Drew Barrymore (who has spoken before of her bisexuality), features a girl crushed by the end of her hetero relationship, who then finds strength in roller derby. In a promotional photo shoot for the film in Marie Claire, the actress and director share a kiss. But in the film, there isn't a single gay character to be found.
Many walked away from the film feeling cheated out of a solid chance for accurate and loving representation. That is queer-baiting.
However, Captain Marvel's trailer makes no promise of gay relationship, and therefore shouldn't be considered baiting. Yet, when Maria begins recounting the life she and Carol had before Carol's disappearance, lesbian ears everywhere began to perk up. Queer comic book writer and journalist Valerie Complex expanded on that idea stating, "In Captain Marvel, no true intimate moments are present beyond the pictures of Carol's past."
"While that may come off as baiting, there are many straight friendships that resemble what Maria and Carol have," Complex continued.
So, they're just platonic?
Platonic female friendship can be hard to locate in any film, but superhero films have a particularly bad history of allowing more than one woman on screen at a time.
Usually women are just a girlfriend or wife whose sole purpose is pushing the hero to find his inner strength. And if she does more than that she's then regulated to screaming in terror as her male love faces an insurmountable villain.
"Over the course of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, we've barely seen any women talk to each other; just talking," trans lesbian journalist Sabriel Mastin told The Advocate. "Not about the impending doom they're about to fight, not making battle plans, just talking."
But Captain Marvel is radically different, which led us to calling it queer as the characters interacted on screen in new ways.
"Carol and Maria actually reminded me of some of my queer female friends," says Katie Schenkel, a bisexual comic book writer and co-writer of The Cardboard Kingdom. While she sees Carol as queer-coded that doesn't mean they are dating.
"Maria and Carol having a platonic relationship does not disprove that one or both of them are queer," she says. The writer pointed to other women in the universe like Okoye and Nakia in Black Panther, as the only times in which the Marvel films take time to center the thoughts and feelings of two women.
So, is there a good reason for Captain Marvel to employ queer-coding?
The film takes place in the 1990s, during the "don't ask, don't tell" policy which stipulated an individual could serve in the United States armed forces and be LGB so long as they did not inform anyone of their sexual orientation.
Complex understands why Carol and Maria would hide their relationship, stating, "Becoming a pilot is difficult. Being a woman who is a pilot in the '80s is even more difficult. If they were dating, there wouldn't be a reason to put their career in jeopardy over a relationship?"
Mastin isn't sure. "Logically, the film takes place in 1995 and DADT started in 1993. Since Carol was gone six years, that means she was taken off the planet in 1989," she explained.
DADT hadn't been introduced in 1989, but any LGB person would have been dishonorably discharged if they're sexuality was discovered back then (out or closeted); they definitely would have been on the down low during the '80s.
While it remained difficult for many LGBTQIA service members to navigate the armed forces in the '90s (and even today), when Carol returned to Earth, neither woman was serving in the armed forces.
In the current timeline, Mastin doesn't believe there is any reason for them to hide a relationship due to this context.
But do we simply ship it?
The need for queer representation on screen has led many a fan to ship, or imagine a relationship, between two same-sex characters in a film or television property.
"I don't ship Carol and Maria at present," Mastin said. "I'm all for more visible queer relationships in media. If the two are said or shown later on [as a couple], I'd be 100 percent in. But, walking out of the movie I felt that the trope, 'They're just really good friends,' was actually true here."
"I'm personally okay with both the friendship and the romance interpretation of these characters," Shenkel said. "Mind you, this cannot and should not be the closest the (Marvel Captain Universe) comes to 100 percent confirmed queer canon."
"I ship them, because why the fuck not?" Complex boldly stated. "They raise a child together, and care deeply for one another. Marvel opened the damn door. I just walked in. In one of the pictures, Carol and Maria are in identical Christmas pajamas, matching Santa hats, sitting under a Christmas tree with Monica. That picture, that one picture hit me, and screamed, 'LESBIANS.'"
Whether Carol and Maria are friends or wives, it's clear these two women see themselves as a family. In this era, where the definition of family continues to grow, there's something special about seeing two women so devoted to one another's health and happiness.
The desire for representation is strong, and because there are no gay characters in any of the Marvel or DC superhero films, fans will continue to push characters together until their desire to see themselves on the big screen is satisfied.