When Marvel Studios recently dropped the trailer for their upcoming film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, LGBTQ fans buzzed with excitement over the news that Black actress and writer Michaela Coel will play the role of Aneka, a female warrior who is canonically queer in the Marvel comic books series.
However, because Marvel’s past films have had very little queer content in them, it’s uncertain just how queer Aneka will be.
The 2018 Black Panther film introduced viewers to the fictional African land of Wakanda — a technologically advanced, Afro-futuristic country untouched by colonialism. In it, the country’s crown prince T’challa moonlights as Black Panther, a skilled hunter clad in an armored, super-powered bodysuit that also has nifty claws for climbing and tearing bad guys apart.
The Black Panther and his family were protected by Ayo, the head of the country’s elite royal bodyguards, the Dora Milaje. Ayo — played by Ugandan-born German actress Florence Kasumba — also popped up in two of Marvel Studio’s other films, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.
Before the original Black Pather film came out, Marvel Studios announced Ayo and Aneka’s relationship “will not be a romantic one.” This upset some LGBTQ fans since, in the Black Panther comic book series, Ayo falls in love with Aneka before the two lead a feminist uprising. Both characters had their relationships and backstories fleshed out in their own comic book series, but it seemed like their on-screen romance wouldn’t come to be.
At the time, LGBTQ fans began a #LetAyoHaveAGirlfriend Twitter campaign, but it’s unclear whether Marvel will have Ayo and Aneka come out in Wakanda Forever when it’s released in November 2022 or whether they’ll “straightwash” them by leaving their sexual orientations and same-sex romance completely off-screen.
Despite Marvel’s continual pledges to increase LGBTQ diversity on screen, there’s not much reason to hope for Ayo and Aneka’s romance considering Marvel’s underwhelming record when it comes to LGBTQ representation. Its first-ever “gay character” was a man in the 2019 Avengers: Endgame film who briefly lamented about losing his partner before never being seen again.
In the 2021 film, Eternals, the canonically queer superhero Phastos briefly kisses his husband goodbye in a scene that was cut from the film’s Middle Eastern release. In the 2021 Marvel Studios TV series, Loki, the anti-hero trickster briefly mentions that he’s bisexual in a single line that’s never revisited. In the studio’s most recent film release, the 2022 Thor: Love and Thunder, the bisexual warrior Valkyrie mentions a dead girlfriend and seductively kisses one woman on the hand, but nothing else very queer happens.
Regardless, it’s nice to see Coel getting increased recognition as a major Black talent. The British-born actress of Ghanaian descent played a bisexual woman desperate to lose her virginity in the 2015 comedy series Chewing Gum, a series she created. She also wrote and played the lead character in I May Destroy You, a powerful and queer-inclusive drama series about a young author striving for success while coming to terms with being raped.