Eternals: Gay Character; Same Sex Couple!

‘Eternals’ Establishes the MCU’s First Gay Superhero and Same-Sex Couple in a Movie

Eternals marks the first time a Marvel Studios film has showcased same-sex couple — and one of the only times any superhero movie has included a title LGBTQ character.

In a pop-culture landscape that has been dominated worldwide by superhero storytelling, the impact that representation could have for the film’s expected global audience is potentially significant.

“Beyond a dream come true, it’s life-saving,” an actor said. “I wish I had that when I was a kid to see this. My god. I wish! Can you imagine how many lives this is going to be saving — kids, young queer folk, who are being bullied, committing suicide, and not seeing themselves being represented? And now they get to see this — it’s above and beyond.”

After the premiere, director Chloé Zhao explained that Phastos’ husband and family were already baked into Marvel Studios’ conception of the character when she first began discussing the film with the studio. She was taken with the idea that Phastos — an ageless alien who came to Earth 7,000 years ago to help guide human civilization through his powers of invention — rediscovers his long lost faith in humanity through finding Ben and starting a family.

It helped her see way to walk the line between emotionally grounded storytelling and breaking a barrier for LGBTQ representation.

“It isn’t about a message we’re trying to put out,” Zhao said. “Finding authenticity in moments like that is crucial for me, so it doesn’t feel forced, so you could actually relate to them. It’s not just about being the first. It’s about, do you actually feel for them, whether you’re gay or straight or whatever.”

There have been other LGBTQ characters in movies and TV shows based on Marvel comics — including the lesbian couple Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Yukio in 2018’s Deadpool 2 and the amoral lawyer Jeri Hogarth on the Netflix series Jessica Jones, but none were produced by Marvel Studios.)

Zhao credits Henry for bringing that “level of authenticity” to the role and helping to fill out who Phastos is beyond how he was defined in the script.

“He came up with all these hand gestures,” she said. “That wasn’t me. The way he speaks to his son, that dynamic, the jokes they have between them — a lot of them are improvised.”

Henry, who is now at work on FX on Hulu series, Class of ’09, has not participated in interviews for “Eternals,” but he did discuss the profound effect the role had on him during the press conference for the movie on October 18.

“I remember when I was coming to this project that I, Brian, had kind of lost faith in humanity, just looking at all the things that we’ve been through and just what the images of Black men were and how we’re being portrayed and how the power was taken from us, the lack of power or feeling powerful,” Henry said.

“What I really loved about Phastos is that through all of that — him being eternal, him never being able to die — he still chose love. He still decided to have a family, even though he may have to watch them perish. He still tried to find a way to bring heart and love to everything he did, even though his genius was used against him. It just really resonated a lot with how I felt my place in society was. How we can be kings and queens, and at the same time, they’ll take our pedestal and take our superpowers from us like that. So what I love the most about ‘Eternals’ is that Chloe and [producer] Nate [Moore] just re-instilled that power back in me again.”

There have been other recent, purportedly groundbreaking LGBTQ moments in major tentpole studio films — John Cho’s Sulu in 2016’s “Star Trek Beyond,” Josh Gad’s LeFou in 2017’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya in 2020’s “Birds of Prey” — in which the character’s sexuality is barely expressed on screen, if at all.

So it was critical for Zhao that Phastos and Ben have moment of genuine, physical love between them, a passionate kiss before Phastos leaves his family to go save the world.

In her quest for authenticity, Zhao barely gave any direction to Henry and Sleiman for the scene.

“It’s up to the two of them to figure out what what that moment meant, how it should be,” she said. “I’ll explain what the situation is. That’s how I like to work with actors. But they’ve created, each of my actors, this big narrative of their character leading up to that moment. We can talk forever about it, but it’s important to have space on set to let the human part, not the actor part, to come out. And in order to do that, I have to step back. I just need to navigate it and nudge it. And if you work with an actor that doesn’t quite feel comfortable giving you that, you have to do a bit more. But Brian was exceptionally brave. I know it was scary. It was not easy. But he knows how important it was.”

“And it was worth it,” she said. “We all felt something when we were there.”

The audience at the premiere felt it too, breaking into applause during the actors’ embrace.

“I’m just happy for Brian,” Zhao said when asked about the reaction. “Happy for everyone involved. And happy for all the people who are going to see this. You know, people who not necessarily [are] like Brian, but just feel a moment of true human connection and it just happens to be of the same sex.”

While Henry did not address Phastos’ sexuality directly during the “Eternals” press conference, he did speak to how Marvel first approached him for the role — and what it meant to him.

“I remember the first time that they were like, ‘We want you to be a superhero,’ and I was like, ‘Cool. How much weight do I have to lose?’” Henry said. “And Chloé was like, ‘What are you talking about? We want you exactly as you are.’ To be a Black man, to have someone look at you and say, ‘We want you exactly the way you are,’ is unlike anything that I’ve ever felt. It just triggered me to be an 11-year-old kid who is watching these superhero movies, and not ever seeing anyone like me reflected. And how I would take these posters and put them in my locker, and just hope that one day there will be somebody representing me, in the way you know that I am. And I truly believe that that moment started when I sat down with Chloé. It’s unlike any feeling I’ve ever experienced.”