Another day, another bad take by a celebrity.
What should have been a traditional FYC appearance by Anthony Mackie on a Variety podcast quickly turned into a trending topic on social media after the Falcon and The Winter Soldier star had some odd words to say about the internet’s desire to have his character Sam Wilson be romantically involved with Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes.
Halfway through the conversation about the hit Disney+ show, reporter Adam B. Vary brings up the fact that fans would like to see Sam and Bucky be a couple and how they’d already “shipped” Bucky with Steve in the “Captain America” movies (Sam and Bucky quite literally enter into couples’ therapy in the show, replete with a “soul-gazing exercise,” after all). Vary then pressed Mackie on what it’s like to explore platonic love between two male characters in a superhero setting.
Mackie, instead of just saying that the fan coupling is cute, had quite a bit to get off his chest. “For me in this day and age, so many things are twisted and convoluted. There’s so many things that people latch on to with their own devices to make themselves relevant and rational,” he said on the podcast. “The idea of two guys being friends and loving each other in 2021 is a problem because of the exploitation of homosexuality.”
And nope, he does not stop there. “It used to be guys can be friends, we can hang out, and it was cool,” Mackie said. “You would always meet your friends at the bar, you know. You can’t do that anymore, because something as pure and beautiful as homosexuality has been exploited by people who are trying to rationalize themselves.”
And to say all this during Pride month no less! The main issue here seems to be that Mackie has failed to grasp the importance of these fan-inspired relationships to LGBTQ+ people.
The amount of heterosexual representation still massively outnumbers LGBTQ+ representation on screen. In GLAAD’s annual “Where We Are On TV” report, it was found that in 2020 only 70 characters out of 773 series regulars on broadcast scripted primetime television are LGBTQ+—a 1.1% decrease from 2019.
On streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, GLAAD’s report also noted a decrease in LGBTQ+ series regulars. The most significant decrease in LGBTQ+ series regulars was found on primetime scripted cable (HBO, Showtime, etc), according the report.
While TV is far more inclusive than it used to be, there is still a clear lack of LGBTQ+ representation. For decades, LGBTQ+ characters were merely sidelined as funny sidekicks or quirky best friends, and their relationships were relegated to either off screen, at best, or non-existent, at worst.
Therefore, to see themselves represented in their favorite shows, LGBTQ+ fans have been forced to get creative, expressing their desire for two main characters to couple up online via memes, fanfic, and fan art—what the youths call “shipping.”
Think of any TV series (or boy band) and there is most likely an LGBTQ+ ship attached to it. Regina Mills and Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time, Dean and Castiel from Supernatural, Lena Luthor and Kara Danvers of Supergirl, the list goes on and on.
All of these characters are close friends (and sometimes enemies), but LGBTQ+ fans have taken that love and manifested it in a way that allows them to feel seen, to feel included.
For Marvel in particular, LGBTQ+ ships are extremely popular—mainly because in all the Marvel films thus far, there have been a grand total of zero main characters that are openly LGBTQ+, leading to charges of “queer character erasure.” Therefore, fans invent their own relationships within the constraints of this sprawling universe.
Sam and Bucky are not the only Marvel characters to be shipped. As mentioned earlier, Steve Rogers and Bucky (aka Captain America and the Winter Soldier) have been a fan-favorite pair since Captain America: The First Avenger, while fans have also paired Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau. When The Daily Beast asked Sebastian Stan about fans shipping Bucky and Cap, he cracked a smile before replying, “That’s really nice… Hey, man, people come to the movies with all kinds of things.”
With The Eternals, Marvel is poised to finally introduce its first openly LGBTQ+ character and relationship with Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos and his character’s husband, played by Haaz Sleiman. It’s also set to feature Marvel’s first onscreen LGBTQ+ kiss, according to EW.
However, just because fans will soon receive a crumb of LGBTQ+ representation doesn’t mean these fan couplings will end anytime soon. Therefore, stars like Mackie should wear the fact that they are part of an LGBTQ+ fan coupling as a badge of honor, because it is one. It shows you mean something to everyone.