Like many people, I fell head over heels in love with “Deadpool” last year.
The film, based on the Marvel comic, raked in over $700 million worldwide, making it the second-highest-grossing R-rated film ever made. Executives raced to get a sequel into production to feed America’s unquenchable thirst for more Ryan Reynolds in a tight red suit (yes, please). “Deadpool 2” is slated for summer 2018.
A year and some odd months after “Deadpool’s” release, GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index (SRI) — the group’s annual study on how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer characters are depicted in film — landed in my inbox. “Deadpool” was one of the 125 films the study analyzed, and for my beloved superhero flick, the results weren’t great.
Don’t get me wrong; I still love the movie. But GLAAD’s findings demonstrate just how problematic the superhero flick — and so many of our other Hollywood faves — really can be.
So buckle up, fellow “Deadpool” fans — this may not be easy to read.
1. For starters, Deadpool is pansexual. But you wouldn’t know it from the movie.
In the Marvel universe, Deadpool was created as pansexual — meaning he’s interested in all genders and orientations. When director Tim Miller confirmed before the movie’s release that Deadpool’s sexuality would stay true to its origins, many fans rejoiced — this would be the first big-budget superhero flick with an openly queer lead.
Then the film came out, and fans watched as Deadpool … didn’t.
In a press release, GLAAD pointed to “Deadpool” as an example of a film that “still [requires] the audience to have read press coverage or have outside knowledge” of a character’s sexual orientation or gender identity because their queerness won’t be identifiable in the film. (Honestly, I saw far more homoerotic behavior at frat parties in college than I did in “Deadpool.”)
As a gay man, I want to support movies that show characters with stories like mine on screen, and it’s frustrating when there’s buzz surrounding an LBGTQ character in an upcoming film, only to have their on-screen queerness reduced to a suggestive sentence or ambiguous same-sex interaction (looking at you, new “Power Rangers” movie). Why can’t openly queer characters actually be openly queer in their films?
2. “Deadpool” fails the Vito Russo Test — big time.
To pass the test, the film must: 1. contain an LGBTQ character who is identifiably queer who is 2. intricately woven into the plot in a meaningful way and 3. not solely defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Deadpool” fails on the test’s first, basic requirement: Reynolds’ character, although technically pansexual, wasn’t identifiably queer.
If you didn’t know he was pansexual before seeing the film, would you have guessed he’s not a straight, cisgender character? Probably not.
Sadly, “Deadpool” isn’t the rare exception among LGBTQ films. Of the 23 movies in the study that featured queer characters in 2016, only nine of them passed the Vito Russo Test, according to GLAAD.
3. Deadpool is a big jokester. And while that’s great for laughs, the jokes in the movie were not always great for the LGBTQ community.
And I say that as a gay man who thought “Deadpool” was hilarious.
As GLAAD wrote in its report:
“While director Tim Miller told press ahead of the film’s release that Deadpool was pansexual, the only references that made it to screen were played for comedic effect in throwaway jokes intended to emphasize just how outrageous the character is rather than any real sense of desire.”
This isn’t uncommon in films featuring LGBTQ characters, according to GLAAD’s report. Often, queer characters and their identities are soley included as fodder for cheap jokes.
I truly hate being a buzzkill. But those throwaway jokes in “Deadpool” really do have an effect. As GLAAD continued:
“The portrayal of a pansexual identity as a brazen or scandalous trait, rather than a lived identity, has real consequences for bisexual+ people. Because their identities are often misunderstood, bisexual+ people are less likely to be out to family and friends than gay and lesbian people.”
Pansexuality is an identity — not a punchline.
I write all of this not to rain all over “Deadpool’s” parade, but in hopes that the sequel — and all of Hollywood, really — will do better next time.
Maybe “Deadpool 2” will include a queer main character of color; as the report noted, we need a whole lot more of those. Maybe that character will be a complex, fully realized woman, who doesn’t fall into the tired tropes queer women often do on screen; as the report also noted, we desperately need more of those, too.
Or maybe — just maybe — Deadpool will find himself a man.
“I certainly wouldn’t be the guy standing in the way of that,” Reynolds responded in February 2016 to the prospect of Deadpool having a boyfriend. “That would be great.”
In more ways than one, yes it would, Ryan.