After many Middle Eastern countries banned the new Marvel superhero film Eternals due to Disney’s inclusion of a gay character’s on-screen kiss, lead actress Angelina Jolie shared her thoughts on what she said was an “ignorant” position.
“I’m sad for [those audiences],” Angelina Jolie said of fans in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman, whose countries barred the film from showing in their theaters since homosexuality is still illegal in most parts of the Middle East.
“I’m proud of Marvel for refusing to cut those scenes out,” Angelina Jolie told news.com.au, slamming how “anybody [who] is angry about it, threatened by it,” or “doesn’t approve or appreciate it is ignorant.”
Phastos, a titular “Eternal” played by actor Bryan Tyree Henry, is one of the first gay main characters in all of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. In the film, he shares a brief, on-screen kiss with his husband and is shown in a happy relationship with their son.
Eternals was also given an 18+ rating in Singapore for the kiss, since the film included “non-explicit depictions of mild sexual activity or acts of intimacy (e.g. kissing and hugging) between persons of the same gender.”
“I still don’t understand how we live in a world today where there’s still [people who] would not see the family Phastos has and the beauty of that relationship and that love,” Angelina Jolie criticized after hearing of the Eternals ban in many countries overseas.
Marvel and its parent company, Disney, have come under fire before for its treatment (or lack thereof) of LGBTQ characters on screen. Bryan Tyree Henry’s character is the first openly gay Marvel superhero on screen, 13 years after the MCU kicked off with Iron Man in 2008.
The company has been making moves to be more inclusive in the past few years, with characters such as Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok and the recent announcement that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki character was actually bisexual.
In 2019, Disney got a lot of heat for removing a kiss between a same-sex couple of minor female characters in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which was later revealed to have been edited out so that the film could maintain a PG-13 rating in Singapore.
Discussing the backlash the film would presumably get overseas with Eternals director Chloe Zhao, she convinced the company to keep the on-screen kiss despite potential censorship.
“There’s a big desire from Marvel and myself — we talked about this — to not change the cut of the movie,” she told IndieWire.
“Fingers crossed,” she said about avoiding a potential Eternals ban. “I don’t know all the details but I do believe discussions were had [to make sure that the film was not edited].”
“What’s important is to show that it isn’t about a message we’re trying to put out,” the 39-year-old Nomadland Oscar winner told Variety. “I think finding authenticity in moments like that is crucial for me, so it doesn’t feel forced, so you could actually relate to them. That’s the most important thing. 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.”
Eternals also features the MCU’s first deaf superhero on screen with Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari, as well as diverse cast supporting Angelina Jolie, including Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan, and Ma Dong-seok.
Haaz Sleiman, the Eternals actor who played Phastos’ (Brian Tyree Henry) husband, Ben, said the film’s LGBTQ inclusion was “beyond a dream come true.”
“It’s life-saving,” he told Variety. “I wish I had that when I was a kid to see this. My god! 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.”