Thor: Love and Thunder Isn’t “So Gay,” But Don’t Blame Natalie Portman

Actors and even directors are not the ones squandering queer rep in Marvel movies.

Thor: Love and Thunder is in theaters today. Earlier this week, ahead of a pre-release screening, Director Taika Waititi — as well as actors Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson — were taking part in a Q&A in which they were asked “how gay is the film?” Waititi pointed to Portman, who said the fourth Thor movie is “so gay,” to which Waititi agreed, and said it was “super gay.”

@haushinkagd London premiere of Thor: Love and Thunder. Natalie Portman answers a fan’s question. #thor #thorloveandthunder #taikawaititi #tessathompson #natalieportman @Taika Waititi #fyp #foryoupage #london #premiere #cinema #marvel @Marvel Studios @Marvel Entertainment #chrishemsworth #mightythor #janefoster #valkyrie ♬ original sound – Marie

The video has been viewed several million times on Tiktok, and in the days since it went up, there’s been backlash (weirdly aimed at Portman, specifically, despite her being put on the spot and Waititi also agreeing with the sentiment) that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Jane Foster “lied” about queer representation in Thor: Love and Thunder. In light of the movie in front of us and the stories coming out of Disney’s workforce, the ire feels misplaced.

Mild spoilers for Thor: Love and Thunder follow.

For whatever it’s worth — and I think the full context of what the film portrays is important if we’re going to have an honest conversation about the state of queerness in the MCU — Thor: Love and Thunder does have some gay content in it. No, it’s not explored to the same depths of its hetero leads, but there are discussions between queer characters about their respective love lifes.

Thompson’s Valkyrie, a character whose bisexuality was meant to be referenced in Thor: Ragnarok but was infamously cut from the final film, does explicitly discuss having lost the woman she loved in the battle that gave her PTSD, which she more or less confirms is why she’s so hesitant to love again. This is convenient, because it gives Marvel and Disney’s higher-ups a means to wave a queer character around without actually doing anything about it. There’s even a discussion between Thor and Valkyrie about whether or not she has any interest in his ex-girlfriend Jane, which is mostly a gag, but it’s one of the other ways the movie acknowledges Valkyrie’s identity without actually having to reckon with it.

Thor: Love and Thunder Isn’t "So Gay," But Don’t Blame Natalie Portman

Meanwhile, Waititi plays Korg, an alien who was (and still mostly is) a bit character in Ragnarok discussing his two fathers’ mating ritual, and starting one of his own with a male alien himself at the end of the movie. It’s not much, and I say the following without intending to give Marvel and Disney any real credit, but it is a step up from the embarrassing Avengers: Endgame scene in which one of the directors sat in front of a camera as an unnamed man telling Captain America about his dating life in a post-Thanos snap world while touting it out as a watershed moment.

And hey, the movie may not have acknowledged it, but Star-Lord, a canonical bisexual hero, is in the movie for a few minutes?

So where does that put Thor: Love and Thunder? It’s not “not gay.” But is it “so gay” or “super gay?” Debatable. Most people looking for substantial queer representation will probably say it’s not enough, and that’s where I largely land, as well. It especially feels like a step backward after Eternals, for all its faults, included a gay superhero with Phastos, who had a husband and a family. They even, *gasp*, kiss on-screen.

All that being said, I do find the sentiment that Portman “lied” about the movie both disingenuous and also misdirected. But these kinds of viral antics aren’t new. People go up to actors at Disney parks and ask them to say “gay rights” and are surprised when they’re unsure if they’re even allowed to say that while working in-character for a company that has had employees walk out over higher-ups removing queer representation from their work and supporting hateful legislation like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Portman and Waititi don’t need defending. They’re internationally known stars leaving this movie with a thicker wallet and this won’t change that. But I do think keeping in mind who is actually behind the biggest film series in the world’s lack of visible queerness is a more productive direction to channel this energy.

Disney workers, the ones who have included nods to queerness where they’re able in projects like Baymax, have stopped working because the top-down decision makers ordered a same-sex kiss to be removed from Lightyear. Portman and Waititi may be more recognizable to the public than an animator or audio engineer, but they’re beholden to the same people up top that let Oscar Isaac think his character Poe could get with John Boyega’s Finn in the Star Wars sequels until they gave him a female love interest in The Rise of Skywalker.

Thor: Love and Thunder Isn’t "So Gay," But Don’t Blame Natalie Portman

The frustrating thing is that we know this. But despite that knowledge, we’ve been here before and we’ll likely be here again. More often than not, the stars of Marvel’s output are who the company puts front of the public to talk about these decisions. And sometimes they fumble with a camera on them like Anthony Mackie did when he talked about accusations of queerbaiting in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. But as Gizmodo’s James Whitbrook said then, “the people who do need to be held accountable on this issue, and others like it, are not necessarily people like Mackie—actors who can at most lend support to those frustrations and hope for positive change.”

Actors and directors like Portman and Waititi are like cashiers at a store having to tell a customer about the store’s policy. They’re not the ones responsible for your dissatisfaction, they were simply the ones in the room when you found out you weren’t getting what you wanted. It would probably be best to just go to a different store, one run by people who want to supply exactly what you also want.

There are queer stories by queer people out there that aren’t leashed and collared by a corporation that can only understand these issues when the assembly line stops. But it’s also worth recognizing that Marvel has a cultural cache worth holding to a higher standard. Just don’t deprive yourself of quality queer content while waiting for a passing shot of Star-Lord kissing a man in the background.