Is Marvel's "Black Panther" Censoring Its Own Gay Storyline?

"That specific love storyline from the comic...was not used as a source," a Marvel rep insists.

There's been a lot of buzz about queer representation in Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers, but now LGBT moviegoers are scratching their heads as it looks like a same-sex couple has been erased from the upcoming Marvel movie Black Panther.

The adventures of King T'Challa and the kingdom of Wakanda are currently being chronicled in two Marvel comic books, Black Panther, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and World of Wakanda, written by Coates and queer writer Roxane Gay.

World of Wakanda addresses both external threats and internal strife in the African nation, and delves unambiguously into the relationship between two members of the Dora Milaje, T'challa's all-female warrior guard. Okoye and Ayo are torn between their love for each other and their duty to their king. The comic's official description even asks "What happens when your nation needs your hearts and minds, but you already gave them to each other?"

World of Wakanda/Marvel Comics

Footage from the film, currently slated to hit theaters February 16, 2018, was screened for journalists recently. And Vanity Fair's Joanna Robinson first reported that Ayo and Okoye's relationship was in the mix.

In the rough cut of this Black Panther scene, we see [Danai] Gurira’s Okoye and Kasumba’s Ayo swaying rhythmically back in formation with the rest of their team. Okoye eyes Ayo flirtatiously for a long time as the camera pans in on them. Eventually, she says, appreciatively and appraisingly, “You look good." Ayo responds in kind. Okoye grins and replies, “I know."

This quick moment between two warrior women on their way to T’Challa’s coronation leans into a current very popular run of the Black Panther comic.

But after Robinson's feature was published, a Marvel representative told her that the relationship between Okoye and Ayo as depicted in the movie "is not a romantic one." And despite it being the crux of their World of Wakanda arc, "that specific love storyline from the comic...was not used as a source" for the film.

Did Disney get cold feet about representing the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first lesbian relationship?

While we've seen a few standalone characters on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Jessica Jones, we've still been waiting for a queer hero to burst onto the big screen.

In 2015, Marvel President Kevin Feige said he was confident Marvel Studios would add an LGBT character into the fold "within the next decade." Considering Marvel comics is bursting with LGBT characters—Iceman and America even have their own comic books—it's downright retrograde for the films to whitewash representation, or rely on bling-and-you'll-miss-it nods.

Lets pick up the pace, Marvel.

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