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Why ‘The New Mutants’’ Queer Representation Is Unique
by Lucy Yunqing Ma

After being postponed for over three years and changing its release date upwards of five times, The New Mutants was finally released in theaters this August. As one of the last films made by 20th Century Fox before Disney’s acquisition of the studio, The New Mutants, along with X-Men: Dark Phoenix, was considered “unimpressive” and “with limited box office” by Disney in 2019. The film, unsurprisingly, came out during the pandemic while the heart of film-watching in the U.S. (Los Angeles and New York) still forbade large screening activities. One could say The New Mutants is a film Disney gave up on. However, the film offers gay representation that marks a milestone in how the LGBTQ+ community is represented in genre cinema.

Even though the film is not part of the MCU universe, the characters and the film itself are produced by and belong to Marvel. The New Mutants is the first superhero movie that explicitly addresses homosexual relationships, while the first gay characters in the comic books by Marvel Comics were announced in 2012. Northstar, an initial member of Alpha Flight who regularly appears as a member of X-Men, was announced as the first openly gay superhero in Marvel Comics in Astonishing X-Men — followed by Iceman, another member of X-Men, who was officially presented as a homosexual character the same year. It is noteworthy that the first openly on-screen lesbian couple is also based on this same X-Men comic series. 

From the time the first gay character appears in the comic book to the time that an LGBTQ+ character finally shows up on the screen, it took eight years for the LGBTQ+ community to appear in a film based on a comic. The film itself is the first of its kind to represent homosexual relationships in a genre film, whereas only 13% contain one or more homosexual characters in the films, though never displaying their relationships. Similar to how Northstar became the first gay character not just in Marvel Comics (and the first of all American Marvel Comics); The New Mutants is not the first and only film in the MCU that contains an openly queer relationship. Rather, it is the first in all the superhero films based on comics in the US, which makes it a definite milestone in the field.

Furthermore, one of the most astonishing features that this film showcases regarding LGBTQ+ representation is that it is not used as a marketing method. Unlike Eternals, which announced and marketed itself with the tagline: “the first homosexual hero in MCU” even before production was completed, The New Mutants did not brand itself in any way; the audience is only made aware of the film’s groundbreaking LGBTQ+ representation once they enter the theater. The fact that this is a film with LGBTQ+ representation that is not used as a selling point eliminates the marketing manipulation aspect, normalizing homosexual relationships on-screen in genre films. This film’s lesbian relationship is treated equally, like films with heterosexual relationships, as how all the relationships should be treated.

This normalization is also reflected in the content. Not once throughout the entire film is the conflict created to target the couple’s genders specifically. Even though conflicts set the couples apart, none of the conflicts are focused on the gay nature of their love. To accomplish that, the film indicates their relationship at the beginning of the film. When the protagonist, Danielle (played by Blu Hunt), has a hard time dealing with her father’s death and a new environment, her future girlfriend, Rahne (played by Maisie Williams), is the first person that is willing to protect Danielle from the bully of the film, Illyana. Rahne offers psychological support when Danielle stands on the eave of the clock tower with survivor’s guilt. Rahne’s close company establishes a close connection between her and Danielle. By pointing out their relationship in act one of the film, it encourages the audience to accept them. At the same time, it allows the audience to see this relationship the same way they would often see heterosexual relationships in every other film. The content largely aids in the film’s inclusive environment, where homosexual relationships can be equally treated and accepted by the viewers.

Even though the film itself, as Disney predicted, did not turn out great, and underperformed financially, it does not erase how extraordinary this representation is. As the first comic-based genre film that features more than just queer characters, but an actual lesbian relationship on-screen, the film successfully delivers this representation through its content and marketing setup. This makes it much easier for the audience to perceive and understand the love between queer couples on-screen. The homosexual relationship is finally being openly looked at, accepted, and equally treated as a normal intimate relationship, which represents a groundbreaking moment in genre cinema, one that has opened myriad doors for on-screen representation of marginalized communities.