Anthony Mackie has committed the time-honored mistake of saying “something” when “nothing” might easily have sufficed. The Falcon And The Winter Solider star gave an interview to Variety this week in which he waded into the conversation about viewers and fans applying LGBTQ+ lenses to relationships between male superheroes. (Like, say, Mackie’s own Sam Wilson, and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes). It’s a complicated and nuanced topic—one that trucks in ideas ranging from the validity of diverse fan interpretations of popular characters, to the death of the author, to the decades of repression that forced queer relationships in art to exist only in margins, subtexts, and hints—that Mackie handled with notably less complexity and nuance than it probably deserves. Noting first that “the fandom is a very dangerous place,” Mackie was then asked by Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast about depictions of platonic male love on TV or film. In the interest of clarity, here’s the bulk of the actor’s response on the topic:
In this day and age, so many things are twisted and convoluted. There’s so many things that people latch on to with their own devices to make themselves relevant and rational…The idea of two guys being friends and loving each other in 2021 is a problem because of the exploitation of homosexuality. It used to be guys can be friends, we can hang out, and it was cool. You would always meet your friends at the bar, you know. You can’t do that anymore, because something as pure and beautiful as homosexuality has been exploited by people who are trying to rationalize themselves. So something that’s always been very important to me is showing a sensitive masculine figure. There’s nothing more masculine than being a superhero and flying around and beating people up. But there’s nothing more sensitive than having emotional conversations and a kindred spirit friendship with someone that you care about and love. Sam and Steve had a relationship where they appreciated, admired, and loved each other. Bucky and Sam have a relationship where they learn how to accept, appreciate and love each other. You’d call it a bromance, but it’s literally just two guys who have each other’s backs.
The oddest part about the statement, obviously, is in the first few lines, as it’s not clear what Mackie means by “the exploitation of homosexuality,” or that “people latch on… with their own devices to make themselves relevant and rational.” Generally, when conversations about pop culture exploitation of LGBTQ+ relationships crop up in critical spheres, they’re referring to the practice of “queerbaiting,” i.e., when shows themselves introduce intentional sexual subtext between straight characters in order to draw attention from audiences hoping to see increased representation. Which is pretty clearly not what’s going on here, as Mackie seems to be pointing a finger of blame toward fans reading subtext into the show. Meanwhile, if Mackie’s whole point was just to say that he and Stan were trying to depict an intimate but platonic male friendship, he probably could have just said that without casting aspersions on people who interpret the relationship in other ways, or who might hope against hope to see the MCU deviate even slightly from its relentlessly straight presentation to date.
(Also, we have no idea where the whole “You can’t meet a male friend at a bar anymore!” angle comes from; it’s one of like five things in that response that felt extraordinarily “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” despite the stated “purity” and “beauty” of homosexuality on Mackie’s part.)
Also weird: Mackie, in touching on this topic, pointedly acknowledged his Black Mirror episode “Striking Vipers,” which is about… a male friendship that develops explicit sexual elements. Said episode of the Netflix sci-fi series is very deliberately ambiguous about the interplay between friendship, sex, and intimacy that develops between the two men in question (played by Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), applying a thoughtfulness to these myriad topics that doesn’t seem to have persisted here. All in all, the whole conversation is a somewhat bewildering response, and one that seems like it took a lot more effort to put together than it would have been to just give a simple “Hey, that’s not what I had in mind when I played it, but everyone’s allowed to take it their own way.”