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Chloe Zhao spoke to Marvel about not censoring Eternals' gay characters overseas

Brian Tyree Henry's Phastos is being described as the first openly gay MCU superhero

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The Eternals
The Eternals
Photo: Disney

Chloé Zhao gave an interview this weekend, expressing her hope that her new Marvel Cinematic Universe film Eternals won’t be censored for its LGBTQ+ content when it’s released into international markets, and noting that she’s had conversations with Marvel about keeping the film intact.

The increasingly global nature of Hollywood blockbusters has become a major business issue in recent decades; the fact is that you just can’t hit the big numbers without the international box office on your side. (Take this as a reminder that, of the five highest grossing films of all time—Avatar, Avengers: Endgame, Titanic, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Avengers: Infinity War—only Star Wars made more than a third of its money in the United States proper.)


This need to be all things to all countries has had some strange, often dispiriting effects on the business of movie making. These can range from PR efforts—like, say, issuing a heartfelt apology to Chinese audiences for daring to accidentally suggest Taiwan might be an independent nation—to changes to the films themselves, imposed either by studios or by national governments. (The most infamous of these in recent years being the cuts made to sanitize same-sex content from Bohemian Rhapsody, of all films, in China.)

These same concerns have also, one has to assume, been a major factor in how slow even a powerhouse like Disney has been to embrace even the tiniest “Wait, did he say husband?!” traces of LGBTQ+ representation in its films. Pixar’s Onward was banned in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia for a line of dialogue in which Lena Waithe’s character mentions her girlfriend, while Russia edited the word out. (Russian authorities also removed the scene from Avengers: Endgame in which director Joe Russo appears as a man mourning his Thanos-snapped husband.)


All of which brings us, in roundabout fashion, back to Zhao’s Eternals, which contains what might credibly be described as the first bit of MCU gay content that is not eye-rollingly obscure and tame, in the form of an actual on-screen relationship Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos and his husband, played by Haaz Sleiman.

Addressing worries that Eternals might get cut to remove this aspect of Phastos’ character, Zhao told IndieWire this week that, “I don’t know all the details but I do believe discussions were had and there’s a big desire from Marvel and myself—we talked about this—to not change the cut of the movie. Fingers crossed.” Which isn’t exactly definitive, but Zhao did note that Phastos’ marriage, and his status as an openly gay superhero, was part of the DNA of the project from before she even came onboard.

The subtext of all this is that Marvel and Disney need Eternals to be a hit; Shang-Chi’s performance was a good first step, but the company is throwing everything it has at making Zhao’s film a, well, Marvel-movie sized hit—a desire that has previously translated to making these films as widely “palatable” as possible on a planetary scale.