It wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that Disney and Marvel’s attempts to portray LGBTQ+ characters in recent blockbusters have been flimsy at best, so credit has to go to the respective studios for refusing to censor or remove any scenes from Eternals featuring Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos, his husband or their family.
However, it did lead to the comic book adaptation getting slapped with the equivalent of an R-rating in Russia, while it’s been banned outright in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, with Angelina Jolie blasting the decision as ignorant, and the actress isn’t alone when it comes to that opinion.
Co-star Haaz Sleiman, who plays Phastos’ husband Ben and publicly came out in the summer of 2017 by describing himself as a “gay, Muslim, Arab-American man”, went one step further in an interview with Variety, calling the decision pathetic.
“They stood their ground and said, ‘Nope, we are not going to compromise the integrity of our film’. It made these Arab countries look so ignorant and pathetic. They have displayed to the world that they are not only a disgrace to humanity, but to god. Hopefully this will inspire the Saudi people, the Kuwaiti people, and the people in Qatar to fight back.”
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Director Chloe Zhao, producer Kevin Feige and the top brass at Disney and Marvel should be commended for sticking to their guns at least, especially when plenty of high-profile blockbusters have made notable edits in order to squeeze by stricter censorship boards around the world. Eternals was never going to compromise how it displays Phastos’ personal life, which is intrinsic to his character and hugely important to see on the big screen for many people in terms of representation.