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Marvel’s lesbian ‘erasure’ from Black Panther film sparks fan outrage

Marvel has moved to quash speculation that two warriors in the upcoming film Black Panther will be in a lesbian relationship.

The film, due to be released in February 2018, is about T’Challa, the superhero king and protector of African nation Wakanda, who featured in Captain America: Civil War.

Fans had been excited by the prospect of Okoye and Ayo, two of the titular character’s bodyguards, getting together as Ayo and fellow female warrior Aneka do in the comics.

And these hopes were encouraged by reports that an early screening of the film featured Walking Dead star Danai Gurira’s Okoye staring at Ayo flirtatiously as the two danced.

The enthusiasm provoked by this turned to frustration and claims of LGBT erasure after Marvel quickly denied the conclusions drawn by those who watched the scene.

A Marvel spokesperson reached out to clearly state that “the nature of the relationship between Danai Gurira’s Okoye and Florence Kasumba’s Ayo in Black Panther is not a romantic one.”

This sparked a movement around the hashtag #LetAyoHaveAGirlfriend, similar to the #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend campaign last May prompted by the release of Captain America: Civil War.

Comic book series World of Wakanda revealed the lesbian relationship last year, when it was released for the first time.

And fans referenced the series, created by famous authors Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey, in their complaints.

Their ire was mainly targeted at Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, who in 2015, promised that “in the next decade or sooner” one of its films would feature an LGBT character.

He added at the time: “I’d love it to find an organic, meaningful and natural way for that to happen at some point in the not so distant future.”

Many Marvel supporters pointed out that there are not many more organic ways to include LGBT characters like Ayo than to simply include them with their original sexuality.

World of Wakanda centres on the lesbian relationship between two members of the bodyguards, describing itself as “a love story,” with “tenderness matched only by its brutality.”

However, that relationship is between Ayo and Aneka, with the description asking: “What happens when your nation needs your hearts and minds, but you already gave them to each other?”

Together, the pair are known as the Midnight Angels, but the preview clip of Black Panther begs the question: will Okoye come between them?

This storyline had the potential to be much more interesting than Beauty and the Beast’s Le Fou’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it same-sex dance.

The live-action remake was the first major Disney film to feature an unambiguously gay character, and smashed box office records despite an attempted evangelical boycott.

But in terms of an actual LGBT storyline, it disappointed fans.

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