The gender benders: Cinematic world’s increasing acceptance of genderless, non-binary characters


It’s a welcome move, but not the first such instance, as the cinematic world is now increasingly accepting and introducing genderless, non-binary characters.It’s a welcome move, but not the first such instance, as the cinematic world is now increasingly accepting and introducing genderless, non-binary characters.

By Reya Mehrotra

Recently, Marvel Cinematic Universe announced that it will be introducing its first transgender superhero in an upcoming movie. It’s a welcome move, but not the first such instance, as the cinematic world is now increasingly accepting and introducing genderless, non-binary characters. Here are some such movies and shows.

Star Trek: Discovery
The showmakers recently announced that they will be casting two non-binary and trans characters in the third season of the show for the very first time since the show was cast. For this, Ian Alexander, a trans actor, and Blu Del Barrio, who identifies as non-binary, have been cast. While Alexander will play Grey, a trans character, Barrio has been cast as Adira, a non-binary character. The show will be airing on October 15. The move has been praised by the LGBTQIA community, as for the first time, transgender characters are set to get proper representation as intelligent and complex characters.

SpongeBob Squarepants
During Pride Month this year, TV channel Nickelodeon, which airs the cartoon show, tweeted the image of SpongeBob and wrote, “Celebrating Pride with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies this month and every month”. The tweet confirmed SpongeBob’s sexuality and #SpongeBobIsGay started trending on Twitter. Rumours had been doing the rounds that SpongeBob and his starfish friend Patrick Star were gay owing to their close friendship, but the show’s creator Stephen Hillenburg clarified in an interview that he considered the character to be almost asexual.

Mulan
The 2020 movie can be called a semi queer narrative. In the film, Mulan disguises herself as a man to join a battle against invaders. Her struggle to fit in with the other men in the battalion and the identity crisis has been relatable to the queer community, especially teenagers who struggle to conform to gender roles. In the film, Mulan’s romance with Captain Li Shang becomes the minor plot, while her bravery takes centrestage. The character’s appearance, too, was designed to appear less feminine. The film stars Yifei Liu in the title role, alongside Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, etc.

Cinderella
The story of Cinderella has been told hundreds of times in the form of books, shows, as well as movies, but the upcoming Cinderella movie promises to narrate the fairytale in an all-inclusive, gender-neutral way. The fairy godmother who turned Cinderella into a princess for one night is set to be portrayed in a new avatar. For the first time in history, the role will be genderless. Actor Billy Porter, who is known for his appearances in extravagant and elaborate outfits on red carpets, has been roped in to play the godmother. The actor said that the role was “non-conforming” and that magic was “genderless”.

Onward
The film by The Walt Disney Co and Pixar Animation Studios became the first in the studio’s history to celebrate an openly gay character. The lesbian character of purple Cyclops Officer Specter, voiced by openly lesbian actor Lena Waithe, appears in the film briefly. The movie was, however, banned in countries like Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the word ‘girlfriend’ was censored to ‘partner’ in Russia. The lesbian character talks about co-parenting her girlfriend’s daughter to the two teen elf brothers, a scene which was both praised and criticised by many.

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated
The show has been a favourite of many, but little did anyone imagine that Velma, the nerdy girl in an orange turtleneck, red skirt and square-framed glasses with a bob haircut, would turn out to be a lesbian. During Pride Month in June this year, Tony Cervone, the co-creator of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, announced that Velma was indeed a lesbian. He also shared her picture with the rainbow background that stands for Pride Month. He also confirmed that Marcie was Velma’s girlfriend. In fact, the makers also confirmed that she was explicitly gay in the 2001 script itself, but the character was watered down to having a boyfriend eventually.

It Chapter 2
The 2019 American supernatural horror film, based on the 1986 novel by Stephen King, has Richie Tozier’s character, a stand-up comedian, as gay. The sequel of the 2017 movie It, the film reveals secrets of its characters. The fast-talking teenager who grows up to be a popular comedian comes out as gay. Richie is secretly in love with his friend Eddie Kaspbrak. He, however, never shares his feelings, as Eddie dies in the movie. Actor Bill Hader, who played the character, suggested that it be “what it is” and “overt”, and that knowing this detail about the character gave him more room to play.

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