Thor: Love and Thunder towards censorship in China for LGBTQ + issues?

Thor: Love and Thunder towards censorship in China for LGBTQ + issues?


Taika Waititi's new film, Thor: Love and Thunder, is flying like lightning at the top of the charts of the most viewed films in recent days, even if at the same time it is dividing the spectators, among those who have found a hilarious toy and those who were disappointed. The LGBTQ + arguments scattered along the plot divide in the thematic richness that the film brings into play. To be problematic in this sense is not this time the reaction of the public, who had been waiting for some time in a Marvel title for the clearance of certain issues, but the censorship of some countries. In particular, we think of China, which has not yet granted a visa so that the film can be distributed in theaters of the Asian country. Many are convinced that the main reasons, as well as the success of the Pixar film Lightyear which contains a kiss between two women, is due precisely to the aversion to the LGBTQ + representation on the screen.

Already in Thor: Ragnarok, for example, there is mention - more off-screen than on stage, to tell the truth - to the bisexuality of Valkyrie, the character played by Tessa Thompson. In Thor: Love and Thunder the warrior, who among other things calls herself "King Valkyrie" using the masculine "king", speaks openly about his girlfriend who died in battle and even before that we see her flirting with one of Zeus's handmaids, the god personified by Russell Crowe. She also almost seems to challenge Chris Hemsworth's Thor in conquering Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). But it does not end there, because, in a way too bizarre, even the rocky alien Korg - voiced by Waititi himself - is a queer character: not only does he say that in his race the small specimens are generated by two men of rock who they hold hands for a month over a pool of lava (by the way a story really from the World War Hulk comics), but in the end he himself produces offspring by shaking hands with his counterpart named Dwayne.

In all likelihood these issues are not well seen by the Chinese government: the previous Ragnarok had actually raised $ 112 million at the box office when it was released there in 2017, so the authorization block can hardly be motivated by the fear of failure in the hall. The truth is that all the last seven films produced by Marvel have not been released in China, all for different but always more or less ideological reasons (Black Widow for his representation of communism, Shang-Chi for past statements of the leading actor in favor of Hong Kong, Eternals due to its director Chloé Zhao, the latest Doctor Strange due to the presence of a Taiwanese newspaper and so on). In the past, many studios modified their films by removing the "compromising" scenes to satisfy the Chinese censors but lately this is happening more rarely and is no guarantee of a pass. The relationship between Hollywood and the Chinese film market, which until a few years ago was fundamental for the global success of some films, is becoming increasingly problematic.

China Box Office: ‘Lighting Up the Stars’ Wins Weekend, ‘Thor 4’ in Limbo Over Suspected LGBTQ Censorship

The Taika Waititi-directed superhero film could become the seventh consecutive Marvel tentpole to be blocked from release by China's regulators.

Marvel's 'Thor: Love and Thunder.' Courtesy of Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios

Local drama Lighting Up the Stars easily won a third consecutive weekend at China’s box office, selling $27.8 million worth of tickets for an impressive total of $186.3 million and counting. But the sentimental Chinese film, which tells the story of a surprising bond formed between a funeral director and an orphaned little girl, didn’t face much market competition — mostly because Marvel’s Norse god Thor was entirely missing in action.

China’s film regulators haven’t granted Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder a release date yet — and it’s beginning to look as if they never will. Sources at two major cinema chains in China tell The Hollywood Reporter that they expect Thor 4 will face the same fate as Pixar’s Lightyear: denied censorship approval because of fleeting moments in the movie involving LGBTQ characters.

Beijing’s censors never explain nor comment publicly on their decisions, but industry participants inside and outside of China scrutinize such moves carefully and backchannel with authorities to ascertain where the lines are drawn. In Lightyear‘s case, a same-gender kiss involving the character Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) and her partner was believed to have forestalled any chance of release in China, where LGBTQ storytelling is mostly banned from screens big and small (the movie also was banned in the Middle East, Malaysia and Indonesia).

Thor 4 is similarly believed to be stuck in China’s censorship process because of some brief LGBTQ moments, including suggestions that the character Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson) is bisexual and that the character Korg is gay.

Thor: Ragnarok earned $112 million in China back in 2017, so losing the Middle Kingdom market certainly will ding Love and Thunder‘s worldwide sales total. More significant for Disney, however, is the fact that Thor is far from the only Marvel hero to face China’s censors’ wrath. After nearly a decade as arguably China’s favorite Hollywood film franchise, Marvel has seen its last seven Hollywood tentpoles go unreleased in the country. Industry watchers have hypothesized different reasons for why each film fell afoul of regulators — but the longer the trend continues, the more it has begun to look like a deliberate effort to dim Marvel’s local popularity.

Black Widow was the first Marvel title in the streak to not get a release in China; some speculated that China passed on the film after Disney released it straight to Disney+ because of the pandemic, while others said the film’s vague depictions of communism via the Red Guardian character upset regulators.

Oscar-winning Chinese director Chloe Zhao’s Eternals was the next one blocked, in this case because of a years-old statement the filmmaker made in an interview that was interpreted as being critical of China. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings then was thought to suffer a similar fate because of a past interview star Simu Liu gave in which he talked about China as a “third world” country. Spider-Man: No Way Home supposedly featured the Statue of Liberty too much for Beijing censors’ liking, while Venom: Let There Be Carnage got axed due to old comments from Tom Hardy which were viewed as racially insensitive to the Chinese people.

Prior to Thor 4, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness was the most recent to be met with ire, reportedly because of the inclusion of the gay character America Chavez and an extremely brief sequence that showed a pro-Taiwan newspaper on a city magazine kiosk.

Occasionally, Hollywood studios have cut queer characters from their films to appease China’s censors — and reaped millions more in box office revenue in the process. Before its takeover by Disney, 20th Century Fox shaved all mentions of Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality from Bohemian Rhapsody in order to secure a China outing, and Warner Bros. cut dialog referring to a gay relationship from Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore earlier this year.

However, Disney recently has taken the stance that it doesn’t remove gay content to appease censors in the territories where it distributes its theatrical films. The studio refused to trim a “gay moment” from the live-action Beauty and the Beast in 2017 when Malaysian content regulators objected, and it stood firm on Lightyear in the various markets where the movie was blocked.

Adding insult to injury in Thor 4′s case, China’s theatrical earnings potential has finally begun to recover in recent weeks after a lengthy downbeat period of COVID closures in major cities. Emperor Motion Pictures’ crime thriller Detectives vs. Sleuths came in second behind Lighting Up the Stars over the past weekend with a healthy $23.1 million debut. Universal’s Jurassic World Dominion slipped to third place, meanwhile, adding $6.3 million for a China total of $144.3 million.