Andrew Garfield, the current face of Spider-Man, made some waves recently by announcing his desire to see his character possibly be bisexual or gay with the role of “MJ” going to a man. Normally, MJ- or Mary Jane- is a woman. Forbes Magazine, though, notes why this would never happen, and it really isn’t because of the American audience, though they seem to think that a little.
While they lauded Garfield’s willingness to take Spider-Man in a new direction, they noted that it would likely be impossible because “it’s not just because America is still grappling with homophobia and Sony SNE -0.99% wouldn’t want to lose out on potentially gay-panicky Spidey fans in America. That doesn’t help, but the real obstacle for such a character change lies outside our shores.”
The American audience is actually less likely to be homphobic and more willing to be open to a gay superhero, so it seems unlikely that Sony would lose out much if Spider-Man was gay, at least in America.
They are correct about the world-wide stage. Forbes notes that “In the last decade or so, the overseas markets have expanded to such a degree that the overseas grosses can be exponentially larger than the domestic box office. And the budgets of these would-be franchise films rise ever higher, thus demanding overseas box office domination in order to make any profit at all. As such, studios are in a precarious position of not wanting to craft any large-scale production in a fashion that might cause that big film not to get played in certain large markets. For now the big foreign entity is China.”
Many films are reedited for the Chinese market with some scenes being specifically placed into movies to appeal to the Chinese audience and especially the powerful Chinese censorship board. The remake of Red Dawn literally had to be reedited to make the aggressors North Koreans instead of Chinese. Films like The Dark Knight may not get released at all in China if the censorship board deems them to be portraying Chinese characters in a negative light. Cloud Atlas had some 38 minutes cut from it due to various sequences involving homosexuality.
Scott Mendlson, the Forbes writer, hits it hard when he notes that “As long as major Hollywood productions have to count on massive overseas grosses just to break even or make a token profit, we will likely continue to see either big-scale blockbusters fashioned to pass censorship muster in China or altered to specifically target the Chinese marketplace purely because they are the ‘big man on campus’ at the moment. A gay Peter Parker might have been plausible in a (much) cheaper Spider-Man film that only needed strong domestic grosses to make money. But with an eye on worldwide blockbuster success and budgets that demand it, Sony just can’t risk it.”
Unfortunately, this is also the same problem that is facing the current Star Trek franchise. Until places like China and Russia evolve on LGBT rights, it is going to be difficult to get gay characters into these movies.