A journalist at Variety just had to ask Anthony Mackie about shipping, and Mackie just had to stick his foot in his mouth about it. And all this is happening during Pride Month. Happy Pride!
I’m sure some people will say we’re taking Anthony Mackie out of context, so I’m just going to quote the entire passage from the Variety article and let it speak for itself before I dive into it. When asked about the potential romance between Bucky and Sam in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Mackie had this to say:
“So many things are twisted and convoluted. There’s so many things that people latch on to with their own devices to make themselves relevant and rational,” he says. “The idea of two guys being friends and loving each other in 2021 is a problem because of the exploitation of homosexuality. It used to be guys can be friends, we can hang out, and it was cool. You would always meet your friends at the bar, you know. You can’t do that anymore, because something as pure and beautiful as homosexuality has been exploited by people who are trying to rationalize themselves. So something that’s always been very important to me is showing a sensitive masculine figure. There’s nothing more masculine than being a superhero and flying around and beating people up. But there’s nothing more sensitive than having emotional conversations and a kindred spirit friendship with someone that you care about and love.”
“Sam and Steve had a relationship where they admired, appreciated and loved each other,” Mackie continues. “Bucky and Sam have a relationship where they learn how to accept, appreciate and love each other. You’d call it a bromance, but it’s literally just two guys who have each other’s backs.”
Now that his quote is there with all the surrounding context (and you can click on the link to the article if you want even more context), let’s break down the issues some of us have with this.
Shipping culture is largely dominated by queer fans. We don’t gatekeep who can ship things, though, so there are plenty of cisgender heterosexual shippers in our community as well. That said, it’s still an incredibly safe environment for us to express ourselves, and we use this space to create the queer narratives we don’t get in mainstream media through art, fanfiction, and meta-discussion. So when considering that we are largely a group of queer fans looking for representation in the franchise, I have to wonder why he phrased it as “homosexuality [being] exploited by people who are trying to rationalize themselves.”
What are we trying to rationalize, according to Mackie? That queer people exist in the real world, but don’t seem to have a significant presence in the MCU? That’s just a fact. Is he saying we’re trying to rationalize our desire to see ourselves in narratives that largely ignore us? That desire seems pretty rational to me. Is he saying that we’re represented just fine and we don’t need to do this? What does he mean? I genuinely don’t understand him here.
Additionally, we aren’t “exploiting” our own sexuality. This is our sexuality. We can wield it in conversations about representation how we see fit, and reading media through a queer lens is a perfectly valid way to use it. Sometimes our community will disagree about things – we aren’t a hivemind – and that’s okay. We can have intercommunity discussions about things and sort ourselves out. But what we aren’t going to do is have cisgender heterosexuals come in and tell us we are ‘exploiting’ ourselves by shipping same-sex pairings. That’s incredibly condescending.
It’s almost like he’s generalizing shippers as a bunch of people who just want to see two dudes kiss instead of a group of people creating narratives that represent us where mainstream media fails. If this isn’t what he means, I’d love clarification. Though, honestly, I’m not sure I trust Mackie to try to smooth this over without sticking his foot even further into his mouth. The inelegance in which he tried to convey his thoughts here doesn’t give me high hopes for a better clarifying statement.
Just to be clear about our expectations and motivations when it comes to shipping, we don’t expect every single ship we have in fanon to go canon. Someday it would be nice if we got something. The MCU is notoriously lacking in queer representation, so the push for a ship to go canon is pretty strong in the fandom. That said, the ship between Sam and Bucky is not even close to being the top ship being pushed for canon representation. We were far more adamant about Bucky and Steve being together in canon, but neither actor involved in that ship came after us like this, so this is an incredibly baffling comment.
Why an actor involved in a smaller-scale ship decided to take aim at fandom is really confusing. The argument that he might be frustrated with pushy fans doesn’t seem too terribly likely (though obviously not impossible). I don’t really see people going after him specifically in the spaces I’m in, so I’m not sure what he’s experiencing from us on his end. But even if a pushy fan got to him somehow, it really doesn’t justify the language he’s using to push back against us.
Continuing with the rest of his quote, we have the use of the phrase “twisted and convoluted.” I would caution anyone – especially non-queer people – from using the word “twisted” when describing anything related to the queer community. In this case, he’s using it to describe our interpretation of a relationship, and not our sexuality itself, but it still hurts more than I can possibly convey in words. We’ve been called so many things by people in our lives, and “twisted” is one of them for a lot of us. Granted, it’s one of the more tame words thrown at us when describing our sexuality and desires, but it’s still in the arsenal of homophobes when it comes to hurling insults at us. This is not a phrase to use when describing us or our views on representation and reading media through a queer lens, and someone really needs to convey that to Mackie as soon as possible.
“Convoluted” doesn’t have the same connotations as “twisted,” but still feels wrong when describing interpretations of queer love. I genuinely don’t know why he reached for words to describe people interpreting a relationship as potentially romantic, and came up with these of all things. It’s an incredibly sloppy use of words.
And then we have the assertion that we ship things to make ourselves “relevant and rational.” As far as making ourselves relevant, well, yes. Of course, we want to be relevant? Right now we aren’t being treated as such in the MCU, so it’d be nice to be seen and have some sort of importance in the franchise. And as far as implying that we’re being irrational and clinging onto ships to rationalize ourselves, that’s horrifically offensive. Is the implication that our desire to see a same-sex couple in the MCU ‘irrational?’ If that’s not what he means, what on earth does he mean? Then again, as I said previously, I don’t have high hopes for Mackie being able to dig himself out of this hole, so maybe he shouldn’t even try.
Next, he makes the insinuation that he’s simply playing a “sensitive masculine figure,” as though being masculine is somehow separate from homosexuality. I agree with the assertion that cisgender heterosexual men can be sensitive, and had that been his argument for his character not being queer I wouldn’t have been quite as upset, though still disappointed that he felt he needed to push back on the interpretation at all. But he didn’t just leave it as being ‘sensitive.’ He had to tack on ‘masculine’ to the whole thing and just really toss any goodwill he had in the trash. There are plenty of masculine queer men out there. These are not mutually exclusive states of being.
Also, this is a rather myopic and toxic view of masculinity. Is it really ‘masculine’ to “fly around and beat people up?” Gross. When we use the phrase ‘toxic masculinity,’ it’s this interpretation of masculinity that we’re talking about. It doesn’t have to be like that.
Speaking of ‘goodwill,’ calling homosexuality “pure and beautiful” does not get Mackie out of any hot water here. Thank you for the compliment, but three nice words in several paragraphs of offensive assertions is not remotely balanced. Thanks, though. However, just to be clear, we don’t have to be “pure” to be good little queer people. We can be a bit impure and messy and a bit weird and we are still valid. But, moving on…
This whole situation is messy as heck. I don’t think Anthony Mackie hates us – he did play a queer character on Black Mirror, after all, and I really enjoyed that performance – but I do think he has an incredibly large misunderstanding about who we are, what we want, and what type of words can hurt us. This is not how you engage with a group of fans who are already marginalized and suffering from the repercussions of a heteronormative society. This comes across as an attack, and if he didn’t intend for it to be so he needs to take a few minutes to think about his word choices here.
For many the damage is already done and Mackie has been written off as homophobic, but it’s possible his reputation could be saved in the eyes of some of us if he just takes a minute and listens to what we have to say when it comes to this topic. Whether he’ll take the time to do so, I’m not entirely sure. In fact, MCU actors have a pretty bad track record when it comes to listening to queer fans, so I’m not super hopeful. This is unfortunate, disappointing, and hurtful.
All that said, while this is an incredibly icky situation, the memes on Twitter about the whole mess are absolutely top tier.
Anthony Mackie isn’t in charge of your life pic.twitter.com/kU4hdPxUKc
— Kelsey (@stuckyparty) June 17, 2021
— viv 🕷 (@mitskiangst) June 17, 2021
the virgin anthony mackie
the chad tom hardy pic.twitter.com/z1oAOWaZWF
— mason unhinged (flash thompson enthusiast) (@littleboopa) June 17, 2021
anthony mackie trying his best to explain why sambucky isn’t romantic pic.twitter.com/b45w8MJEFM
— phi (@scrletsloki) June 17, 2021
anthony mackie after sambucky got a little too popular https://t.co/4zWB8lCQaF
— jj (@earthtorogers) June 17, 2021
anthony mackie after saying homosexuality is pure and beautiful: yeah yeah this is gonna win me some points before i finish my sentence 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽
— izzy 🍊 (@FEROFERlTAS) June 17, 2021
to be fair to anthony mackie, the thought of kissing Sebastian stan is very scary
— a (@spaceedaddy) June 17, 2021
Anthony Mackie describing the scene where bucky and sam rolled on the grass pic.twitter.com/KHgqYKebQe
— Lee Soo Man (@LeeSooMan_Real) June 17, 2021
And, of course, this has resulted in people shipping it EVEN HARDER than before. Because of course. We love spite-shipping. Even more people are going to be rubbing their queer hands all over this ship now. Wonderful!
so cool of anthony mackie to confirm these two are dating 💕 pic.twitter.com/VC87DE5L1j
— taz 👑| STORE LAUNCH! (@tazatouilles) June 17, 2021
— haflacky | sambucky patreon 💪🏾🦾 (@haflacky) June 17, 2021
— haflacky | sambucky patreon 💪🏾🦾 (@haflacky) June 17, 2021
I didn’t even ship SamBucky before, but I might now, just out of spite.
— gigi :🐥: loki spoilers incoming (@campchitaqua) June 17, 2021
And this whole situation has brought up alternative ways he could have responded to this situation, most notably when Mark Hamill was similarly put on the spot and responded perfectly.
Anthony Mackie should have probably went the Mark Hamill about Luke Skywalker route on this one… pic.twitter.com/PS2R55wLIb
— Stephanie (@blockbustergrrl) June 17, 2021
How hard is it say “idk man it’s none of my business, I’m glad the fans are invested in the show and I’m not here to tell them what to do” to reporters
— 🌸 Laren | FakeJenFan 🌸 (@jolauriang) June 17, 2021
remember when Oscar Isaac was out in the streets yelling about mpreg Poe rights…. Simpler times…
— gays of future past (@dirtyovercoats) June 17, 2021
Of course, we wouldn’t have to worry about how celebrities respond to this stuff if journalists didn’t ask. I don’t necessarily think that asking about shipping and queer readings of characters should be entirely off the table, but I do think we need to recognize that the language fandom has created (especially queer fandom) and the language most celebrities are used to (heteronormative language) are different. People on the LGBTQ+ side of things are a bit more reluctant to meet halfway in these conversations as we are already marginalized and tired of explaining ourselves, but there’s still an opportunity to have a discussion about it. When a celebrity really steps in it like this, we can absolutely speak up about it, and they can listen, understand where we’re coming from, and we can move forward. This just doesn’t happen often, and we are more often than not told to shut up and accept our marginalized position in mainstream media.
I’m really not looking forward to watching how this plays out. These sorts of things rarely have good outcomes, so I don’t have high hopes. But we’re here now. This is happening. And I guess we just need to brace for further statements from MCU people that will feel like a punch to the gut. I hope to be wrong. Maybe this time some positive change will happen. The MCU is moving towards progressive representation of marginalized communities, albeit at a glacial pace, so maybe our time will come sooner than we expect.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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