For the past couple of years, Tessa Thompson has been explaining that, as she is in the comic books, her Marvel Cinematic Universe character Valkyrie is a bisexual woman. “She’s bi. And yes, she cares very little about what men think of her. What a joy to play!” Thompson tweeted in 2017. In Thor: Ragnarok, arguably the best Marvel movie, especially if you enjoy Evil Cate Blanchett and humour. They even shot a scene that showed a woman leaving Valkyrie’s bedroom – Watch out, censors! Cover your eyes, prudes! – though it was cut from the final edit.
When Marvel rolled out its fourth phase of superhero movies at San Diego Comic-Con last weekend, Thor: Love and Thunder sounded like an embarrassment of riches. Ragnarok director Taika Waititi remains at the helm, which is promising enough. Natalie Portman’s character, Dr Jane Foster, ends up with Thor’s powers, becoming Mighty Thor. And Valkyrie is back, as King of Asgard.
“As new king, she needs to find her queen. That will be her first order of business,” Thompson said. She meant more than a sneaky bedroom exit, too, as reiterated later in the week by the head of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, who confirmed that this did mean there would be an openly queer relationship in the film.
It’s about time and then some. Fans have grumbled that characters who are explicitly queer in the comics have been “straightwashed” for the big screen. (Thor’s brother, Loki, and Ayo in Black Panther, for example.) Superhero stories in general can be a metaphor for coming out, so it is a wonder it’s taken so long for the movies to catch up. Got a special side that has to be kept secret because you’ll face discrimination for simply being who you are? I’ve just saved you from watching 13 X-Men films.
It’s worth remembering that none of this new wave would be happening if there were not a commercial incentive for it. Black Panther and Captain Marvel showed that there was a record-breaking audience for films that strayed from the straight white male formula. Even so, it’s pretty exciting that these megabudget beasts are now free to roam with female, non-white, non-straight characters at the front.
It is easy to understand the power of seeing representations of yourself on screen, particularly if you are starved of that, but it is equally as powerful for people to get used to seeing those who are not like them, too. “Inclusion doesn’t happen by mistake. You have to push people,” Thompson told Time magazine in May, showing exactly why she’s now wearing the crown.
Lisa Hanawalt: a joyous brief encounter with Tuca & Bertie
You might not yet have had the chance to catch Tuca & Bertie, one of the best new television shows of 2019. It was created by Lisa Hanawalt, an illustrator and cartoonist who also worked on BoJack Horseman, which, like Tuca & Bertie, is another show that defies you to be put off by the words “adult animation”. It stars Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong as two birds who are best friends living in a world that is entirely animal. It is genius in the way it balances surreal humour, real heart and the painful complexities and contradictions of modern living; it also manages to show a sweetly dull architect robin accidentally eating a cake made out of his grandmother’s ashes before he has a conversation with her from inside his stomach.
Still, you can always jump in for season two. Except you can’t, I’m afraid, because Netflix has axed it. Hanawalt handled the untimely cancellation with impressive dignity, using Twitter to thank her cast and crew and the show’s fans for their daily letters of support. “None of this makes a difference to an algorithm, but it’s important to me and the way I want to continue making art in this world,” she posted.
Shows get cancelled all the time, but there is a genuine sadness to the early loss of a series as inventive, unusual and different as Tuca & Bertie. Netflix has previously allowed intensely mediocre shows the space and time to grow and develop, so why this was only given three months to find its feet is baffling. It suggests that taking creative risks might not be worth it and I wonder if it hints at a more uniform future. Still, Netflix has a habit of reviving deceased franchises; perhaps someone could emulate this service and give Tuca & Bertie the shot it deserves.
Audra McDonald: exposed by a shot in the dark
You can only imagine the clunking moment of realisation felt by whichever opportunistic Broadway voyeur had the audacity to try to sneak a snapshot of an on-stage nude scene last week. Picture it: a man and woman are naked. You, a creep, instinctively reach for your phone, breathing heavily, only to realise a second too late that you’ve left the flash on, which tends to get noticed in a quiet, dark room full of people looking at what you, still a creep, have just lit up like a Christmas tree.
“To whoever it was in the audience that took a flash photo during our nude scene today: not cool. Not cool at all,” tweeted Audra McDonald, Broadway legend, The Good Fight legend and RuPaul’s Drag Race panellist/good sport/and fine, not to be hyperbolic about it, but legend. McDonald is starring in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune alongside Michael Shannon and there are moments of nudity, which proved perplexingly irresistible to one audience member. Not only is it disrespectful, intrusive and an unforgivable break in the implicit pact of trust between audience and performer, it’s also a really non-cost-effective way to get your rocks off. Broadway tickets cost a fortune. That’s one embarrassing, expensive blurry nudie pic.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist