TV + Movies

How Wanda Maximoff Became A Queer Icon

WandaVision and its hospitality to the queer customer.

WandaVison ranks on the top of my list out of all the TV shows that have been produced by Marvel Studios so ambitiously and dare I say, overconfidently. It was an audacious project in the sense that it was challenged with the task of establishing a ‘diversity of genre’ within the Marvel cinematic universe and it was expected to not only maintain but also set standards for Marvel’s creativity and efficacy beyond the superhero action niche; and WandaVision nailed it! Not to mention that it was Marvel’s first project after Endgame — that adds a different sort of pressure considering the cinematic glory that it had achieved.

Through the course of the show, we transition from ‘what life can be’ to ‘what life is.’ That in itself is a heart-shattering theme, even without the context of Wanda’s tragedy. To dream of a perfect life knowing that there is no easy  elevator that could transport you to this wonderland and there is only so much possibility that you might actually live it during this lifetime, is the real pity. Someday the delusion will fade and your imagination will disintegrate. As Thanos so wisely put it: “Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same”.

Wanda protects her idealistic world by distancing it from the outside world, which in her context is ‘a world without vision’ or a world that leaves her alone; back to square one with absolutely nothing and nobody. We can construe it as a dark time that is antagonistic. Now let’s apply the queer lens to understand this. The world outside can be interpreted as heteronormative —queerphobic even—and the bubble within (i.e., Westview) is a place where you can live the “ideal” life by being the way of society and not the ‘exception’.

Now, a valid question that some of you might pose is why should we interpret Westview from a queer perspective. It can be seen through the perspective of any marginalized community or social class that stands accused of not fitting in the box of normality, right? Perhaps an escapist’s paradise with zero racism, or one with no poverty, maybe even a Westview for political and environmental refugees. It’s a fair point; but why the queer aspect becomes so relatable in this case for me, is because it is almost impossible to imagine a prosperous queer town given the biological infeasibility to reproduce biologically, especially given the social stigma and hate-crime that the community endures. In Westview, Wanda ‘creates’ her children with magic, saying, “That’s what every mother does” — read that again and you will realise how it is tantamount to our queer reality. Even in places where being queer is no longer a crime and queer marriages are legal, queer folx find that they can never fully assimilate with mainstream society. There will always be a sense of differentiation if not discrimination, pity if not hate; towards the LGBTQ community, in the subconscious collective mind, if not in deliberation.

The dream of a world that accepts and respects queerness is still nebulous. But what WandaVision does is that it gives us a glimpse, or at least nudges us to push our imaginations through the suffering and pain, just as Wanda does, to picture this far-away homogenous reality that none of us is likely to witness in this lifetime. Wanda eventually is seen as the authority, akin to a puppeteer who commands people to her whims, without actually wanting to or knowing that she could do this. I like to think that us queers, after years of ostracization, wouldn’t refuse the opportunity either.

It has been noticed and quite profoundly written about how Wanda has gained a certain popularity and affability in the LGBTQ+ community.

Wanda’s dialogues are so relevant in the queer context. For example, when she speaks in Captain America: Civil War about how she perceives herself after gaining her powers: “I used to think of myself one way, but, after this (her energy glows), I am something else, I’m still me, I think, but, that’s not what everyone else sees”. This fits right into how a queer person might feel after going through a gender affirmation surgery or after coming out as queer.

Another dialogue from WandaVision, where Vision tells Wanda: “We don’t have to stay here (WestView), we can go wherever we want”; to which Wanda fervently says: “No we can’t.”

Westview as a space then becomes a queer-friendly society where Wanda and Vision can live their married life freely. This could easily be contrasted against all the places on the planet where the queer lifestyle is condemned. It highlights the restrictions of on queer community in terms of geography, choice of settlement, and cultural acceptance. 

People relate to her pain, for pain is universal. Using pain in storytelling is often tricky; to deliver the right shades of tangerine tragedy, pink pity, scarlet sympathy, emerald empathy. and even a little red rage through the character, in the right amounts, is most crucial. Without it one cannot create that canvas of poignant excellence; it demands accuracy and personal experiences of loss. Death plays a huge role in this journey of trauma. Trauma lies beyond the scope of proactivity; pain is irreversible and is unapologetic, in the sense there is nobody left to place the blame on, and the void eats you alive.

Some things are just beyond human effort and need to be ‘accepted’. But when you have powers like that of the Scarlet Witch, acceptance becomes more of a choice than a compulsion, and this is the possibility that WandaVison capitalizes on. “Life could be perfect, when it’s made just for you” is literally a teaser-caption in the mid-season trailer for WandaVison.

Those promos for WandaVision, in the narrow context of Wanda are very direct and lacklustre. However, if you zoom out and take a wider look, it is a grim reminder that no matter how bad you wish, ultimately you have to reconnect with your reality — because that’s your truth, as Monica Rambau puts it. it doesn’t if you are the Scarlet Witch or an average human like me, facing reality  is a ubiquitous experience, but WandaVison’s success lies in that small recess of escapism that derails the arrival of reality and allows us to vicariously live through Wanda’s story.

Wanda’s powers and their consequences in the real (heteronormative) world

 Now let’s talk about how Wanda became a queer icon. She herself isn’t  queer — or is she? I mean, she did fall for a robot! Perhaps, but the point is, Wanda wasn’t gay in the most literal sense, although her son Billy is — can’t wait to see him in Darkhold Diaries. It is Wanda’s powers that make her such a powerful figure not only in the physical sense. She is undoubtedly the most powerful avenger — nay, the most powerful MCU character — but also in a socio-political sense.  She has the power to challenge the very fabric of reality; the very power to unthread every custom, norm and rule in society and respin it into whatever she desires. Imagine living with that power; imagine having the ability to change the world, eradicate racism, poverty, patriarchy, global warming and all other social evils by just moving your sexy fingertips!

But, there are other superhero or enhanced individuals in the realm of fiction who are and have made the world a better place. Why have they never been crowned the ultimate queer superhero title? The most reasonable answer I can think of is that most superheroes are designed specifically for a very cis-gendered heteronormative audience.

 Like how Wonder Woman was made to inspire young girls and entertain a cis-feminist audience. Let’s take Thor for instance. His narrative follows a common route: a privileged prince, strong and tough, triumphs over adversaries, has a witty brother, experiences loss but never elicits pity—always the beloved choice of the mainstream audience. Despite being relatable, his abilities and divine appearance lack the transformative impact needed to challenge societal biases, such as those against the queer community. Thor’s journey in the MCU falls short in this regard.

Capitan Marvel, although queer-coded, hasn’t gained the popularity and love that Wanda has; it’s simply because she comes off as a very indifferent superhero. Wanda’s pain and emotion is so personal, nuanced and layered — something that a character like Carol Danvers cannot compete with given her

 detachment from the ‘self’ and, in my opinion, unchanneled dedication to the extra-terrestrial cause. Take any superhero and there is a still the stink of heteronormative breath that distances them from the adoration of the queer community. Perhaps Jean Grey comes close, maybe even Charles and Magneto, surely Andy and Lorna (from The Gifted),  but nothing beats Wanda Maximoff’s effect.

While we may not have the liberty to choose the path that Wanda decided to walk in the Multiverse of Madness, we surely can extract a sense of justice in  Wanda’s killing spree. You can call this extraction of justice misplaced, because it is. I am not advocating sadism, the notion that we can be joyous when villains kill individuals of the society that wronged us isn’t ethically in the white. But there is undeniably a feeling of satisfaction; the satisfaction of seeing a character who you have been rooting for the whole time, who was been wronged by people and/or destiny, and hurt those people back so as to advance towards a happier place.

Now, I’m not saying that I was happy about the fact that those innocent sorcerers at Kamar Taj, the Fantastic Four or Xavier died — I was happy because the character I saw myself in was winning — there was nothing ‘the world’ could do to stop her; only she could stop herself. Why do you think  Scarlet Witch stans are so crazy about her? Why do they defend her and worship her so superstitiously? Because it’s not Wanda Maximoff that they are worshiping, it’s her capacity to wreak havoc in a world that has wronged her — her ability to stand up and fight for what is rightfully hers, which in this case are her non-existent kids. That is how Wanda Maximoff becomes a symbol of revolt in a twisted way. The lengths to which she can go against the world are practically limitless and her chances of losing are almost nil.

Antagonizing Wanda was a big gamble. It could have worked out better or it could have worked out for the worst. Pitching her against the idea of the heteronormative world, i.e., the world that took everything from her, would have worked and it did to a certain extent, but in the process, it dashed her moral cognizance to the dirt.

Not only was she made to make the same mistake that she did in Westview, but her actions were far too violent and conscious to be pardoned this time. That was a blow to the scarlet-witch loving audience. In the end, she did become an object of pity and, even hate. There could have been plot-lines where her villainy arc  could have been more justified and even dignified — poor creative choice by Marvel, if you ask me.

On the other hand, if she would have again jumped the lane and become a ‘hero’, we perhaps might have lost the sizzle that her morally-ambiguous, personal disposition was bringing to her story. At the end of WandaVision, Wanda’s sacrifice, which only a handful of us are capable of understanding becomes an element of rejuvenation. Despite all the pain and evil that the world has laden on her, she still identifies as a ‘decent human’, a mother and a person who understands the consequences of her actions. Hence, she earns our respect and is redeemed. But what she does in Multiverse of madness is beyond restoration. Wanda understands that, and hence the suicide.

That anti-hero image is a huge part of what made Wanda appealing to the queer community.

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Adit is a literature student at Azim Premji University. When not buried under assignments, he enjoys reading into movies and Tv-shows and writing about queer sensibilities in queer and non-queer works of fiction. He's very enthusiastic about youth cultures and shifting pop-culture dynamics and is a huge fan of everything coffee.
Adit Chandrachud

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