Marvel firsts: Eternals showcases deaf and South Asian superheroes, a gay kiss

Cast member Gemma Chan poses at the premiere for the film Eternals in Los Angeles, California, US on Oct 18, 2021. 
PHOTO: Reuters

LOS ANGELES - The new action movie Eternals features several milestones for Walt Disney Co's blockbuster Marvel universe, from its first deaf and South Asian superheroes to the first gay kiss.

The film arrives in US theatres on Friday (Nov 5) after delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and stars actors from around the globe, including Mexico, the United States, Britain, Ireland, South Korea, Lebanon, and India.

Angelina Jolie, who plays a warrior named Thena, said she hopes the diversity "starts to normalise what should have been there in the first place."

"I hope people watch these films in years to come and we don't even think about it as being diverse, it just becomes what's normal and what's right," Jolie told Reuters at the movie's red-carpet premiere in Hollywood.

Eternals tells the story of 10 immortal aliens, never before seen on the big screen, who have been separated for millennia but reunite to fight monstrous creatures known as Deviants.

The filmmakers and cast said it made sense for the Eternals to represent many walks of life.

"These characters have been here since the dawn of civilisation so, of course, they should represent the breadth and beauty of humanity ... It feels very natural," said British-Asian actress Gemma Chan, who plays the central role of Sersi, an Eternal who works at a museum in London.

Among other cast members are Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani portraying Kingo, the first South Asian hero in a Marvel film, and Mexican-born Salma Hayek who stars as Ajak, the Eternals' leader.

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When Brian Tyree Henry who plays Phastos, a master inventor who is gay, kisses his partner as they fear the world might end, audience members at the Hollywood premiere cheered and clapped.

"It's truly emotional and you can feel it," said Chinese-born director Chloe Zhao, who won an Oscar this year for Nomadland. 

"It's not just a physical kiss. These two people have intense feelings for each other and they're not afraid to show it."

Lauren Ridloff who plays Makkari, the first deaf superhero in a Marvel movie, said she believes filmgoers have grown more accustomed to a diversity of characters on screen.

"We went through the Black Lives Matter movement. We started having conversations about what true representation means, what inclusivity means," she said in American Sign Language. "The timing is perfect."