Benedict Wong Defends Teenage 'Doctor Strange' Star Against Homophobic Harassment

Newcomer Xochitl Gomez is facing social media abuse after the sequel was banned in Saudi Arabia due to her character's LGBTQ references.
Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in a scene from "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." (Marvel Studios via AP)
Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in a scene from "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." (Marvel Studios via AP)

Surely, in some other universe a teenager isn’t being subjected to online abuse by adult fans of a superhero franchise.

But, alas, in this consistently disappointing one, the 16-year-old star of “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness,” Xochitl Gomez, has become the target of a harassment campaign due to LGBTQ references to her character in the upcoming blockbuster.

Gomez plays the multiverse-hopping America Chavez in the Marvel sequel, which was banned in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere after Disney refused to cut dialogue of the young superhero referencing her lesbian mothers. The character is canonically lesbian in the movie’s comic source material.

“It’s a big deal that America is in this movie. It’s just huge. And I’m just so happy that Marvel has stuck to it and kept the scene in there,” Gomez told Asia One during a recent press tour interview. “And it’s just pretty crazy that I get to be the one who plays America. Although, yes, my name may be circled within hate and stuff, but it’s okay.”

When Benedict Wong, who plays the sorcerer Wong in the film franchise, caught wind that his young co-star was on the receiving end of social media vitriol, he jumped in to defend her.

“It’s not okay. It’s not okay,” Wong said “without missing a beat,” according to Asia One. “We have to all collectively understand that. … She auditioned aged 13 and she joined us aged 14, one of the youngest actors to join the MCU of a film of that magnitude. You know, she’s just a young girl playing her role and full praise for that.”

“There’s a real level of shame for all those trolls that are cowards not to actually put their face [out there], and they should feel a deep shame of what they’re doing,” Wong added. “Let’s all just play nice. Let’s all just enjoy what we are representing. It’s sad that fans in that country won’t get to see this. But all we are doing is radiating representation, voicing the voiceless. And that’s all that we can do — represent people so that they can be seen.”

In recent weeks, Gomez’s Instagram has been inundated with messages from trolls lashing out over the studio’s decision not to excise LGBTQ content from the film. Many personally blamed the actor.

The “Doctor Strange” sequel is not the first Marvel film to face challenges abroad. The studio’s 2021 “The Eternals” was pulled from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait over a kiss between Brian Tree Henry’s character Phastos and his on-screen husband played by Haaz Sleiman ― the first same-sex lip-lock in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Despite the backlash, Gomez said that she was immensely proud to become the first LGBTQ Latina superhero in the ever-expanding and diversifying film franchise.

“I understand that certain lands have certain rules and I live in a land where our rules are that of inclusion,” Gomez told Deadline at the premiere this week. “And we will continue to fight for inclusion in every place, city, and state so that every kid that doesn’t see themselves can at least see a tiny little bit of who they can become.”

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