It’s been a breakout year for Haaz Sleiman. Since he came out in 2017, the Nurse Jackie star has appeared in several productions that tackle his intersectional identities of gay and Muslim. Notably, his episode of Apple TV+’s anthology series Little America, “The Son,” received a 2021 GLAAD Media Award for its moving portrayal of a queer Syrian seeking asylum in the United States. He also starred in Breaking Fast, the critically acclaimed romantic comedy centered on a same-sex interfaith relationship.
Sadly, the pandemic prevented Breaking Fast from showing in theaters on the festival circuit. But in November, Sleiman will be returning to the big screen in one of the world’s largest franchises: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He will appear in Eternals as the husband of Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), who will be the first out gay superhero in the MCU. Directed by Oscar winner Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), the film centers on a group of immortals who band together to save humanity. It features an all-star cast that includes Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, and Kit Harington.
As if that distinction weren’t super enough, Henry and Sleiman will also make cinematic history as same-sex parents with a child in the production. And they kiss on-screen — an MCU first as well. Sleiman is over the moon to make such a mark on Marvel, whose new productions are committed to expanding the diversity of its characters. Historically, LGBTQ+ representation has been fleeting or nonexistent from the Disney subsidiary.
“I feel lucky, and I’m grateful. And…I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I feel like Marvel, they were very smart to cast me in it because I got to humanize the hell out of it. I got to humanize an LGBTQ+ family and show how beautiful they are,” Sleiman says of his groundbreaking role.
A positive portrayal of a rainbow family is a rare event in mainstream cinema. As such, Sleiman looks forward to not only shattering stereotypes in front of a global audience but also demonstrating how queer people excel at parenting. “I think queer families, personally, are way healthier than regular families, in my opinion,” he says. “We stay together and there’s so much love.”
Indeed, recent studies have shown that same-sex couples tend to have happier marriages than their different-sex counterparts. And kids raised by LGBTQ+ couples also perform better academically.
For Sleiman, Eternals is just the latest in a slew of tentpole productions that are revolutionizing and pushing for positive portrayals of LGBTQ+ people in the media. He points to the Oscar-winning Moonlight and Boy Erased, the Lucas Hedges starrer about conversion therapy, as other films moving the needle.
“We’re evolving,” asserts Sleiman, who notes advances like marriage equality but also the progress seen in three-dimensional characters and nuanced storylines on-screen. “The most exciting thing is the stories that are being told in television and film about LGBTQ people,” he says, adding, “A lot of TV shows are being more thoughtful about portraying queer people in a more fuller way, not so one-dimensional or very stereotype[d].”
“Things that have never happened before are starting to happen.”
This story is part of Out's 2021 Design issue, which is out on newsstands October 5, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.