In a move that will likely come as little surprise to anyone, Marvel has announced that Ru Paul’s Drag Race star Jaren Kyei Merrell – better known by their stage name Shea Couleé – has officially been added to the cast of the studio’s upcoming Disney Plus series and Phase 5 gamble Ironheart.
As first confirmed by Entertainment Weekly on August 3rd, Couleé will be joining the Marvel NOW!-inspired television outing in an as-of-yet-unidentified role as a series regular.
However, while Marvel is keeping tight-lipped on role details for now, some have speculated that Couleé may debut as drag queen superhero Darkveil, given both the studio’s recent introduction of mutants to the MCU of and the fact that the performer – who rose to prominence after becoming a finalist in the seventh season of Ru Paul’s eponymous reality competition – served as a direct visual inspiration for the character.
First introduced in 2018 Iceman vol. 4 #4 before being quickly relegated to background cameo appearances, Darkveil is a mutant who possesses the ability to manipulate the Darkforce – the same energy which fuels the abilities of such fellow Marvel characters as Cloak, Vanisher, and even Mr. Negative – to create ‘pocket voids’ which can be used for teleportation.
Following the character’s introduction to the 616, Darkveil co-creator Sina Grace revealed during an interview with the Ru Paul’s Drag Race-centric news outlet The WOW Report that the mutant’s appearance “was inspired by so many drag queens.”
Citing a number of Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestants, Grace explained, “I’ve kinda been officially quoted as saying that Shea Couleé , Dax Exclamation Point, The Vixen, and Monet XChange were my main go-tos [but] Honestly, I just wondered what my sister’s friend Jomar would look like as a superhero, cuz he was the first “gay person” I’d really gotten to know as a kid, and had the body of a man who wasn’t “fit,” wasn’t “fat,” which I felt was super important to put on the page.
“Like, I loves me some Naomi Smalls, but I wanted a full-bodied queen,” he said. “ I designed the outfit thinking, ‘what kind of iconic [look] would she serve at an X-Men-sponsored event? Pouches, X-belts galore!’”
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Notably, Couleé’s surprise casting comes just four months after Disney CEO Bob Chapek, in response to criticism of his initial decision to keep the company out of the debate surrounding Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, declared that he would become an “outspoken champion” for the LGBTQ+ community.
“To my fellow colleagues, but especially our LGBTQ+ community, Thank you to all who have reached out to me sharing your pain, frustration and sadness over the company’s response to the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill,” wrote Chapek in an company-wide email sent this past March. “Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was.”
“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights,” he apologized. “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry,”
Chapek continued, “Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good. I agree. Yes, we need to use our influence to promote that good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all.”
The CEO then declared that “Starting immediately, we are increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states.”
“We are hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values,” he assured his critics, before further announcing that the House of Mouse would immediately begin “pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review.”
“But, I know there is so much more work to be done,” said Chapek. “I am committed to this work and to you all, and will continue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community so that I can become a better ally.”
“You will hear more about our progress in the coming weeks,” he asserted. “I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community.”
Ultimately, the Disney boss concluded, “I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on—and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve.”
Though an official release date for the Ironheart series has yet to be confirmed, the titular character is set to make her first MCU appearance this November in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.