Disney Say Gay!

A drawn family with two fathers holding their two children.
From pixabay.com at https://pixabay.com/illustrations/family-same-sex-parents-children-6686922/

By Travis Gray
Florida passed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” on March 28, 2022, limiting the discussion of gender and sexuality in K-3rd grade. This is troubling for a multitude of reasons. Will children be able to talk about their two mommies or daddies? It has also drawn back the proverbial curtain, exposing many companies who have put support towards the bill. In the wake of the bill, it was revealed that Disney was financially backing politicians who were pushing the bill forward. This has sparked controversy and anger from various LGBTQ+ people, and it doesn’t help that Disney has a rough track record with LGBTQ+ representation in their content. Since then, waves of animators, writers, and development staff have started to come forward with their experiences with the diversity censorship they have dealt with working with Disney.

[Note: Potential spoilers for various content and shows, including Owl House, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Eternals etc.]

In the past few years, there has been a steady increase in LGBTQ+ characters in shows and movies. In DreamWorks’ 2018 animated show, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, they revealed multiple queer characters and featured two gay relationships. In Marvel’s 2021 movie, Eternals, one of the main male characters is shown to have a husband and son; this relationship is pictured many times throughout the film and is this character’s driving force in his actions. In Disney’s ongoing animated series called The Owl House, the main character, Luz, begins a relationship with another girl, Amity, who had been shown to have a crush on Luz during the first season.
All these examples are wins for diversity and the LGBTQ+ community, but the thing is, the creators of these shows have had to fight tooth and nail to get an ounce of this representation in. ND Stevenson (he/she/they) who developed DreamWorks’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, also created a comic by the name of Nimona. In 2015, it was picked up by the studio Blue Sky, owned by Fox at the time and then bought by Disney, and was heading for the big screen! Two characters from the graphic novel, Ballister Blackheart and Ambrosius Goldenloin, share a romantic relationship. It was reported that they were going to have a ‘same sex kiss’ in the movie. Unfortunately, “Blue Sky leadership eventually showed reels to staffers that included the kiss, the sources said, but the studio was shut down soon after.” The defense at the time was that COVID-19 caused the halt and shutdown of the studio… but, the movie was reportedly 75% done. Plus, execs disapproving of queer representation doesn’t help their case. I personally think this sets up a case against Disney for shutting down Nimona for having LGBTQ+ representation, and that’s an injustice we shouldn’t let slide.

Dana Terrance’s (she/her) The Owl House was an amazing hit when the first season came out. To this day, it still has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The first season was a hit, they already had the second season done, and were hoping for a third. Unfortunately, the show has received backlash for focusing on witchcraft, ‘evil,’ and demons. Given that one of the main characters, King–a fluffy creature with a skull on his head-touts himself as the “King of All Demons,” I can see where they may start to draw those conclusions. It does handle a lot of darker themes, it’s specifically categorized as a ‘comedy horror,’ and Dana Terrance says she thinks one of the reasons for its downfall was that it appealed to a little bit of an older audience than most cartoons do. There has been a lot of backlash from these same circles for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ identities; one of Luz’s friends has two dads, and in the second season, a nonbinary character who uses they/them pronouns is introduced. Dana said she was never given a chance to have a 4th season, and that it felt like Disney was just trying to get the show off the air. She fought hard for the inclusion of queer representation, and all she got was two seasons, not to mention pressure to wrap up the story in just three 44-minute episodes in the final ‘season.’

The creativity of LGBTQ creators is the backbone of Disney productions. From newer creators like Raven-Symoné, Dana Terrance, Jonathan Groff, and more, recent history has shown that queerness runs in Disney’s blood. Howard Ashman was an amazing musician who created many beautiful songs (“Under the Sea,” “Part of Your World,” and “Kiss the Girl” for The Little Mermaid, “Beauty and the Beast,” “Belle,” and “Be Our Guest” for Beauty and the Beast, and “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin.) for Disney’s movies, was also Disney’s saving grace. He was a big creative mind behind the production of The Little Mermaid and at that time, he was dying from AIDS. It is entirely disrespectful of Disney to cast aside queer people when so many creators who helped this company find success were queer themselves.

Disney has been improving, but evidence of their practices remains. Alex Hirsh, creator of Gravity Falls and Dana Terrance’s partner, provided this tweet,

where he elaborates how his show was restricted from showing LGBT+ representation. We have made great strides, but as we have seen with The Owl House‘s cancellation… there is more going on behind closed doors than we get to see. I hope that whatever Dana Terrance and others working at Disney, Pixar, and other animation studios can continue to make great content that represents a wide range of folks through various fantastical stories. We deserve to see ourselves on screen!

[UPDATE: As of April 11th 2022, Nimona was picked up by Netflix to be released in 2023! Read more here.]

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