Disney’s history with queer representation on-screen is, diplomatically, dicey at best. The company’s slow arc toward introducing LGBTQIA+ characters in major roles and tentpole films has laid the groundwork for eventual substance, but here and now, they’re mostly half steps—half steps that, more often than not, are more embarrassing than they are meaningfully progressive.
Disney is by no means the only company that comes off looking bad during Pride every June—there’s a reason “Rainbow Capitalism” has become a snarkily accurate read on major brands rainbow-coating their social media profiles and calling it a job well done for the month. But Disney looks particularly egregious celebrating because, well, all year ‘round it otherwise does the barest of minimums to incorporate LGBTQIA+ stories and characters in its biggest material, leaving them on the cutting room floor or slight enough to be edited out of movies to better appeal to bigoted markets that Disney would otherwise love to see some money out of. And so, this Pride, here’s eight of the queer characters the House of Mouse has somehow managed to herald as major “Firsts” for the studio—ranked by just how embarrassingly minor steps they actually were for one of the biggest entertainment corporations in the world.
[Editor’s Note: We’ve updated this article on 10/19/2021 to include Marvel’s introduction of a queer character in Eternals. It was originally published on 6/3/2021.]
2 / 10
Is it good? I mean, it’s fine. Is it not that embarrassing because Disney didn’t pat itself on the back in a round of press about how progressive it is for including two queer-coded moms in the background of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene? Definitely. Did straight people get mad anyway? Oh, absolutely.
3 / 10
Artie is never explicitly depicted as queer in Disney’s new villain origin story, which made all the hubbub that he was the latest “First” gay character at the studio all rather silly. This is tempered, at least, by the fact that he’s played by out actor John McCrea, who performed the character and read him as queer regardless of the text. Perhaps maybe the closest Disney has come to not putting its Mickey-shaped foot in its mouth about LGBTQ representation in its big-screen output.
4 / 10
Given that we once again gave Jack Whitehall’s character the ballyhooed “First Gay!!!” press round earlier this year in spite of it releasing after all these other attempts (thanks, global pandemic!) Disney should probably still be embarrassed a little bit, at least. That and the fact it took three trailers for him to get a line of dialogue, but Whitehall’s McGregor at least getting a scene that humanized his relationship with his sister because of the fact she didn’t abandon him for being queer like the rest of his family—even if the scene did dance around saying the word “gay”—was actually pretty solid, if fleeting. Disney should probably be more embarrassed by the colonialist overtones his white suit and Panama hat convey in the context of everything else Jungle Cruise has got going on, aesthetically. Hooray, queer people can be imperialists too!
5 / 10
We’ll get to Marvel’s own awkward history of acknowledging queer characters a bit later, but suffice to say, it’s not ideal that they somehow managed to get two entries here. After years of lip service from the studio, Chloé Zhao’s new movie gives us Brian Tyree Henry’s long-living Eternals hero Phastos. He’s an openly queer man with a husband, who even gets to share the first same-sex kiss in Marvel’s decade-plus history of filmmaking, and even a son. And that’s it! He gets to be normal when not punching up giant monsters from outer space! How lovely. (No, seriously, this is good.)
The problem here is that Marvel has been making films in the MCU for over a decade now, and executives have spent a good portion of that decade acting like they haven’t had the power to include LGBTQ characters as more than either a future promise down the line or a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it attempt to get a pat on the back. Phastos may just be “the start,” as Producer Kevin Feige told Variety at the Eternals premiere, but that’s far from respectable or laudable when Marvel Studios has 26 movies and 4 streaming shows (and many, many more on the way) under its belt already.
6 / 10
On the surface, last year’s fantasy road trip Onward’s brief moment of queerness might not seem that bad, if only because it’s so brief. Officer Spector, played by out lesbian Lena Waithe, makes a passing mention of her wife in her short appearance in the movie. And that’s it! Congratulations on the bare minimum. That said: no cops at pride, cyclops or otherwise.
7 / 10
Ah, a tale as old as time. It really does just feel like yesterday when we were promised the live-action Beauty and the Beast’s “exclusively gay moment,” only to be given Josh Gad dancing with another man in a tiny fragment of the film’s climactic dance sequence. We were so innocent, so pure. Only so embarrassed at Disney. How time has changed. Maybe he’ll be queerer in that Gaston spinoff?
8 / 10
We’ve talked about this frequently in the past, but god, it still sucks, doesn’t it? Ever since John Boyega and Oscar Isaac’s Finn and Poe swapped jackets and lip-bit their way to the galaxy far, far away’s hottest ship this side of the Incom T-65 X-Wing, Star Wars fans have wanted to see some gays in space. And Disney promised they were coming… and promised… and waited… and waited… And then we got maybe the most heteronormative Star Wars film ever made, The Rise of Skywalker. J.J. Abrams spent part of the pre-release press tour shutting down any chance of Finn or Poe being queer in the film while promising something, and then we got a tiny kiss between a character with maybe five lines of dialogue across the sequel trilogy and her pilot wife so inconsequential she didn’t even get a first name unless you read the movie’s tie-in dictionary. An embarrassment for a universe that has a long history of tiny, tiny half-steps.
9 / 10
And here we are: 10 years of Marvel slowly learning how to bring some of its zaniest comic book concepts to the big screen and make them global blockbuster megahits, you’d think a queer person would be easy. Alas, after the Brothers Russo patted themselves on the back in Endgame’s pre-release press tours that they had brought the first on-screen explicitly gay character to the MCU—after some fumbles along the way—we got… one of those Russos playing an unnamed civilian at a therapy group talking about going on a date. Egregious enough as it was that this was more an indulgent directorial cameo than an actual step forward for onscreen queer representation in the Marvel universe, it was made worse when Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige emerged in the wake of the movie—after that pre-release back-patting—to say that, actually, Marvel never intended the cameo to be “a big deal” and maybe it was our fault for wanting them to not half-ass it. Like most things about Avengers: Endgame, it just got worse the more people involved with it actually spoke about it.
They’re getting better. Maybe. In the near future. TBD, TBD. But that’s the future. We’re here with a Russo in the now, and god that’s just the worst.
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10 / 10