This is why Disney hides ‘coded gay’ characters in its movies

How long as Disney been hiding gay characters in plain sight | Photo: Disney

A key piece of Hollywood history can explain why Disney hides gay characters in plain sight, according to National Student Pride’s podcast #QueerAF.

The podcast looks at why Disney chooses to have ‘coded gay,’ instead of openly gay characters.

And it’s all down to a 1930’s attempt to make Hollywood less sexy.

At the time, a motion pictures code was created. Known as the ‘Hayes code’ it was a set of moral guidelines for the film industry. It created rules for all films released in the USA.

Even though many producers pushed the boundaries of the code, it was in force until 1968.

And though some experts say its legacy lives on in Disney today, that might not always be a bad thing.

‘There was a general conservatism in Hollywood at the time,’ Dr Cynthia Carter tells the show. ‘But if you look at discussions across characters in Disney where there has been a clear sense of gay identification, we need to think about the effect it has on audiences.’

Governor Ratcliffe in Pocahontas is one of Disney's coded Gays | Photo: Disney
Governor Ratcliffe in Pocahontas is one of Disney’s coded Gays | Photo: Disney

Carter says people will take away different messages from the same content, because of their subjectivity. So she argues the impact of coded gays can be ‘overstated’ because we forget about their ability to understand messages.

Adding that it’s important to separate how we view coded gays, to how young people might.

Take Gay Star News’s own Joe Morgan as a prime example. On the show, he explains he watched a lot of Disney growing up. When he did, he was looking for queer subtext even when he didn’t realize he was:

‘I never really identified with the Princes and Princess like Aladin or Jasmin, but I loved the coded gay villains. From Scar in Lion King to Governor Ratcliffe in Pocahontas, the villains portray queerness, without saying they are.’

‘So while a lot of the coded gays were villains, which possibly did contribute to a negative perspective of LGBT people, as a gay person I was able to connect with them. And that was still representation.’

And that’s Dr Carter’s view too – sometimes coded gays aren’t always that bad.

An investigation inspired by High School Musical

The investigation was all inspired by the producer Dan Freeman’s afternoon procrastination with High School Music. We’ve all been there.

Beginning on a journey to find out whether uber-camp character Ryan Evans is actually gay – the podcast once and for all sets out the history behind Disney’s ‘coded gays.’

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or search ‘#QueerAF by National Student Pride’ in your podcast app.

But alongside with the investigation into Ryan Evans the ‘coded gay’ – Disney has recently introduced its first gay character into its Disney Channel programme, Andi Mack.

The announcement of that went viral – for the good and the bad. The show was even banned or taken down in many countries like Kenya and South Africa because of the gay character.

Gay Star News is a media supporter of National Student Pride. Gay Star Students sponsors Clifford Chance and Deloitte support coverage of the #QueerAF podcast.

Listen to more episodes of #QueerAF:

What is life like as a queer Muslim sex worker?