I’ve seen three reactions to the headline that Jack Whitehall is ‘playing the first gay Disney character‘:
One, why Jack Whitehall? A straight comic playing gay is one thing, but why this straight person in particular?
Second, good for him. If he’s an ‘actor’, he should be able to act any sexual identity.
Third, burn the whole film down now. Straight comics shouldn’t play gay, especially if the characters are described as ‘effete’ and ‘camp’. Give gay characters to gay actors.
I am here to tell you that this is not cause for concern. Mainly because I’m refusing to consider this part of the ‘gay Disney canon’.
Previous ‘gay Disney characters’
Disney controls 40% of the film industry. Following the acquisition of 20th Century Fox last month, the suits in Mickey Mouse ears now have a say over a lot of the entertainment business.
If we get a LGBTI character in Star Wars, Avengers or X-Men, you could technically argue this is a ‘gay Disney’ character.
Mystique, in the comics, has a long-standing relationship with a woman. Yes, she’s very different in the films. However, it hasn’t been expressly stated Mystique is ‘straight’ on film. So when Jennifer Lawrence stars in Dark Phoenix in February next year, is that not another LGBTI Disney character by this definition?
There are so many ‘gay Disney’ characters if we did accept this.
Eric Stonestreet, a straight actor, plays a gay dad in ABC’s Modern Family. The Fosters is about a family headed by a lesbian couple. Even in children’s TV, an episode of Disney channel sitcom Good Luck Charlie featured a same-sex couple.
No. Because we’re talking about visible representation of any member of the LGBTI community in a mainstream film.
And we can’t accept oblique hints anymore. It’s not good enough.
What the ‘gay representation’ might be in Jungle Cruise
I have zero hope Jack Whitehall will kiss a man on screen.
The ‘exclusively gay moment’ in 2017’s live-action Beauty and The Beast was, quite frankly, pointless and insulting.
During the final scene, the characters all dance. For the briefest of moments, Josh Gad’s LeFou dances with a man. Three seconds later, back to a wide shot, he’s seen dancing with a woman again.
This overwrought furore led to the film nearly being banned in Malaysia, among other places.
That’s what they called an ‘exclusively gay’ moment. It wasn’t. Two men dancing together is not ‘gay’.
Jack Whitehall is playing against Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in Jungle Cruise.
It’s so likely Jack will be playing a twee beta male with his British accent to Dwayne’s alpha American adventurer. I will be shocked if we get any more ‘gay moments’ than Jack’s character making a single comment about The Rock’s bod. Just please don’t let it be followed by some awful gay panic attempt at a joke.
It probably will do more damage than the supposed ‘good’ of the representation. I’m cringing already.
Why is Disney so scared of real gay characters?
There are of course many reasons why Disney won’t go further than these ‘gay moments’, and it’s because of money.
They’re terrified of backlash in China, the film industry’s second biggest market. They’re also nervous of alienating the average cinema-goers in middle America.
LGBTI people continue to go see Disney films, whether it be Star Wars or Marvel – without LGBTI representation. So why change history when you can keep saving dollars?
What I want to see is LGBTI representation in what we truly mean by a ‘Disney’ film. I’m talking about the animated classics, the mainstays of family entertainment.
And I’m not the only one. In the trailer for Wreck It Ralph 2, Disney princesses are all in the same room together. I’ve seen so much chatter on social media. Why is Anna from Frozen and Merida from Brave wearing matching flannel? What is intended by Mulan’s so-called ‘masculine’ stance as she relaxes on the bean bag?
Give us real LGBTI representation on film, Disney
Give me an actual gay Disney prince or princess. I wouldn’t even care if it was an out gay villain.
Writers in the 90s put ‘coded’ gay characters in many of the films.
Would The Little Mermaid have been so different if Ursula had an ex-girlfriend? Scar didn’t have any cubs in The Lion King when he displaced Mufasa. Why not say the reason is because he’s gay? Timon and Pumbaa could have easily snuggled up together to go to sleep in a short scene. Would it have changed the film that much?
Call me a cynic but I don’t have much hope that Jungle Cruise will be a big success. Some might say that it’s based on a theme park ride, like Pirates of the Caribbean, so it’ll be a hit with audiences. Well, Tomorrowland was also based on a ride and that flopped badly.
Disney has to think carefully about this. Entertainment shapes children’s minds, it gives them ideas and concepts to prepare them for the wider world. For thousands of kids, this could be the first time they see a ‘gay’ person on screen.
Don’t confirm my fears the character’s sexuality will just be a bad joke.
Joe Morgan is the editor-at-large at Gay Star News. Follow him on Twitter.