Of the major U.S. film studios, Walt Disney Studios may be the most recognizable, with a well-defined brand identity that has spread across the globe. Certainly, if asked, most Americans could name several Disney titles, as many have left a lasting impression since childhood. In fact, since the first Disney feature film in 1937 (Snow White), family entertainment has been a primary focus for the company that continues to this day.
Many of Disney’s most famous distribution imprints are best known for animated features, including Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, and the Japan-based Studio Ghibli, for which Disney holds U.S. and international distribution rights. On the live action side, the imprints include Walt Disney Pictures, Disneynature, Lucasfilm (best known for the Star Wars saga), and Touchstone Pictures. Disney also recently acquired Marvel Studios, with whom it released the summer blockbuster The Avengers in 2012.
Of all the studios tracked in this report, Walt Disney Studios has the weakest historical record when it comes to LGBT-inclusive films. Touchstone Pictures, however, has released a small handful of films with LGBT characters over the years, including the British comedic drama Kinky Boots (2006), Tim Burton’s biopic of cross-dressing director Ed Wood (1994), and romantic comedies Sweet Home Alabama (2002) and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003). Perhaps most impressively, in 1985 Lucasfilm produced the film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which wove together passages from gay Japanese writer Yukio Mishima’s autobiography with parts of his fictional novels, including his secret love for a peer at school. The film was never officially released in Japan following conservative protests over its portrayal of Mishima as a gay man. It was distributed in the U.S. by Warner Brothers.
In 2015, Walt Disney Studios released 11 films, of which 0 included appearances by LGBT people, amounting to 0%.
For the first time since beginning this report, GLAAD did not find any LGBT-inclusive content among Disney’s yearly slate of films. As recent successful animated films and TV programs have shown (Oscar-nominated ParaNorman, Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe), LGBT people appearing in “all-ages” programming – animated or not – is not the impossible notion it once was. LGBT people are already part of families and communities around the world, and film of all genres should reflect that.
As sci-fi projects have the special opportunity to create unique worlds whose advanced societies can serve as a commentary on our own, the most obvious place where Disney could include LGBT characters is in the upcoming eighth Star Wars film. 2015’s The Force Awakens has introduced a new and diverse central trio, which allows the creators opportunity to tell fresh stories as they develop their backstory. Recent official novels in the franchise featured lesbian and gay characters that could also be easily written in to the story.