One of the largest and most-profitable studios in the country, Walt Disney is also the most recognizable, with a massive global brand presence. Since Snow White, Disney’s first feature film in 1937, the company has focused primarily on family entertainment. In December 2017, the Walt Disney Company announced their proposed acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s film studio, as well as several other divisions of the company. The deal is expected to close in 2019, dependent on regulatory approval.
Walt Disney Studios has the weakest history when it comes to LGBTQ-inclusive films of all the studios tracked in this report. Touchstone Pictures has released a smattering of LGBTQ-inclusive films over the years including Ed Wood (1994), Sweet Home Alabama (2002), Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), and Kinky Boots (2006). Lucasfilm produced the film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which told the story of gay Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, by combining his autobiography with parts of his fiction novels, which includes his secret love for another male peer. The film never got an official release in Japan due to conservative protests, and was released in the U.S. under Warner Brothers. Some of Disney’s past inclusive films include Delivery Man (2013), Lady Gaga appearing as herself in Muppets Most Wanted (2014), and Zootopia (2016).
Beauty and the Beast
Passes Vito Russo Test
Widest theatrical release: 4,210 theaters
Last year’s live action remake of Disney’s legendary Beauty and the Beast made box office records as the biggest March opening of all time and included a gay character in LeFou (Josh Gad). Though his happy ending may be only a small moment in the film, it remains a huge leap forward for the film industry which still is leaving LGBTQ people out of the story.
LeFou has slightly more development in this live action version than he did in the original animated movie. While he does spend the first half of the film as the foppish sidekick of Gaston who is completely enamored of him, it is made clear throughout that he feels uncomfortable with the villainous lengths Gaston is willing to go to. As the film’s action packed ending approaches, LeFou finally confronts the fact that Gaston will never return his feelings and he does the right thing, teaming with Mrs. Potts to help protect the castle and its inhabitants from the rioting villagers. He tells her that he and Gaston are in a bad place, and she assures him he is “too good for him anyway,” freeing LeFou to be able to move on and in the film’s final number he shares a brief dance and glance with another man who seems to return his interest.
Kids see LGBTQ couples and families in their everyday lives — their moms and dads, their teachers and neighbors, their uncles, aunts, and beloved grandparents. Disney’s decision to reflect that reality and bring this remake into the present day by including a gay character is a welcome (if small) sign of progress. We hope to see more studios take the same step – and explore further – in future.
Fails Vito Russo Test
Widest theatrical release: 3,987 theaters
Pixar’s Oscar-winning animated film follows young musician Miguel as he accidentally stumbles into the Land of the Dead, and must get his family’s blessing to leave. There, Miguel meets Hector, who is initially dressed in disguise as legendary bisexual artist Frida Kahlo in an attempt to sneak out to the human world. A skeletal version of Frida herself shows up later in the film while working on a performance art piece. Though Frida was bisexual, nothing in the film’s fictional rendering reflected that reality. The situation is further confused as she is juxtaposed as a legend next to the fictional singer that Miguel has come to speak to, Ernesto de la Cruz. Given the lack of any on-screen confirmation of her identity and unique situation as the lone real figure painted on to this fictionalized world, GLAAD did not count the character in its tally. Kahlo has an incredibly interesting life story, and we’ve love to see her life explored further in other projects.
The out writer/co-director and out producer both spoke of the importance of representation during their Oscars speeches, and backstage when questioned about including LGBTQ characters in Pixar films said, “That’s a dream […] all of us would be very excited to have characters like that represented as a protagonist role.” We also hope to see this in Disney films, especially as their television side has begun to introduce queer characters like Cyrus on Disney Channel’s Andi Mack and included two moms in an episode of Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Fails Vito Russo Test
Widest theatrical release: 4,347 theaters
Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 director James Gunn was asked during the film’s red carpet premiere if he would consider including a gay character in the franchise and he responded, “We might have already done that. I say watch the movie. Check it out. See what you think,” hinting that there would be some kind of noticeable queer content in the film. After fans and critics struggled to find any LGBTQ characters, Gunn clarified, “You know, somebody asked me will there be any gay characters in Marvel movies, and what I meant was there’s a lot of characters in the MCU and very few of them have we delved into what their sexualities are – whether it’s gay or straight or bisexual. We don’t really know. So, I imagine there are probably gay characters in the Marvel Universe, you know. We just don’t know who they are yet.” There is no discernible LGBTQ content in the film, but Gunn has already confirmed there will be a Guardians 3. This is a prime opportunity to include telepath Moondragon and her girlfriend Phyla-Vell in the new film. Both women had major roles in the source material for the MCU films.
Since beginning our Studio Responsibility Index five years ago, the sum total of representation that GLAAD has counted in Disney’s Marvel films are seconds-long cameos of out news anchor Thomas Roberts appearing as himself in The Avengers (2012) and Iron Man 3 (2013).
There are so many strong LGBTQ-inclusive comics that GLAAD extended the number of nominees in the GLAAD Media Awards’ Outstanding Comic Book category from five to ten in recognition of the quantity and quality of stories we are seeing. On the television side, superhero shows regularly include LGBTQ characters and have been a hit with fans. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore that LGBTQ people remain almost completely shut out of Hollywood’s big budget comic book films that have dominated the box office over the past several years.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Fails Vito Russo Test
Widest theatrical release: 4,232 theaters
The second film in the newest Star Wars trilogy, The Last Jedi follows new and returning characters in the rebellion against the dark side. One of the new characters introduced is Admiral Holdo, who is hinted at as being bisexual in the official Star Wars novels, but that storyline is not expanded upon nor really mentioned in the film. Additionally, several online outlets pointed out a moment between two male Porgs, Puffin-like creatures that live on an island in the film. The moment itself is a brief nuzzle, and is not an indication of the sexuality of these animals. The amount of coverage this moment garnered and the continued fervor around queer relationships by fans – and the other, more serious calls for this franchise to become more inclusive of diversity on all levels – shows how much hunger there is on the part of Star Wars fans to see themselves in this universe they love so much. It is not enough to limit these stories to the pages of expository novels that many fans will not find, LGBTQ stories deserve to be included on the big screen as well.
Fails Vito Russo Test
Widest theatrical release: 4,080 theaters
The third and presumably final film – if Thor follows the examples of Iron Man and Captain America – in Thor’s solo series, Ragnarok included two prominent characters who are bisexual and gay respectively in the Marvel source comics: Valkyrie and Korg. However, this film disappointingly did not include any references to their identities or love interests, and as such, audiences would have no clue they were seeing queer characters unless they had read outside press or the source material stories. As there were no in film references, GLAAD did not count either character in its final tally.
Valkyrie actor Tessa Thompson has told press that she played her character as queer and believed that her warrior sister who is killed in front of her in a flashback was Valkyrie’s lover, thus explaining her deep drinking and grief. However, none of this is actually made canon in the film. Following Thompson’s pitch of Valkyrie as bisexual based on her character’s on-page relationships, director Taika Waititi (who also played Korg) filmed a scene in which a woman was seen coming out of Valkyrie’s bedroom, but ultimately the scene was cut so as not to “distract from the scene’s vital exposition.” While Thompson deserves praise for fighting for the inclusion of Valkyrie’s bi identity – particularly as a new face to the MCU and in a position where she was presumably taking a risk as she could have been replaced – it is disappointing that Marvel chose to not explore Valkyrie’s story or Korg’s history.
In 2015, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was widely quoted as saying “there’s no reason” they couldn’t include an LGBTQ character in the MCU “in the next decade or sooner.” Hopefully, it is sooner.
With the upcoming Marvel slate, there are plenty of opportunities to introduce LGBTQ characters into the films that are queer in the comics. The upcoming Captain Marvel could be an introduction to lesbian Latina superhero America Chavez who works closely with Captain Marvel in certain comics as teammates on the A-Force and Ultimates. America will be part of the animated digital series Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors this year, so it seems Marvel is investing in her in a big way. This would be the perfect opportunity to get her story out to a mass audience. The likely Black Panther sequel should include the romantic relationship between Dora Milaje members Ayo and Aneka. Their story was explored in the GLAAD Media Award-winning spin off Black Panther: World of Wakanda and the two – alongside Dora Milaje leader Okoye – are set for a summer three-issue miniseries. Hopefully this increased focus on them in Marvel pages will translate to the big screen. Further, if Valkyrie appears in the upcoming final Avengers movie, her bisexuality should actually be represented onscreen rather than left to subtext that is only caught by those looking for it.