One of the largest and most profitable studios in the world, Walt Disney is also the most recognizable, with a massive global brand expanding beyond just films. The company has focused on family entertainment since the release of their first film Snow White in 1937, and is still the leading voice in that genre. The company currently distributes under several imprints including Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, DisneyNature, Pixar animation studios, Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, and Touchstone Pictures. In March of this year, the Walt Disney Studios officially acquired 21st Century Fox, along with select other Fox film and television properties in a $71.3 billion dollar deal. When the deal was finalized, Disney acquired several film assets under 21st including 20th Century Fox, 20th Century Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios, Fox Studios Australia, and Fox Searchlight, and Fox 2000 Pictures. It was initially announced that Disney would keep Fox 2000 Pictures running, the production company which did Love, Simon, but it has since been announced the label will shutter in October 2019.
Walt Disney Studios has the weakest history when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion of all the studios tracked in this report. Touchstone Pictures has released some 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 love for another male peer. The film never received an official release in Japan due to protests, and was released in the U.S. under Warner Brothers. Some of Disney’s past inclusive films include Delivery Man (2013), Lady Gaga playing herself in Muppets Most Wanted (2014), and LeFou in Beauty and the Beast (2017).
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Vito Russo Test: Fail
Widest theatrical release: 4,381 theaters
No LGBTQ characters have been introduced to the Star Wars films, and Solo: A Star Wars Story is no exception. There has been speculation about the character of Lando Calrissian, a notorious flirt who many fans read as queer. When asked by The Huffington Post if Lando was pansexual, co-writer Jonathan Kasdan said, “I would say yes. There’s a fluidity to Donald and Billy Dee’s [portrayal of Lando’s] sexuality. I mean, I would have loved to have gotten a more explicitly LGBT character into this movie. I think it’s time, certainly, for that, and I love the fluidity ― sort of the spectrum of sexuality that Donald appeals to and that droids are a part of.”
When viewing the film separate from that quote, this possible sexual fluidity only comes up in terms of Lando potentially being attracted to a female droid. Though there are subtextual moments between Lando and Han Solo that could be interpreted as flirtatious, that alone is not enough to distinguish the character as queer. A man being attracted to droids does not make him pansexual, and we hope future Star Wars films will present an LGBTQ character that is actually explicitly queer on screen, not merely discussed in outside press interviews. The most important part of Kasdan’s quote is not Lando’s “fluidity,” it is that it is time for an LGBTQ Star Wars character. There are several in the Star Wars books if the creators need some inspiration from which to draw.
With the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, Disney has plenty of opportunities to introduce LGBTQ characters from the source comic books into its film franchise. The Eternals, upcoming from Marvel, has been reported to be looking for an out gay actor to play a gay superhero. Further details are under wraps and Marvel has yet to confirm the story themselves, but having an out superhero in a Marvel film would be a huge step forward for representation and is long overdue for the MCU. In April, the record-breaking Avengers: Endgame introduced the first gay character in the MCU, a small role in one scene played by director Joe Russo. Hopefully this can be a stepping stone to out superheroes leading Marvel franchises. Black Panther director Ryan Coogler has signed on for a sequel film, and this should include the romantic relationship between Dora Milaje members Ayo and Aneka. Their story was specifically explored in the GLAAD Media Award-winning spin off Black Panther: World of Wakanda, and the two have continued to appear in the ongoing Black Panther books. A possible Captain Marvel sequel could easily introduce audiences to lesbian Latina superhero America Chavez, who works closely with Captain Marvel in certain runs of the comics as teammates on both the A-Force and Ultimates.
Other upcoming Disney projects include The Jungle Cruise, an adventure film set in the 1930s based on the popular theme park ride, starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. It has been reported through tabloids that Blunt’s character’s brother will be a gay man named McGregor played by straight British comedian Jack Whitehall, and that the character will play a big role in the adventure. The film was originally set for release this fall, but has now been pushed to July 2020. Hopefully, Disney will be using this time to make sure McGregor’s storyline has adequate depth and agency following the backlash they received when sources leaked a description of the character as “hugely effete, very camp and funny.”
Disney continues to be the leading distributor of films aimed at young audiences. LGBTQ people are part of the world that young people know – whether being LGBTQ themselves, having LGBTQ friends, or being the child of queer parents. Films that are meant to address this audience must reflect that and include LGBTQ characters and stories. Disney has begun to portray LGBTQ stories on television with Andi Mack, Doc McStuffins, and have already announced some upcoming LGBTQ-inclusive programming on the streaming service Disney+ set to launch this fall, but the studio needs to start carrying that inclusion through into their animated and family films. Luckily, they have two great films for this audience already in development with Lumberjanes and Goldie Vance which Disney inherited in their acquisition of Fox. This is a huge opportunity for Disney to take a step forward and be a leader in the space.