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 produces under several imprints including Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, DisneyNature, Pixar Animation Studios, Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, and Touchstone Pictures. In March of 2019, 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 acquisition was complete, Disney took ownership of several film assets under 21st including 20th Century Fox, 20th Century Fox Animation, Fox Studios Australia, and Fox Searchlight, and shuttered other studios including Fox 2000 and Blue Sky Animation. In January 2020, Disney renamed the studio from 20th Century Fox to 20th Century Studios and distributes those films under Walt Disney Studios. Fox Searchlight was renamed to Searchlight Pictures and operates as an indie distribution unit as a subsidiary of Disney. Disney launched their streaming service Disney+ in November 2019, and since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, has been experimenting with film releases on the service in lieu of or alongside theatrical release.
Walt Disney Studios has a weak history when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion compared to other 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 man. The film never received an official release in Japan due to protests, and was released in the U.S. under Warner Bros. Some of Disney’s past inclusive films include Delivery Man (2013), Muppets Most Wanted (2014), and Beauty and the Beast (2017). 20th Century’s previous LGBTQ-inclusive releases include The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Making Love (1982), Silkwood (1983), The Object of My Affection (1998), The Family Stone (2005), Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), and Love, Simon (2018).
The New Mutants
Widest Theatrical Release: 2754 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Pass
This long-delayed X-Men spinoff crosses genres as a mix of teen horror and superhero film. The movie centers on five teens with mutant powers who are trapped in a hospital by a mysterious doctor. The new team that forms includes Rahne/Wolfsbane, a Scottish girl who can turn into a wolf who struggles to reconcile her powers and strict religious upbringing, and Dani/Mirage, a Indigenous girl who can create illusions based on people’s deepest fears and desires.
Rahne and Dani form a romantic relationship, described as the “spine and focus” of the film and the girl’s character development by director Josh Boone. Rahne saves Dani when she plans to attempt death by suicide after realizing they are unable to escape the hospital. In the film’s climax, Dani is knocked unconscious and her powers manifest a monstrous bear based on her own fear which then ravages the hospital. Rahne protects Dani’s body while attempting to reach her subconscious to wake her up as the other teens fight Dani’s fear. Ultimately, Dani is able to confront and overcome her fear and the team leave the hospital together for the nearest town – Dani and Rahne hand in hand.
Rahne and Dani’s relationship was a welcome addition and update from the comics. When so many superhero films have straightwashed LGBTQ heroes when jumping from page to the big screen, it is refreshing and encouraging to see this relationship added which drove so much of the film’s plot.
Widest Theatrical Release: 4310 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Pass
Onward follows two elf brothers, Ian and Barley, who set out on a quest to retrieve a magical artifact which will allow them to temporarily bring their father back to life. On their quest, they get pulled over by two cops for driving erratically, one of whom is a cyclops named Spector voiced by out actress Lena Waithe. Ian casts a spell to appear to them as his mother’s boyfriend who is a police officer. During their conversation, Ian in his disguised form pretends the driving issues come from stress over bonding with “his girlfriend’s kids” and being in a rush to meet up with them. Spector commiserates and replies, “It’s not easy being a new parent—my girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out, okay?” Spector becomes suspicious after the boys drive away and calls it in, ultimately acting as the impetus to the police chase which sets up the film’s climax. The scene was reportedly censored in some other countries with language changed to “my sister’s daughter” and “my partner’s daughter.” While the film just barely passes the Vito Russo Test as the penultimate chase would not have happened without Spector’s intervention, the moment remains incredibly minor – particularly when juxtaposed against the wave of press ahead of release. Disney’s films must do more to create meaningful inclusion moving forward.
The slate for Phase Four and beyond of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) includes several films which will include LGBTQ superheroes. Eternals, set to be released November 5, 2021, will introduce gay hero Phastos as well as his husband and child. In March of 2022, Marvel will release Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness which will introduce America Chavez to the big screen. America in the comic books is a proud Latina lesbian and keeping that identity in the MCU is essential. Thor: Love and Thunder will be released in May 2022, and will continue to feature Valkyrie among the ensemble. While the last Thor film, Ragnarok, cut a scene that confirmed Valkyrie’s bisexuality, actress Tessa Thompson has confirmed that the character’s queer identity will be part of the story in this sequel and she will be searching for her queen as she takes over as the King of New Asgard. Black Panther 2 is set to be released in July 2022 and has a chance to introduce Ayo’s queerness as part of her story as a member of the Dora Milaje warriors. Ayo was recently featured in the Disney+ series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and it would make sense for her to have a larger role in the Black Panther sequel.
Other inclusive upcoming Disney releases include Jungle Cruise, set for a July 30, 2021 theatrical release as well as on Disney+ the same day for an additional fee. The movie’s core trio includes the gay character McGregor, the younger brother of Dr. Lily Houghton who joins her on an adventure into the Amazon in this action-adventure film based on the Disney ride. Disney has been in talks to release a third Deadpool film, this time set in the MCU, and this would be an opportunity to have Negasonic Teenage Warhead and her girlfriend Yukio return in a larger role. This would also represent a chance to finally portray Deadpool as pansexual, which actor Ryan Reynolds has spoken on his interest in.
In February 2021, Disney shuttered the Blue Sky Studios Animation banner which it acquired when the company purchased Fox. With that label closed, the animated graphic novel adaptation of Nimona, which included a core queer romance, will no longer be moving forward under Disney. There is the possibility of the project moving to another studio at a future point in time. That same month, the movie-musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie was pulled from the slate by Disney shortly ahead of its planned February 26 theatrical release. In May 2021, Disney sold the distribution rights to the musical to Amazon Studios, it will be released September 17 on Prime Video with no word yet on if Amazon will release the film theatrically.
Searchlight Pictures, created in 1994, was a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox and known as Fox Searchlight until the Disney merger in 2019. The distributor is now known as Searchlight Pictures and still specializes in the release and distribution of independent and foreign films in the United States. Searchlight Pictures has been responsible for the release of several high-profile LGBTQ-inclusive films, including Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Kinsey (2004), Battle of the Sexes, The Shape of Water (2017), and Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018).