Strange World’s Jaboukie Young-White Shares Why His Openly Queer Disney Character Is So ‘Meaningful’ To The LGBTQ+ Community

Walt Disney Animation is making history with its 61st animated feature film, Strange World. For the first time, a leading character in one of the animation studio’s theatrical films is openly queer. That character is none other than, Jaboukie Young-White’s Ethan Clade, who is part of the movie's broader storyline about what it means to be a father and son. It’s a particularly big moment for the history of LGBTQ+ representation in Disney movies because of how authentic, welcomed and interwoven Ethan Clade is within the movie’s the bigger overarching story.

Jaboukie Young-White, who is an openly queer standup comedian, had the honor of voicing Ethan Clade after also representing the LGBTQ+ community on Disney+’s Baymax series as gay food truck owner, Mbita. Speaking to CinemaBlend about his role in Strange World, Young-White shared his feelings about bringing Ethan Clade to life. 

I think the thing that really excited me was that Ethan's identity is a facet of who he is. And I mean, everyone at that age who you think you are changes week by week. Like you're constantly reinventing yourself or reimagining yourself or like what you're going to be when you grow up. And I think for Ethan specifically, being able to see that on screen, and be that age, I mean, I'm not that age anymore, but I can only imagine how meaningful that would be, and the impact that it would have. I think that's undeniable and I think the thing that really drives that home is just the fact that it's not pointed out and it's not made this huge, gigantic thing. It's just like an accepted part of reality.

Strange World takes place in the mysterious and original land of Avalonia, where Ethan Clade is the son of Searcher Clade, the farmer who saved them all by discovering a crop and the grandson of Jaeger Clade, a storied adventurer, who has been missing and presumed dead Ethan’s entire life. Within the storyline of Strange World, Ethan’s identity is a part of his coming-of-age story, but he’s also dealing with wanting to chart his own path while his father tries to lay it out for him. 

When CinemaBlend also spoke to director Don Hall about the development of Ethan Clade in Strange World, the filmmaker shared that he was part of the story from the beginning, as well. He noted:  

The idea that Ethan was gonna be a gay young man was day one. It was in the DNA of the character, and that's just where we started. And, as we were writing and crafting Ethan and getting Jaboukie on board, we worked with GLAAD a lot in terms of they would come in and see screenings and give us support and they were so kind and helpful. So, you know, we did want to make sure, in addition to groups within the studio and our animation studio as well groups that identify. It was a constant kind of feedback, showing stuff, getting thoughts and support actually.

GLAAD is the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which is an organization that monitors the representation of the LGBTQ+ community. As Hall shared with us, the studio reached out and worked alongside GLAAD during the making of Strange World to make sure this historical character was done right along with looking to queer people in Disney Animation for support as well. 

The upcoming Disney movie has been met with overall positive reviews from critics, with CinemaBlend’s Strange World review gracing the movie with 3.5 out of 5 stars. Jaboukie Young-White stars alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Searcher, Dennis Quaid’s Jaeger, Lucy Liu’s Callisto and Gabrielle Union plays Ethan’s mom Meridian. Union also spoke to us about being proud of Meridian's “reasonable body proportions” among other things regarding the sweet and supportive family the Clades are.  

Strange World hits theaters on November 23. Stay tuned for more exclusive coverage on the latest Disney animated movie. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.