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A History Of LGBTQIA+ Representation In Disney Films

America Chavez and Doctor Strange in a still from "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness"
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The following contains minor SPOILERS for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Marvel Studios’ newest film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, made box office news before it even came out when it was revealed that the movie would not make it to theaters of some Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia, following the decision to not make a requested edit to the film. The edit in question was in regards to some form of LGBTQ+ content, but Disney made the choice to not release the movie at all rather than make the edit.

This is the latest move in what has been an ongoing attempt by Disney to better represent the LGBTQ+ communities. For a company that has been making films for nearly 100 years, it has been a long road to the point that we are in. That road hasn’t exactly been an easy one, but Disney has certainly come a long way from where it started.

Ursula in The Little Mermaid Animated Movie

(Image credit: Disney)

 The Early Years 

Needless to say it has only been in recent years that characters in Disney movies were overtly seen as queer in any way, but that doesn’t mean that Disney movies were entirely devoid of characters that could be read as queer. There’s actually a significant amount of queer coding in early Disney characters. The major problem is that it’s almost all in the villains.

Characters like Captain Hook and Shere Khan use affectations that could be read as gay. Even as late as the Disney Renaissance, you had characters like Ursula, who was specifically based on drag queen Devine, making her overtly queer. Nothing was ever said or even implied about specific sexuality, but the implication was there. It's only been in the last few years that any of this has changed at all.

Josh Gad as Le Fou dancing with man in Beauty in the Beast

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios)

Disney’s “First Gay Moment” 

It would not be until 2017 that we got anything resembling an overt reference to anything other than a straight character in a movie from Disney. Having said that, it was 2017’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and even Josh Gad, who was part of the moment, now admits that it really wasn’t the moment it should have been.

Gad’s LeFou uses queer coding like many of those Disney characters before him. However, in the film’s finale, when all our heroes are dancing together, we see him dancing with another man. It’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment, but it was there.

two women kissing in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

(Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney)

Background Scenes 

In 2019, we saw a strange pattern emerging where movies released by Disney would “include” gay characters, but only as set dressing. In both Toy Story 4 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, we saw background characters who did not have names or any dialogue, but were clearly to be seen as gay. In the former movie, a classmate of Bonnie’s has two moms who take her to school and pick her up later. In the latter film, two women kiss in celebration following the defeat of The First Order.

Once again, this fell into the “slightly better than nothing” category. Of course, in the case of Star Wars, it was still nothing in some nations, as the kiss was edited out of the movie for its release in the Middle East and Singapore, though the kiss was left in for Chinese audiences

Joe Russo in Avengers: Endgame

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The Minor Mentions   

Concurrently with these background scenes that you might not have even noticed, we saw the first direct references to gay characters in some other Disney movies. These at least had the benefit of being characters who were in the center of the frame and delivering dialogue, though they were also minor characters who viewers were likely to forget about quickly.

Marvel Studio’s “first gay character” appeared in Avengers: Endgame, and was played by one of the move's directors, Joe Russo. He mentions going on a date with a man in a support group being run by Chris Evans’ Captain America. Pixar’s Onward included a police officer who pulls over the main characters, and later in the scene makes reference to her girlfriend. Disney did not edit these moments out of these films, though in both cases, it's reported Russia changed the dialogue in dubbing to remove the references.

Brian Tyree Henry in Eternals

(Image credit: Disney)

2021 - The Year Of Actual Gay Characters In Disney Movies 

Disney still has a long way to go when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in its films, but 2021 was at least a significant step forward as we saw three films where significant characters who were important to the stories being told were queer. The first of these was Cruella, where the title character befriends Artie, played by John McCrea. McCrea himself is gay, and while Artie’s sexual orientation is never a topic of discussion in the film, the actor believes the character is queer. The big step here is that a character like Artie in an earlier Disney movie would have been a villain, but here, he’s one of our heroes. 

Later in 2021, we saw Disney’s Jungle Cruise. In this movie, Jack Whitehall plays one of the three main protagonists of the movie, and in one scene with Dwayne Johnson, he discusses that his attractions go in a different direction. Though, perhaps predicting the future, Whitehall doesn’t say “gay.” Finally, in Marvel’s Eternals, we saw one of the titular heroes, the character of Phastos, played by Brian Tyree Henry, revealed to be gay. Eternals was banned in several nations, and Jungle Cruise did eventually open in China. That would seem to indicate the gay scene was cut, as China usually does not allow such content in the movies it releases, but I have been unable to confirm that, so it's possible the scene stayed in.

xochitl gomez as America Chavez running in Doctor strange in the multiverse of madness

(Image credit: Marvel Studios )

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness And The Future 

That leads us to the newest movie to make the news for simply having LGBTQ content, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Following in the steps of Eternals, Marvel and Disney have made the choice to simply not release the new MCU feature in Saudi Arabia after censors in the nation requested that a few seconds of the movie be cut. We've since learned that his scene shows that the MCU’s America Chavez has two mothers. 

We also know of at least one more movie that is on the way that will contain a same-sex kiss: Pixar’s Lightyear. Interestingly, the word is that the scene was originally cut from the Chris Evans-led movie before being added back in following the aftermath in the ongoing battle between Disney and Florida over the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

What the future holds is anybody’s guess. Disney certainly does seem committed to continuing to include LGBTQ+ representation in its films, but many feel that what the Mouse House is doing now just isn’t enough. We don't really know if the future will see continued steps forward or simply more of the same, but CinemaBlend will pass along any other notable updates on this front.

Dirk Libbey
Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.