Why Onward’s Director Wishes The First LGBT Character’s Part Was Larger

Specter in Onward

Spoiler ahead for Onward.

Disney and Pixar have had a strong collaboration for years, putting out countless animated blockbusters that both delight and usually make us cry by its runtime. The latest release looks like it'll be no exception, as Onward will focus on a pair of brother going on an adventure to reunite with their dead father. Sounds like a tear jerker, right? Onward is also notable for having an LGBT character, and the director recently explained why he wished the character had even more screen time.

Onward was directed by Dan Scanlon, who previously directed Monsters University and also did concept art for other classics. The movie follows Tom Holland and Chris Pratt's brothers Ian and Barley as they adventure into their mystical world in an attempt to bring their father back from the dead (well, the rest of him.) They eventually meet a trio of police officers, one of which is Lena Waithe's Specter. Specter is an LGBT character, and Scanlon explained that Waithe's performance made him wish the character had a bigger presence in the movie. As he put it,

After we recorded her, we wished we had expanded [the role]. Lena Waithe is not only a great actress but a great writer and she improvises and was just such a joy to work with.

That's a lesson to be learned: when you cast Lena Waithe, give her as much material as possible. Because as a writer and actress, she's got the talent needed to elevate her roles. Even if its just her voice, like in Onward.

Dan Scanlon's comments to Yahoo! should make a great deal of sense for those following Lena Waithe's rise to success over the past few years. She rose to fame from her work as a writer/actress in Aziz Anzari's Netflix series Master of None. The episode "Thanksgiving" earned Waithe an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, and helped to elevate her status more.

Lena Waithe in Master of None

Since then, Lena Waithe has gone on to work on TV series Dear White People and The Chi, and will have a role in the third season of Westworld. She also created her own TV series Twenties, which is coming to BET.

Onward director Dan Scalon was clearly impressed with Lena Waithe, as well as the other members of the cast. He went on to praise Waithe's ability to make something special out of a smaller character. In his words,

I think it's a wonderful embarrassment of riches that we have a cast of people who, even in doing small parts, bring them to life and elevate them and keep you wanting more.

Lena Waithe's character might not have a ton of screen time on Onward, but Specter is notable for being an openly LGBT character in the animated blockbuster. She briefly mentions her girlfriend in the movie, which is a small but significant step toward inclusion and representation.

Onward is in theaters now. Be sure to check out our 2020 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.