Twitter Reacts to Disney’s First Openly Gay Character in ‘Strange World’

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Disney has a long history regarding LGBTQ rights and playing both sides of the issue. But as times have changed, so too has Disney. Now the company has put forth its first official openly gay character in its animated movie Strange World. Twitter has much to say about it.

Strange World Introduces Disney’s First Officially Gay Character

Strange World is described as an “original action-packed adventure [that] introduces a legendary family of explorers, the Clades, as they attempt to navigate an uncharted, treacherous land alongside a motley crew that includes a mischievous blob, a three-legged dog, and a slew of ravenous creatures.”

Jake Gyllenhaal does the voice for Searcher Clade, “a family man.” Dennis Quaid voices Searcher’s father, Jaeger. Jaboukie Young-White voices Ethan, the openly gay and biracial son of Searcher and his partner, Meridian Clade. Gabrielle Union voices Meridian and Lucy Liu plays the voice of Callisto Mal, “Avalonia’s fearless leader.”

Ethan Clade has a huge crush on another boy named Diazo. His feelings are openly shown throughout the film as he gets tongue-tied around his crush.

Strange World director and writer Qui Nguyen spoke to Variety and went further in-depth about Ethan’s character. The biracial aspect partly spoke to Nguyen’s own family, which is Jewish and Asian.

“I have a biracial family, so it was something that was easily relatable to me to [have] two people with very different backgrounds fall in love,” said Nguyen. “And now my kid walks both those lines of us — fully Asian, fully Jewish — and that was something I understood inherently.”

Director Don Hall explained Ethan’s sexuality as part of being a well-rounded character.

“His gayness is one part of him. He’s also bold and wildly empathetic, which is why he becomes sort of the conservationist in our film,” Hall told Variety. “Also, he’s impulsive as teenagers kind of are. So, to us, he was just a flesh-and-blood, well-rounded character, and I think we can’t wait for the world to embrace him like we did.”

Critics React to Strange World’s Choice to Portray a Character

Strange World doesn’t officially release in theaters until November 23. But it just premiered at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles on November 15. Hence, critics have had almost a week to voice their opinions on the film. And what better place to do that than Twitter.

Unfortunately, much of the conversation isn’t really about Strange World’s plot, animation, or anything aside from Ethan being gay. That’s a real point of contention among Disney fans. As mentioned earlier, Disney has a long history of being caught on both sides of the issue. We’ll get to that in a second.

There are many who are ecstatic that Disney has made the bold leap forward in creating an openly gay and biracial character.

And there are many who are unhappy with Strange World’s gay character, dismissing it all as “Disney’s gay agenda.”

As this Twitter user pointed out, those who don’t like “Disney’s gay agenda” are review-bombing the film on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

Still, others are concerned about the amount of publicity that Disney has put into the film. One person mentioned that this may all be a ploy to purposefully flop so that future gay characters don’t happen.

Others are pointing out that this isn’t quite a “first” for Disney, in that the company has certainly had other gay characters before.

And many just want all the arguing to stop and are calling for love and peace.

Disney’s Rollercoaster History of LGBTQ Rights

Steve Rose of The Guardian broke down Disney’s history of LGBTQ activism (and condemnation) in an article called “How Disney found its pride – and riled the American right.”

He did a thorough job of explaining the progression that Disney has experienced. Way back in the day, for instance, men weren’t allowed to dance with other men at Disney parks. That policy was dropped in 1985.

Then a man named Doug Swallow organized a big Pride celebration in June of 1991 at Disneyland. That became Disney’s “Gay Day,” and it’s still celebrated every year. Disney World has its own Gay Day as well. Over time, the LGBTQ community has felt more welcomed at Disney, a place that is supposed to be for everyone, especially families. And families come in all shapes and sizes and types.

Rose points out that Walt Disney himself was conservative but that over time, gayness has not been totally omitted from Disney’s movies at all. In what he describes as “coding,” Disney actually used to incorporate stereotypical queer traits into its villains. Ursula, the sea witch from The Little Mermaid, was apparently modeled after a famous drag queen, Divine.

 Walt Disney was never a card-carrying homophobe, but he was a steadfast conservative, and long after his death in 1966, Disney’s output continued to promote “traditional” and “family” values. That didn’t discount “coding” Disney characters (usually villains) as queer, in that they exhibited stereotypically gay attributes such as effeminate behaviour or disinterest in the opposite sex: Jafar in Aladdin, for example, or Scar in The Lion King, or even Shere Khan the tiger in The Jungle Book. And, as with all forms of culture, Disney stories have lent themselves to queer readings regardless of their makers’ intentions.

Steve Rose via The Guardian

As time has passed, however, many of Disney’s stories have progressed into tales of discovery beyond the traditional values of Walt Disney’s era.

Dealing with themes of fantasy and magic, many classic Disney stories concern characters moving between two worlds, feeling like outsiders in their communities, transforming and becoming their true selves. These themes could equally be interpreted as explorations of sexuality or gender identity. Cinderella goes from dowdy domestic to sparkling princess at the wave of a wand; Mowgli must decide whether he belongs in the jungle or the village; Mulan masquerades as male to join the Chinese army, during which time she forms an ambiguous bond with the handsome captain. Princess Elsa in Frozen is urged by her parents to suppress her true nature but after she is figuratively “outed” (as a sorceress), she flees her heteronormative destiny, preferring to belt out Let It Go in icy isolation…

Steve Rose via The Guardian

LGBTQ Activism & Disney Are Becoming Increasingly Synonymous

But Disney’s ultimate goal here isn’t to push “gayness.” It’s to help kids find a sense of belonging despite being different or feeling out of place. Author Eddie Shapiro explains it well.

“Kids, even in the most accepting of environments, grow up knowing that they’re different and unsure of how that’s going to play out in the world,” said Shapiro. “So, there’s a sense of otherness. And in the Disney universe, the characters who triumph, the Dumbos of the world, are frequently also other. And they come out on top, or they come out loved, supported, safe… that’s a big comfort.”

It’s no wonder then that Disney parks has garnered such a solid reputation among LGBTQ people.

Many LGBTQ people choose to move to Orlando or Anaheim, for instance, to work for the parks. And this is why when Governor DeSantis passed his “Don’t Say Gay” bill in March, Disney vowed to fight it. The bill prohibits any mention of sexual identity or orientation in Florida’s schools, specifically among K-3rd graders but expands beyond that in a vaguely worded way. Disney employees went on strike and made a big stand against DeSantis, basically forcing Disney’s hand. After all, LGBTQ people are largely what makes the parks go around. Without them, Disney would close down.

But after Disney openly condemned DeSantis’s bill, DeSantis retaliated by stripping Disney of its self-governing status. If passed, the bill will ultimately befall residents near the park, whose property taxes will skyrocket.

Needless to say, Disney has been at the tip of the tongues of pro and anti-LGBTQ people for quite some time now. This has become even more apparent in the midst of DeSantis’ culture wars.

But as for Strange World, we can only hope for the best. It comes out on November 23 before becoming available on Disney+ and digital formats.

Read More: Lego Announces 1st LGBTQ+ Set Ahead of Pride Month: “Everyone is Awesome”

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