Despite “Woke” Backlash, Disney Still Fails at LGBTQ+ Representation

A person holds a rainbow-colored sugar cookie shaped like Mickey Mouse on a stick. The background is blurred with colorful lights, and an image of Mickey Mouse in his classic red shorts and yellow shoes is positioned on the right side of the image, subtly hinting at Disney's ongoing attempts at LGBTQ representation.
Credit: Disney Fanatic

In recent years, Disney has been excessively labeled as “woke” by conservative audiences. You can’t set foot on social media without seeing outrage over the idea that the company has abandoned family values in favor of LGBTQ+ characters and themes in their films. Fans that watch these movies realize how little there is to fuel this narrative in reality, as most of these characters have been largely insignificant to the plot or lacking in any meaningful depth. In the few chances that Disney had to embrace LGBTQ themes truly, they entirely failed to meet the moment. This has created an odd situation where Disney fails at LGBTQ+ representation while still getting punished for it by conservative audiences. In trying to please everyone, Disney is pleasing no one. The evidence is undeniable, so let’s break it down.

Nimona smiling

Photo Credit: Netflix

Understanding Good LGBTQ+ Representation

The Netflix hit Nimona is the perfect example of meaningful LGBTQ+ representation in a film. Nimona herself is the perfect allegory for transgender themes without alienating people ignorant of the community’s emotional struggles. It also presents it in a relatable way. It invites people to take a journey with her and learn how to be more compassionate and understanding in a format that doesn’t instantly cause outrage. The allegory is a perfect way to educate without closing the door while doing something important.

Furthermore, Nimona includes a gay relationship in the forefront, but that has little to do with the actual story. However, its existence is still vital in conveying the narrative’s message and is presented in a way that doesn’t feel forced or like Netflix is virtue signaling. In fact, there has been severely more backlash on social media against ridiculously pointless LGBTQ+ representation by Disney than for this film.

Disney Recently Fails at LGBTQ+ Representation

Nimona is so vital to Disney’s failures because the company almost killed it. When purchasing 20th Century Studios, it is reported that Disney was uncomfortable with having a homosexual relationship and LGBTQ+ themes in the forefront. If Disney was truly as ready to embrace diversity and representation, why did they strike down their first real chance to do something with depth involving it? Instead, they favor a long history of what many would call pandering.

The latest example of this comes from Pixar’s Elemental. The movie spread chaos throughout social media when it was revealed that it had Disney’s first non-binary character. However, you wouldn’t even know this character existed when actually watching the film. Lake Ripple is introduced once briefly and barely says a word before falling into the background. What a miraculous and groundbreaking way to do something meaningful to educate the world on accepting people who are different.

Strange World

Credit: Disney

Disney Virtue Signals

The Walt Disney Company has had several other minor “blink, and you’ll miss it” LGBTQ+ characters over the years. Many of them are pretty much completely ambiguous and only noticed because the company wants you to know. The first example of this is in 2016’s Zootopia. Judy Hopps encounters two male characters in her apartment building who share the same last name in the credits. While they could have easily just been brothers, the screenwriters took to Twitter to clarify that they were in a relationship.

Since then, things like this have popped up in other films. They have gotten a little more direct but have still been absolutely pointless in the grand scheme of things and not even worth fussing over. LeFou dances with another man for a split second in the background of the ending ball scene in the live-action Beauty and the Beast movie, something Disney really cared for you to know for some reason.

Avengers: Endgame has a non-superhero character mentioning a boyfriend when talking about someone he lost for five seconds of screen time. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker featured a lesbian kiss in a background celebration between two characters almost no one can name. Pixar’s Onward had a police officer mention her girlfriend. The list goes on.

Pride CM Disney

Credit: Disney

Conservatives Have Had Enough

2022’s Lightyear is where things really hit the fan. Based on social media reactions, you would have expected the film to be entirely about a lesbian character making out with her wife for two hours. However, the reality is a bit different. Buzz’s friend Alisha Hawthorne is an important character in the narrative, but her relationship is not part of the story past the movie’s first ten minutes. She is also almost entirely out of the plot in favor of her granddaughter for the film’s duration. This part of her character was something that Disney didn’t even want to include in the movie until Pixar fought back against cutting it. Yet, including it was enough to fuel the narrative online that Disney had gone “woke.” Conservatives also latched onto this as the source of the movie’s failure at the box office.

Disney’s next chance to showcase meaningful LGBTQ+ representation also amounted to nothing. 2022’s Strange World featured a character named Ethan who very bluntly had a crush on another male character, but it almost seemed as if Disney didn’t want people even to know the movie existed. It was one of the worst flops in modern history because most people had no idea what it was or anything about it, including the release date.

Nimona gay relationship

Credit: Netflix

Disney Fails at LGBTQ+ Representation

Many people in the LGBTQ+ community are tired of seeing Disney announce that it has included a diverse character in its cast because it is largely insincere. It only seems to give conservative critics a reason to boycott the film and spread hatred toward the community online.

These detractors get angry knowing it exists and care little to see the movie. They instead blindly relate the inclusion to the movie’s failure. However, these films are mostly failing because of a changing box office environment and the fact that they do very little in terms of originality.

Nimona beat the odds because it’s extremely fun, has a relatable message, and doesn’t point at its LGBTQ+ characters just to get brownie points. Disney could learn a thing or two from this. Conservative critics attack their films just for even including a gay character.

If the company is going to get heat for it anyway, they might as well not alienate their socially progressive audience as well and do something meaningful with it. They also don’t need to virtue signal whenever they do and let the characters, themes, and story speak for themselves.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s and may not reflect the sentiments of Disney Fanatic as a whole.

About Michael Stoyanoff

Michael is a Disney fan with an entertainment background and passion for writing. Living in Orlando, he has been around the theme parks for over a decade. In his free time he enjoys running, playing video games, and traveling the world. He also loves hanging out with his dog, Mr. Pippers the Pug.

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