In the latest episode of NOW What, our employees wonder why Disney’s Cruella, Marvel’s Loki, and Pixar’s Luca are all flirting with queer representation, but won’t let their characters act.
Last week, the Disney + Loki series canonically identified its hero as bisexual, making Tom Hiddleston’s Asgardian Asgardian god Marvel Studios’ first openly queer main character. But her sexuality comes with an asterisk, like so many characters under the Disney umbrella.
Are the sea monsters voiced by Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer in Luca just good friends, or are they connected on a deeper level? Artie, the vintage shop employee adjacent to Bowie who becomes Emma Stone’s confidant and wardrobe consultant in Cruella, is he a turning point in Disney’s portrayal of gay characters, or just another snippy sidekick ? And what about the kiss between two women in the latest Star Wars movie? Was this real progress, or is it just words from a company that cannot go any further for fear of alienating a conservative and international audience worth hundreds of millions of dollars?
In the last episode of the Now what podcast, NOW Associate Editor-in-Chief Glenn Sumi and Artistic Director Daniel de Souza join me in discussing what is and isn’t being achieved with this type of portrayal, and how we’ll know when the characters are gay and lesbians are really seen in mainstream entertainment.
“When I was growing up, the Disney musical was sort of at its peak,” Sumi says. “I remember the character of Scar from The Lion King and Jafar from Aladdin – and even earlier, the character of George Sanders [Shere Khan] in The Jungle Book. Encoded queer characters, often with an English accent for some reason. They didn’t engage in the kind of normative heterosexual relationships that everyone has. “
It wasn’t until the stage version of The Lion King arrived that Sumi saw the risks of coding alien characters this way.
“Every time I see it, I keep thinking, ‘Are they going to change these lines? “, He said. “Because as an adult, it really offended me when Zazu said to Mufasa, ‘There is one in every family.’ What are you supposed to be thinking about? And at one point, Simba says, “Oh, you’re so weird, Uncle Scar. And he says, ‘Oh, you have no idea.’ None of those lines made you laugh, so I’m like, “What does that mean even now?” Does the joke pay off? “
“You know, I can accept someone like Ursula in The Little Mermaid; apparently she was based on Divine… that outrageous drag queen character that we don’t necessarily think of as lesbian, but is obviously way outside the norm. I grew up with it.
Sumi, however, did not read Luca and Alberto as “explicitly queer coded”. “I read it as hidden,” he says. “Hide anything. They might be gay, they might be from a lower socioeconomic class. You know, there was stuff about people that ‘smelled’ them… the one of the antagonists said they smelled a little funny. It could be hiding your religion, the fact that you have really annoying parents. And I think when I was younger I would have understood all of that It’s just some sort of other layer.
“They are using the model of gay coming out to tell a much more generalized and much more universal story,” says de Souza. “It’s a coming out story for everyone, about anything that they might be hiding or that they might not be sure about. You’re going to bring all you’ve got in life to this kind of story, and I think that’s what they’re hoping for.
“I don’t think it’s that specific [as] Jafar or some of the other queer coded characters of our youth, where he very specifically takes pop culture tropes and pop culture stereotypes about homosexuals and uses them to the full effect, ”he adds. “’They are awful people, they are immoral, they are devious, they are British – they are like foreigners! ” [Luca] is the extreme counterpoint to this. And maybe they got a bit too generalized and could have been a bit more specific, but that would have been a bit difficult to do as well.
“A lot of other things, like Loki being bisexual, superficial recognition of Marvel characters or other superheroes being gay – that sounds like complacency to me. It’s like JK Rowling is saying ‘Oh, at the fact, Dumbledore is gay, actually. ‘ In a way, that’s great, because that’s what being gay in life is: it’s just being a normal person. You are not often gay at work. You are not the manager from a crazy witchcraft school and you will certainly get out of it later, but it also seems very cheap.
That’s also the issue with Loki, whose weirdly recently acknowledged character doesn’t quite make up for the fact that we’ve never seen him have a relationship with anyone in a decade of appearing in the Marvel movies. There’s all the Asgardian stuff too, not to mention the character’s origins as an ice giant baby adopted by Thor’s father Odin, which could make it easier for Marvel to label Loki queer without alienating any of their fans. curators: Loki is already another several the time has passed.
“The only danger in making extraterrestrials homosexual is that we are talking about human sexuality,” says de Souza. “What does it mean for Loki to be bisexual when he’s basically a god?” What is the range of sexuality or sexual and gender identities in the gods? Is this a significant distinction? Do the gods have sex? Do the gods have a gender identity? They try to be smart with this stuff, but they end up destroying what they’re doing in a way. It would be like finding out that Men In Black’s strange alien lizards are homosexuals. You’d be like, ‘Well, what does that mean? Did they even have a gender? Was one of them a woman or a man? “
“And that’s why they ultimately need to have a human homosexual [character], I think, as opposed to relying on aliens. But I think the other reason not to say who is going to get gay or who is going to be gay is that it’s a gay cliffhanger. It’s a marketing trick! And it’s not just for gays, although I’m sure Marvel gays will be great in it. It’s for everyone. It’s also for the haters, to find out which character they ruined by making them gay because they weren’t before: “How can you make this person gay?” They once watched a girl in that other comic 10 years ago! ‘”
Listen to the whole conversation on the Now what podcast, available at Apple podcasts or Spotify or playable directly below:
NOW What is a bimonthly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians cope with life during the coronavirus era. New episodes are available on Tuesdays and Fridays.