It’s obvious that Disney is trying really hard to have its cake and eat it too during Pride Month this year, and it’s not really working out all that great for them.
The relationship between Disney and the LGBTQ+ community has always been rather precarious. They’ve balanced their ‘family values’ image with their Gay Days, offering progressive benefits to their LGBTQ+ employees before it was standard while donating to conservative groups and candidates, and all the while keeping their films frustratingly queer-free for decades. But over the past few years, they’ve been facing a reckoning with the LGBTQ+ community, and it feels like it’s all coming to a plateau here in 2021. Something has to give, and it feels like this is the last year they’ll get away with doing the absolute bare minimum. Our patience and loyalty is wearing incredibly thin.
Our first hint that this Pride Month was going to be a bit different was when they released a whole bunch of Pride merchandise for properties that had absolutely no representation. This isn’t exactly a new thing – their rainbow Mickey Mouse ears have been around for years – but the atmosphere around this batch of merchandise was much more sour than I’ve ever experienced. Instead of being happy that we got some rainbows slapped onto the logos of our favorite properties, there was a boiling anger rising to the surface. We are too tired. Too tired to take another year of rainbow pandering.
But the merchandise issue was only the beginning – a preview of the great gay Disney apocalypse that seems to be spilling out across various fandoms. It just kept getting worse and worse.
Up next we had several conflicting incidents regarding the new Loki series. Right now we’re only two episodes into Loki, so this could go a number of different ways and by the time you read this article, things could be quite different. Regardless of where we end up landing with this situation, things started out sort of rocky when the head writer seemed to indicate that Loki and Mobius could be described as a “love story,” but then quickly backtracked saying that they hoped we wouldn’t take it “the wrong way.” Tom Hiddleston, however, seems in favor of this ship, and it’s caught on like wildfire in fandom as a result of the undeniable chemistry between them. I’m not getting my hopes up that this ship will be canon, and would caution anyone who is hoping for that to brace yourself for it to remain fanon.
But showing Loki in a relationship with a man isn’t the only way this story can be LGBTQ+ positive and provide some level of representation. Right now it appears that we do have a genderfluid Loki (or at least we are meant to believe that right now), and that’s pretty positive. If they end up pulling a fast one on us with Sophia di Martino’s character, though, a lot of the goodwill built up over this development may end up being undone. We’ll just have to wait and see. I have a feeling this will be a topic I’ll need to revisit once we have a full picture of what they’re delivering to us. UPDATE: I revisited this topic here: Loki Shatters Hinges Off MCU’s Closet Doors.
But if the complicated issues regarding representation in Loki weren’t enough to complicate the MCU during Pride, Anthony Mackie had to stick his foot in his mouth by calling us ‘twisted’ and implying that we are somehow exploiting ourselves. The reactions online were swift and fierce. This is not how you talk to LGBTQ+ fans about their desire to see themselves represented in the biggest entertainment franchise in the world. Nor is this how you talk to a group of fans – largely queer fans – who are just having some harmless fun via transformative works. This was just in general an incredibly terrible use of words and it hit a lot of us hard.
Disney seemed to know how bad this was and (coincidentally?) the very next day there were some new Tom Hiddleston quotes over at Comic Book News that were clearly intended to calm the community’s ire. These quotes weren’t exactly new information. It was basically the same stuff he’s been saying since before the show premiered. I don’t know if they intentionally rushed out this new article in an attempt to calm us all down, but the timing was clearly quite suspect. It’s unfair to position Hiddleston as the Goodwill Ambassador to the LGBTQ+ community, but that’s unfortunately where this really awkward Pride month has positioned him. He’s been building up goodwill with us for many years now, and he continues to be incredibly kind to us, so when Mackie really stepped in it, they seemed to launch Hiddles at us and hoped for the best.
But the MCU isn’t the only property that Disney seems to be struggling with when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. Their new Pixar film, Luca, has strong queer undertones and appears strongly allegorical for the process of discovering ones own queerness as a youth, finding your community, and coming out. The New York Times put it best with their review titled “Calamari By Your Name,” which is an obvious play on the queer film Call Me By Your Name. Now, the director is insistent that he didn’t intend for it to be a queer allegory, but it’s pretty undeniable that there are strong parallels between this story and the shared experiences of many queer people. It may have been an accident, but we’ve claimed this film as ours anyway. And we are, once again, in an incredibly awkward position with Disney as a result of our queer reading of their media.
Disney has been moving towards more representation in their series, but after being teased about representation in Endgame that ended up being less than stellar, we’ve been taking a more ‘wait and see’ approach to anything they announce. We’re supposed to be getting some representation in Eternals, but I’m not going to give them credit for it until I see it with my own eyes. We have yet to get any representation of substance in their major franchises – Marvel, Star Wars, or Disney animation – so the constant teasing and promises of representation has worn pretty thin.
Disney is facing a big queer reckoning this year, and if they don’t deliver something of substance by next Pride, those of us who are still sticking with them as they move slowly towards representation may not be able to cling on much longer. Enough promises. Enough teasing. Please deliver on something, and don’t rely on your actors to smooth things over when things go south with us. We love Hiddles, but the responsibility of representation isn’t on his shoulders. They are on Disney’s, and we need something solid sooner rather than later.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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