After facing years of controversy regarding its gay representation, Disney’s Jungle Cruise finally got a theatrical and Disney+ Premiere Access release in the US on July 30, 2021. Having watched it, the much-talked-about queer representation in Jungle Cruise ended up being meh!
I wrote about Disney casting a straight actor, Jack Whitehall, to play a possibly stereotypical gay role in Jungle Cruise back in August of 2018. According to rumors, the backlash caused Disney to refilm some of Whitehall’s scenes to make his character MacGregor Houghton be less stereotypical. Why the studio didn’t decide to recast Whitehall and give an actual out actor such a big screen opportunity is another discussion.
Anyway, now that the movie has been released, what type of queer representation, specifically the gay type, did Jungle Cruise offer?
I have the answer for you.
The movie makes it quite clear that MacGregor’s effeminate. He moves and talks a certain way. He’s also into skincare and wearing the proper attire with all the proper accessories. MacGregor’s basically another unfortunate example of “Oh, look! Girly-man is funny! Haha!” that we have seen countless times in media.
While McGregor continues to be effeminate throughout the film, the writers did give him a single scene where he “comes out” to Frank (Dwyane Johnson). In my opinion, that particular scene, while emotionally portrayed by Whitehall, missed the mark.
It showed McGregor talk about how he refused three proposals from women because his interests lie “elsewhere”. He then shared how his Uncle threatened to disinherit him and how his friends and family turned their backs, etc., because of who he loved. Only his older sister Lily (Emily Blunt) stood by him and that’s why he’s so protective of her and tags along on her adventures.
McGregor never utters the word “gay” or that he likes men. He also doesn’t talk about an ex-boyfriend who decided to marry another woman so he could meet society’s standards. There’s nothing more provided to flesh out McGregor’s sexuality. It’s a one-and-done deal during that particular scene. No lingering glances toward Frank or even a flirtatious smile at one of the tribesmen the group gets to encounter during their journey. Nothing.
McGregor is yet another example of a non-threatening sexless gay man in media. All we have is McGregor talking about how his family and friends walked away because of who he loved. In a sense, even that particular statement could mean different things back in 1916, the year this movie is set in.
Families have been known to disinherit a relative if they fell in love with someone deemed to be of a lower social status. As far as Frank’s concerned, McGregor could be talking about how falling in love with a woman from a lower class caused McGregor to face a lot of trouble from his family. Heck! McGregor could be in love with his older already married female neighbor!
Something similar was a plot point involving one of the male characters in Netflix’s Bridgerton. Most of the fandom thought Benedict Bridgerton was a queer character for feeling “different” than the rest. But nopes. He was feeling anxious about what society would say because he had fallen for a woman below his family’s social standing.
In contrast, Downton Abbey, set in the same era as Jungle Cruise, has done a far better job of giving us a gay lead character with Thomas Barrow. Even though the characters didn’t use the term “gay” due to the time period, at least, many of them were clearly aware of Thomas liking men.
In my opinion, the scene between McGregor and Frank could have been helped with a prior scene showing McGregor writing a letter to his boyfriend that he had to cancel their plans to meet because his sister needed him for an adventure. And the movie could have ended with said boyfriend coming to meet McGregor at the dock because he missed him. But then again, that would have made McGregor’s queerness too apparent and Disney can’t have that, now can it? Sigh!
All in all, you can go ahead and consider the so-called gay representation in Jungle Cruise as another baby step for the House of Mouse when it comes to showcasing queer representation on the big screen.
With the upcoming MCU Eternals movie reportedly having a kiss between two queer husbands who are raising a child together, let’s see what’s actually shown in the final cut.
Have you watched Jungle Cruise?
Let us know.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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