Why can't Disney be taken as a champion of the rights of women and LGBT + people? And why are his latest manifestations of "support" unpleasant?
I haven't written an article on a general topic like this in quite some time, but what's going on with Disney these days has made my fingers sizzle. There are so many things to say about much of the Disney-related news out these days that I could write a whole series of articles. But I'll keep my talkative being at bay and try to focus on some specific issues.
In particular, I would like to talk about the latest news on two issues. The first one is the absence of Li Shang from live-action Mulan due to the #MeToo, as reported by several newspapers. The second is the fanfare raised by the presence of one lesbian woman in the next animated Disney movie, Onward.
Let's see why these news actually underscore Disney's disinterest in feminism and women's rights as well as LGBTQIA + rights.
Does Disney cancel Li Shang from Mulan for #MeToo?
In the past two days, the Jason Reed's statements, the producer of the live-action Mulan, have pissed off a lot of fans. In fact, according to Reed, the character of Li Shang, who is direct superior, mentor and, in the end, Mulan's love interest in the 1998 animated film, would have been canceled from the 2020 live action due to the movement, indirectly #MeToo.
In fact, according to Reed, the fact that Shang is Mulan's direct superior does not go well with the fact that he is also her love interest. Reed says this kind of relationship seemed, to him and his team, "very uncomfortable" and inappropriate, especially when viewed at a time when the #MeToo movement is so strong.
Therefore, Shang's figure was split between two characters. Mulan's leader and mentor will be the Commander Tung, played by Donnie Yen. Instead, Mulan's love interest will be another soldier, the young man Honghui. Mulan and Honghui's relationship should be quite stormy at first, but then the two should form a strong bond based on mutual respect and friendship during training.
Why using #MeToo to justify Li Shang's absence is ridiculous?
I understand that, after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, when writing a love story between a man and a woman in the positions of boss and subordinate respectively, you have to be careful about do not make everything slimy and inappropriate. However, if Disney had followed the evolution of the relationship between Li Shang and Mulan featured in their animated film, this problem would not even have arisen.
In fact, the love interest between Shang and Mulan becomes explicit only after Mulan leaves the army. Therefore, when Shang approaches Mulan with explicitly romantic intentions, the two are on an extremely equal footing. Indeed, Mulan has just become the savior heroine of the whole of China, so Shang actually addresses her from an almost subordinate position.
So, the fact that the relationship between Mulan and Shang might make you uncomfortable because it echoes Weinstein's disgusting abuse of the women who worked for him is, honestly, very unlikely.
Because, probably, Li Shang is not present in the live-action of Mulan?
I find it unlikely that Li Shang's absence is due to a supposed greater adherence of Mulan's live-action to the original legend, or to his (far more tragic) later literary remakes. Even the presence of characters like Tung and Honghui does not seem to me derived from the original poem (but correct me if I'm wrong!).
I am much more likely to agree with this Koogai post: Li Shang must disappear because Mulan's live-action is made for the Chinese market and taste. And the Chinese taste or, to be precise, of the Chinese government, does not foresee potentially queer characters. Like Li Shang.
In fact, over the years it has been increasingly noticed how the respect and esteem that Shang feels for Mulan, when she is still in the male role of Ping, comes very close to a love interest. Obviously, Shang is a fair, respectful and professional person, so it makes absolutely sense that her relationship with Ping / Mulan remained totally professional at the time.
However, over time Li Shang has been unofficially adopted by the LGBT + community, and in particular from the bisexual one, as, in fact, a bisexual icon. We're obviously talking more about the fandom's headcanon than Disney's actual queer writing. However, even if only accidentally, Li Shang is one of the least straight characters in the whole Disney franchise, because on a couple of occasions he made Ping's sweet eyes.
E a potentially legible character as bisexual cannot please the Chinese government, who has always been hostile to LGBT + rights. Even if it's just a harmless fandom headcanon. Indeed, we must not forget that recently The AO3 fanfiction site has been blocked in China, which we have already talked about here . This probably happened both for its explicit content and for its queer content.
The policewoman Specter first openly queer Disney character?
Recently, it was revealed that a secondary (or tertiary?) Character from the new animated Disney movie, Onward, she will be a lesbian woman.
Or better to say, a purple lesbian cyclops. Or bisexual. Or pansexual. Or homo-biromantic asexual. It is not understood, it is not specified. However, this cyclops has a girlfriend with whom a family is growing, so it is legitimate to insert her in the large queer umbrella and in the fan of the WLW (women loving women). We are not being too precise with the terminology, which is already a lot here if we have a generic non-straight character in the background.
We are talking about Specter, a policewoman cyclops who, in the film Onward, will hunt down the two protagonists. Specter, moreover, is voiced by an actress who is also a lesbian, that is Lena Waithe, recently married to his girlfriend Alana Mayo.
Now, you all know perfectly well that I'm the first person who wants more queer characters in movies. Inserting queer characters also in secondary roles is a good and right thing, especially if they are voiced by queer actors and actresses. However, from here to sanctify Disney because it has given us a secondary queer character, the road is very long.
Disney has a long history of secondary and stereotypical queer characters
Specter is Disney's first explicitly LGBT + character, but she's definitely not the first. And it only comes after a long series of background characters so shy and forgettable that they are almost non-existent. Or so badly stereotyped that they are embarrassing.
Lesbian mothers on the background of Disney animated films
We had, for example, the two mothers with pushchairs in Finding Dory, so marginal as to seem almost an accident. Indeed, when question yourself on the matter, director Andrew Stainton and producer Lindsey Collins literally said, "It can be anything you want, there's no right or wrong answer." Therefore, the two women could be as much friends as they are a romantic couple, for all we know.
The frame of the was just more explicit two moms who took their son to kindergarten in Toy Story 4. Still, that occasion sparked the boycott of the One Million Moms group, scandalized by the inclusion of two women from backgrounds who could make their little ones fantasize about topics such as people's sexual orientation.
Queer characters unnamed or stereotyped in Disney movies
Similar hints have also been seen in the films of other Disney franchises. One example is thereunnamed man in Steve Rogers' support group in Avengers: Endgame, who (sooooo covertly!) said he went out with another man. In an appointment that can only be understood as romantic if you commit yourself. However, that the man was having an affair with another man was later confirmed by the Russos themselves. In its own way, it was much more explicit the kiss between two women at the end of The Rise of Skywalker, although it took place over a couple of frames.
But these cases of shy representation are almost better than the story arc of The Crazy ne The beauty and the Beast. In this live-action, Le Fou was written not only as a pathetic and mean character, but also as a stereotype of the repressed and obliging homosexual towards his straight friend. The tiny final frame of Le Fou happily dancing with another gentleman can hardly save such a sadly caricatured character.
Why doesn't Disney deserve to be elevated to LGBT + rights?
The type of queer representation presented by Disney is not only ridiculously meager, it also speaks of a poor understanding of LGBT + issues and a willingness to make a quick buck.
The fact that there are also queer people in the cast of the secondary or background characters is an important thing, because it normalizes their existence in society, without using it only to make a show. However, the fact that Disney's LGBT + characters are always secondary characters when it's good and background when it's bad is a problem.
In fact, this genre of scenes and queer characters is easily removable or rewritable by countries where homosexuality is not accepted and / or is a crime. In fact, the scene from the Onward in which the cyclops Specter reveals that he has a girlfriend has been rewritten, in the Russian version, with the term "girlfriend" replaced by the more neutral meaning of "partner". Similarly, the date between the anonymous gay / bi / pansexual man in Endgame has been rewritten like a more neutral "dinner" in the Russian version of the film. Finally, in Russia The beauty and the Beast had a PG-16 rating, precisely due to the presence of Le Fou and his fellow dancer. In Singapore, however, a frame with a kiss between two women in the latest film by Star Wars has just been canceled, as homosexuality is illegal in this state.
Therefore, for Disney, the representation of queer people is offered only as long as it is marginal enough to be canceled in those versions of their films that are compliant with the homophobic laws of some countries. Because certainly for a multinational like Disney, profit in China and Russia is more important than the dignity of millions of people.
Why does Disney still bring up progressive arguments?
In its works, Disney uses inclusiveness, feminism and civil rights, which are topics with a very long, complex and diverse history, as I use tags for my articles. "Let's bring in some black characters, a lesbian couple in the background and the word #MeToo, so they find us on search engines!"
The black quota, the pink quota and the queer quota are, for Disney, tags, token characters to be shown when needed, but to be hidden when necessary. They are the minimum effort necessary to remain on everyone's lips, to anger those extreme conservatives and thus make happy those I call "Sunday progressives", that is, those progressive people by name, but who have never delved into a single issue on rights civilians in their life.
However, it is clear that Disney has no interest in delving into issues such as feminism or civil rights in its products, as this would mean alienating a much larger portion of the public. Yet, Disney is still ready to use feminism and civil rights hashtags to make people talk about themselves and earn so many medals of valor for being so "ahead" that they have included a lesbian Cyclops as a secondary character. So, just as he knows he angers the fundamentalists, Disney hopes to have the queer community open their wallets, which has always longed to have even just the crumbs of representation in the media, as seen with Li Shang.
Still, Disney's work turns ever more timid and facade-like when compared to the quality representation made by other works. Actually, they are actually animated series like She-Ra e Steven Universe to be at the forefront in terms of representation of both feminist themes and queer characters.
Some final considerations
In short, it is clear that Disney behaves like any multinational company: money comes first, so we attract as much audience as possible.
Exactly for this reason, it is useless to invest Disney (and any multinational company with it) in the role of defender of women's rights and civil rights. An entity that puts profit first cannot at the same time really think that it is ethical in its work.
Therefore, I personally invite both those who are ranting against the "bad feminists who ruin good movies", and those who are cheering Disney because "finally puts the GHEI characters, look how good she is!" to downsize their reactions a little. Let us remember that the cursed mouse (cit. The throne of Muori) is not on the side of queer people or feminists.
And if you want to see an animated movie with an outspoken gay main character, go see that beauty of Paranorman of Laika. And, while you're there, go and see all the Laika films. You will not regret it.