Disney is home to many magical fairy tales. One where a prince can only wake up a princess with true love’s kiss. One where a princess tries on a glass slipper and confirms her identity from her to her from her beloved prince. One where a mermaid princess becomes human and marries a prince.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek claims the company is committed to inclusion in its storytelling. But it’s not home to a specifically queer fairy tale – making its silence on a potential law that harms the LGBTQ community frustrating, if unsurprising.
The bill – if it becomes law – would block public school teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and allow only “age appropriate” instruction for other grades.
What does this have to do with entertainment?
Chapek wrote to employees in an internal memo obtained by USA TODAY, assuring them of the company’s support for its LGBTQ staff, and said he believes one of the best ways for Disney “to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce.”
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“These and all of our diverse stories are our corporate statements – and they are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort” Chapek continued in the memo. “I firmly believe that our ability to tell such stories –and have them received with open eyes, ears, and hearts – would be diminished if our company were to become a political football in any debate.”
USA TODAY has reached out to Disney for comment.
Even content can’t increase LGBTQ acceptance on its own. But if Disney wants to stay out of the political fray and champion queer content, it should do just that: do a better job of championing it. That means putting its queer characters front and center in major motion pictures as opposed to sprinkling them in as side characters.
Then again, this is the same company that bungled an opportunity to make elsa queer in”Frozen 2” in 2019. And the same one that hired a director who touted an “exclusively gay moment” in a magazine interview about the company’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” remake in 2017. It was just that: a floating moment of two male characters, including Josh Gad’s Lefou, dancing.
“It was never intended to be a moment that we should laud ourselves for, because frankly, I don’t think we did justice to what a real gay character in a Disney film should be,” Gad told The Independent last month “That was not LeFou. If we’re going to pat ourselves on the back, then damn it we should have gone further with that. Everybody deserves an opportunity to see themselves on screen, and I don’t think we’ve done enough – and I certainly haven’t done enough to do that.”
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It’s not like Disney hasn’t waded into politics before, either. It threatened to boycott filming in georgia over a proposed abortion law – though that was under previous CEO Bob Iger, who left the company last year.
Sure, championing diversity doesn’t have to get political. But when Republican politicians support legislation that plans to discriminate against a protected class, it’s not “political football.” It’s human football.
LGBTQ-centric media could certainly help fill in the education gaps kids may not receive in school. But if such representation predominantly features queer people as the sidekick with no prominent story of their own, that’s how those kids could feel about themselves their whole lives.
Make two princes or princesses fall in love on screen and stand by that story. Then, and only then, can we begin discussing whether Disney is moving any kind of needle on LGBTQ rights.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism