Cruella, Star Wars, and Beauty and the Beast

Congratulations to Disney’s 7th First Openly Gay Character

It's a tale as old as time.

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With the release of Disney’s Cruella on the horizon and reviewers taking to social media after screenings, reports have surfaced that we are FINALLY getting our very first openly gay character from Disney.

This should be cause for celebration, but as you can see from that ratio, Twitter didn’t take too kindly to that headline because, frankly, we’ve seen headlines like this many times before.

Like.

A LOT.

It’s been done SO much that someone made a meme out of it.

Openly gay actor John McCrea plays the character, Artie, the fashion-obsessed friend of Cruella. McCrea had this to say about the character in an interview with Attitude:

 “It depends on who you’re asking I suppose – but for me, yes, it’s official: he’s queer. But we don’t see him falling in love; there’s no social aspect to the character. It’s not beating you on the head with a stick. But his lifestyle is fabulous, he loves his life and it was so fun to play him.” Asked if the character was written as queer, John replied: “In one of the original scripts he was a drag queen, so I think he was always intended to be queer-representing I suppose, or somehow a member of the LGBTQ community. I imagine that was always the case.”

Later in the interview, McCrea says this:

“If I had a character growing up like that to watch on the screen I would’ve fallen in love. Also with the idea that he’s completely well-adjusted, very happy, and has a real lust for life. Those are things I’d find so exciting. He lives by his own rules. A wonderful line he says is: ‘normal is the harshest insult of all.’ A wonderful mentality to have.”

The problem for me, personally, isn’t what McCrea is saying, as to me it boils down to, “I see the character as queer, the character is fabulous and has a wonderful outlook on life.” That’s fine, and honestly, there’s a chance I’ll feel the same way about Artie whenever I get a chance to watch Cruella. McCrea isn’t even the first actor to come out and say something like this, a recent example being Kelly Marie Tran with Raya.

But these actors aren’t saying that their feelings on the character make it true, hell, they probably CAN’T say that because, well, none of the creative forces behind these works have said that it’s true. So no, these actors aren’t the ones who are out here declaring that a character is THE FIRST OPENLY GAY DISNEY CHARACTER IN HISTORY, that’s what certain news outlets are doing with Cruella.

And honestly, maybe Artie IS a fabulously gay character, but by building up our expectations after years of, well, building up our expectations, you’re doing a great disservice to the character, their story, and reminding everyone of the number of times we’ve been set up for failure with these preemptive outings. Because now, when I watch Cruella, I’m gonna expect Artie—and his queerness—to be hugely important to the story. Maybe it is. Maybe I’m being paranoid.

Or maybe this is what happens every time someone stamps that FIRST GAY label onto a headline.

I want to say that McCrea being gay has given outlets reason to flock to this idea harder than they have before, but this preemptive celebration of queerness is something that’s gone on for years. In the case of Cruella, it seems to be a combination of McCrea being gay, his Attitude interview, and what’s been said by reviewers online, but as noted in this article by Dani Di Placido’s for Forbes, Disney itself has done this “first gay” promise in the past:

It’s a familiar milestone for the company, as Disney has pioneered their “first” gay character at least 7 times, give or take; OnwardBeauty and the BeastJungle CruiseThe Rise of SkywalkerZootopiaToy Story 4, and Avengers: Endgame all feature minor characters who make exceedingly subtle references hinting at same-sex attraction.

Conveniently, these minuscule slivers of LGBTQ representation are so brief, so utterly irrelevant to the plot of these films, that they can be easily edited out for socially conservative audiences, as was the case with the quick lesbian kiss from The Rise Of Skywalker.

If you don’t remember who any of these “first” gay characters are, you’ll be forgiven, since as Placido says, they have very minuscule roles despite being heralded as the first. As an example, the Russos said some wonderful things about the importance of representation for Avengers: Endgame.

“It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them. We felt it was important that one of us play him, to ensure the integrity and show it is so important to the filmmakers that one of us is representing that. It is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity.” – Joe Russo for Deadline

Well damn, that sounds fantastic! Which headliner character is it? Because if it’s so important to you, surely it’s a character whose name we’d remember, surely it’s not justblink and you’ll miss it scene via a therapy session because the guy says he went on a date with him and—

Oh.

It’s such a punch to the gut because there have been attempts to make big-screen Disney characters queer. Oscar Isaac spoke about it with Finn and Poe, and Tessa Thompson talked about it with Valkyrie. So we’re denied seeing any of the major players as queer, but as a consolation prize, we’re assured that “the gay” is coming and it’ll be so FIRST and HISTORICAL and—

Exactly!

But to answer the question, they’re in the background, dropping off their child at kindergarten, then later, picking the child up.

What’s really frustrating about these small moments that are celebrated in advance is that they actually receive backlash. The lesbian kiss in The Rise Of Skywalker was cut in certain countries while that Toy Story 4 scene was protested by One Million Moms. So not only does this early promise of great queer importance feel inadequate compared to the press it gets, this crumb of representation is seen as a negative by conservatives.

This, to me, just means that the folks who offered up this 2.5 millisecond moment will think they’ve done a great job because the conservatives are pissed off. Sure, many of us within the queer community are unsatisfied, but hey, that moment is being protested as being TOO GAY, so clearly there’s something there, otherwise, what are conservatives so mad about? Now when these creatives do these interviews they’ll talk about how they felt it was so important to include this significant moment no matter the pushback they get from conservatives, and as we all know, flat out hateful responses have a way to overshadow valid criticize, ie: queer audiences who are tired of empty promises.

It’s a chance for the bare minimum to get a pat on the back.

Honestly, I feel like I’m not asking for much as a Black queer woman, but moments like this make me feel like I’m asking for the world. If I point out the exhaustion of being promised a first, some might say to wait and see—even if we’ve seen this before. Others might say I’m ungrateful for what I’m getting, so why even bother giving me anything at all? Plenty of people won’t look at the full picture of how much work it is to try and be included in the media that we love, and how bitter it tastes to be promised that very thing, only for it to be in the background of the story.

They also don’t realize how it puts us on edge as companies like Disney approach canonically queer characters. After so many years of shallow promises and refusal for queerness, even when actors were all for it, I’m filled with excitement because I wanna see the likes of Young Avengers (which is SO unapologetically gay) on the big screen, but I’m also terrified about them reducing it to another unnoticeable FIRST moment that’ll be championed as something monumental. Even if I personally feel that there’s no way you can do Young Avengers without an overabundance of queerness, that fear is still there, because I keep being told to get hype over the bare minimum.

Dealing with a combination of “creative tries for inclusion and is denied” and “we promise there’s inclusion and that two seconds is really important” is so tiring, and at this point, I wish studios and outlets would just let us watch the damn movie and form our own opinion instead of trying to make that opinion for us.

I want queer representation, but that doesn’t mean you have to constantly try to lure me in with a 7th first. Just let the story speak for itself, unless, of course, you have to speak for the story because what you’re trying to sell me can be easily missed.

(Image: Disney)

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Author
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)