Lena Waithe Voices Pixar’s First Openly Queer Character in Onward
Waithe plays Officer Specter in Pixar's latest film.
After years of subtle inferences and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments, Disney and Pixar have finally given us an openly queer animated character. In Pixar’s new fantasy road trip film Onward, out actor/writer/director Lena Waithe (Master of None, Queen & Slim) voices Officer Specter, a cyclops police officer. Specter is one of the cops trying to catch up with elven brothers Barley (Chris Pratt) and Ian (Tom Holland), after their attempts at magic go awry.
In a bit of dialogue, Specter commiserates with a fellow officer about the challenges of raising kids and blended families, remarking, “My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out.” It’s a simple, self-identifying statement, but a huge moment for LGBTQ representaton in animation.
— Lena Waithe (@LenaWaithe) December 16, 2019
Onward producer Kori Rae said of the line, “It just kind of happened, … The scene, when we wrote it, was kind of fitting and it opens up the world a little bit, and that’s what we wanted.” Director Dan Scanlon added, “It’s a modern fantasy world and we want to represent the modern world.”
While LGBTQ characters have shown up on animated television series like Steven Universe, Voltron: Legendary Defender, and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (to name a few), big screen representation has been lagging.
There have been nods to background queer characters, like the alleged two moms in Finding Dory. Director Andrew Stanton was cagey about their identity, saying “They can be whatever you want them to be. There’s no right or wrong answer.”
This was followed by a barely-there moment of two moms picking up and dropping off their daughter in Toy Story 4, which, though buried in the background of the scene, was enough to set off a One Million Moms boycott. The boycott had little effect on the film, which ended up earning over $1 billion worldwide.
Officer Specter’s acknowledgement is made all the more refreshing by how low-key it is. It’s just a matter-of-fact moment of queer representation based in one character relating to another. But the best part is that no one is acting like this moment is some watershed event for queer rights. Like ParaNorman‘s Mitch Downe, it’s simply another attribute to describe a character.
Disney has an unfortunate track record of patting themselves on the back for the most meager moments of representation. See LeFou’s (Josh Gad) barely there moment of locking eyes with another man in Beauty and the Beast. Or Avengers: Endgame‘s Joe Russo as unnamed gay grieving Snapture survivor. Or that lesbian kiss at the end of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
It’s frustrating because Disney is prone to congratulate themselves on these nuggets of queerdom, while also making them small and inconsequential enough to be edited out for international releases in places like China and Russia, where LGBTQ content is censored. It feels like pandering because, well, it kind of is. Hopefully Officer Specter will be the first of many openly queer animated characters to grace the big screen.
(via Yahoo Entertainment)
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