Photo By: Brian McGowan from Unsplash

By: Austin Evans – Volunteer Contributor

Those who keep up with movie news may be familiar with the phrase, “Disney’s first gay character,” as it has been used on more than one occasion. Le Fou from the 2017 Beauty and the Beast remake was implied to be gay, Spectre – a female side character in the 2020 movie Onward – mentions her girlfriend in passing, and who could forget the classic scene in Finding Dory where two women can be seen pushing a baby carriage together? The answer is: everybody. 

Any acknowledgement of the LGBTQ+ community in Disney films has been so incredibly brief or subtle that people seem to forget about it when the next one comes around, and that seems to be intentional. In Russia and China, two highly profitable markets with anti-gay legislation, scenes like this will be altered in translation, such as making Spectre refer to her “partner” instead of her girlfriend. 

The alternative is to significantly reduce the audience for these movies: Beauty and the Beast (2017) has a 16+ rating in Russia simply because two male characters waltz with each other for three seconds. Disney seems too afraid to risk their profits in these markets to make any larger moves for LGBTQ+ representation. That’s what makes it all the more shocking that Disney has a series with great representation: 2020’s The Owl House.

[The next three paragraphs contain spoilers for The Owl House] The Owl House is a television show directed by Dana Terrace, and is currently on hiatus in its second season. It follows a human girl, Luz Noceda, who finds herself in The Demon Realm and wants to become a witch. So far the show has included several LGBTQ+ characters: Raine Whispers is a non-binary bard and Luz’s friend Willow has two dads, but the most shocking of all is Luz herself. In the eighth episode of season two, Luz asks out her rival-turned-crush Amity. The couple haven’t had much screen time together since, but there are 11 episodes left in season two to give them more spotlight. Unfortunately, it seems they won’t be getting much past that. 

Terrace has confirmed that season three will be the show’s final season, and will be different from one and two – there will only be three double-length episodes. This is equal to six episodes-worth of runtime, a much shorter season than the previous two. Additionally, Disney has only done promos for a few episodes of The Owl House on the Disney channel (as opposed to their other animated series, which have all gotten promos for each new episode released). It is hard not to connect this to Disney’s apprehension towards LGBTQ+ representation, especially considering the issues The Owl House has faced overseas. 

Several scenes in the season one episode “Wing It Like Witches” showing Amity having a crush on Luz were cut in the Russian dub, and the series’ release in Hungary and the Czech Republic didn’t happen due to those countries’ censors’ distaste for LGBTQ+ themes. It seems that Disney found the show not profitable enough to continue due to its smaller market overseas and has decided to pull the plug, once again prioritizing profit over progress.

It’s hard to say if The Owl House is a sign of progress for the company. The fact that the show was permitted to explore these themes at all is unprecedented at Disney, which makes it all the more heartbreaking that the show’s wings are being clipped in season three. What seems most likely to me is that Disney saw the success of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe and Netflix’s She-Ra And The Princesses of Power and thought The Owl House might help them capitalize on that market. 

What that tells me is that if we are ever to see proper LGBTQ+ representation in a feature Disney movie, it will have to be after the success of one of its rivals. Given the extent to which Disney controls the box office, I worry that may not come for quite some time.