Disney Restores Same-Sex Kiss in Pixar’s “Lightyear” Following Staff Uproar Over “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

Pixar’s next feature film, Lightyear features a significant female character, Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), who is in a meaningful relationship with another woman. While the fact of that relationship was never in question at the studio, a kiss between the characters had been cut from the film, according to Variety.

What’s Happening:

  • On March 9, LGBTQ employees and allies at Pixar Animation Studios sent a joint statement to Walt Disney Company leadership claiming that Disney executives had actively censored “overtly gay affection” in its feature films.
  • The stunning allegation — made as part of a larger protest over the company’s lack of public response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill — did not include which Pixar films had weathered the censorship, nor which specific creative decisions were cut or altered.
  • Following the uproar surrounding the Pixar employees’ statement and Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s handling of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, however, the kiss was reinstated into the movie last week.
  • The decision marks a possible major turning point for LGBTQ representation not just in Pixar films, but in feature animation in general, which has remained persistent about depicting same-sex affection in any meaningful light.
  • To be sure, there are several examples of forthright LGBTQ representation in feature animation created for an adult audience, but in a G or PG rated animated movie, the pervasive approach has been to tell, not show — and only barely at that. Arguably the most high-profile LGBTQ character in an animated studio feature to date — Katie (Abbi Jacobson), the teenage lead of The Mitchells vs. the Machines, produced by Sony Pictures Animation and released by Netflix — is the exception that proves the rule: This explicit fact of Katie’s identity is only fully revealed in the final moments of the film when her mother makes a passing reference to her girlfriend.
  • In Pixar’s 27-year history, there have been just a small handful of unambiguous LGBTQ characters of any kind. In 2020’s Onward, a one-eyed cop (Lena Waithe), who appears in a few scenes, mentions her girlfriend. In 2019’s Toy Story 4, two moms hug their child goodbye at kindergarten. And 2016’s Finding Dory features a brief shot of what appears to be a lesbian couple, though the movie’s filmmakers were coy about defining them that way at the time.
  • The most overtly LGBTQ project in Pixar’s canon is a 2020 short film, “Out,” about a gay man struggling with coming out to his parents — which the studio released on Disney Plus as part of its SparkShorts program.
  • But according to multiple former Pixar employees who spoke with Variety on the condition of anonymity, creatives within the studio have tried for years to incorporate LGBTQ identity into its storytelling in ways big and small, only to have those efforts constantly thwarted.
  • In Pixar’s 2021 release, Luca, two young sea monsters who appear human when on land, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), build a profound friendship with each other that many interpreted as a coming out allegory.
  • The film’s director, Enrico Casarosa, even told The Wrap that he “talked about” the potential of Luca and Alberto’s friendship being romantic in nature. But he quickly added that “we didn’t talk about it as much” because the film focuses “on friendship” and is “pre-romance.”
  • The Luca filmmakers also discussed whether the human girl who befriends Luca and Alberto, Giulia (Emma Berman), should be queer. But the creative team appeared to be stymied by how to do it without also creating a girlfriend for the character.
  • It’s unclear why a studio that has imbued multi-dimensional life into everything from plastic toys to the concepts of sadness and joy would be stumped by how to create an LGBTQ character without a love interest. But it also appears Pixar has had difficulty incorporating queer representation even as part of the background.
  • Multiple sources from Pixar have said that efforts to include signifiers of LGBTQ identity in the set design of films located in specific American cities known for sizable LGBTQ populations — namely, 2020’s Soul set in New York City and 2015’s Inside Out which takes place in San Francisco — were shot down. One source said that a rainbow sticker placed in the window of a shop was removed because it was deemed too “distracting.”
  • What is most troubling is how this censorship apparently manifested at the studio. The March 9 statement by Pixar employees states that “Disney corporate reviews” were responsible for the diminution of LGBTQ representation at Pixar — which would include the tenure of Chapek’s predecessor as CEO, Robert Iger.
  • Pixar engaged in self-censorship, say these sources, out of an abiding belief that LGBTQ content wouldn’t get past Disney review because Disney has needed the films to play in markets traditionally hostile to LGBTQ people: namely China, Russia, much of West Asia and in the American South.
  • The inclusion of a one-eyed lesbian cop in Onward was enough to ban the film in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia; and the version released in Russia swapped the word “girlfriend” with the word “partner.”
  • All of which makes the decision to restore the same-sex kiss in Lightyear — the first Pixar film due to open in movie theaters rather than on Disney Plus since 2019 — that much more meaningful for the studio and its employees, especially the ones who risked breaching Pixar’s decades-long near impenetrable silence about internal matters in their March 9 statement.
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