On March 9, LGBTQ employees and Pixar Animation Studios allies sent a joint statement to the Walt Disney Company leadership stating that Disney executives had actively censored “openly gay affection” in its feature films. The extraordinary indictment – made as part of a broader protest over the company’s lack of public response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill – did not include which Pixar films had resisted censorship, nor which specifics. creative decisions had been cut or altered.
But in at least one case, the statement appears to have made a significant difference.
According to a source close to the production, Pixar’s upcoming feature film, “Lightyear” – with Chris Evans as the alleged real-life inspiration for “Toy Story” character Buzz Lightyear – features a significant female character, Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba ), who is in a significant relationship with another woman. While the fact of that relationship was never questioned in the studio, a kiss between the characters was cut from the film. After the hype surrounding the Pixar employee statement and Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s handling of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, however, the kiss was reinstated in the film last week.
The decision marks a possible major turning point for LGBTQ representation not just in Pixar films, but in animation in general, which has remained adamant about portraying same-sex affection in a meaningful light.
Indeed, there are several examples of outspoken LGBTQ representation in animation created for adult audiences, including 1999’s “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut”, 2007’s “Persepolis”, 2016’s “Sausage Party” and “Flee” of 2021. ” But in a G or PG rated animated film, the pervasive approach was to tell, not show, and just barely. Arguably the most high-profile LGBTQ character in an animated studio film to date: Katie (Abbi Jacobson), the teenage star of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” produced by Sony Pictures Animation and distributed by Netflix, is the l Rule-proving exception: This explicit fact of Katie’s identity is fully revealed only in the film’s final moments, when her mother makes a fleeting reference to her girlfriend.
In Pixar’s 27-year history, there have only been a small handful of unambiguous LGBTQ characters of any kind. In 2020’s “Onward”, a one-eyed policewoman (Lena Waithe), who appears in some scenes, mentions her girlfriend. In 2019’s “Toy Story 4”, two moms greet their child in kindergarten. And 2016’s “Finding Dory” features a brief shot of what appears to be a lesbian couple, though the filmmakers were shy about calling 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 to come out to his parents, which the studio released on Disney Plus as part of its SparkShorts program.
But according to several former Pixar employees they spoke to variety Provided of anonymity, the creatives within the studio have been trying for years to incorporate LGBTQ identity into its storytelling in ways large and small, only to see these efforts constantly thwarted. (A Disney spokesperson declined to comment on this story.)
In the Pixar version of 2021, “Luca”, two young sea monsters who look human when on land, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), form a deep friendship between them that many have interpreted as an allegory of coming out: The New York Times film review was titled “Calamari by Your Name”. The director of the film, Enrico Casarosa, even told The Wrap that he had “talked” about the potential of Luca and Alberto’s friendship of a romantic nature. But he immediately added that “we haven’t talked about it much” because the film focuses on “friendship” and is “pre-novel”.
“Some people seem to get angry because I’m not saying yes or no, but I feel like, well, this is a film about being open to any difference,” Casarosa added.
According to two sources they spoke to variety, however, the makers of “Luca” also discussed whether the human girl who befriends Luca and Alberto, Giulia (Emma Berman), should be queer. But the creative team seemed to be hampered by how to do it without even creating a girl for the character.
“We’ve often come across the question, ‘How can we do this without giving them a love interest?'” Says a source who worked in the studio. “This happens very often at Pixar.”
It’s unclear why a studio that has infused multidimensional life into anything from plastic toys to concepts of sadness and joy would be baffled about how to create an LGBTQ character without a love interest. But it also appears that Pixar has had a hard time incorporating queer representation as part of the background as well. Several sources have said variety that efforts to include LGBTQ identity signifiers in the design of films set in specific American cities known for sizable LGBTQ populations – namely, 2020’s “Soul” (in New York City) and 2015’s “Inside Out” (a San Francisco) – were shot down. A source said a rainbow sticker placed in a shop window was removed because it was deemed too “distracting”.
Other sources have claimed that same-sex couples have also been removed from the background of these films, although a studio insider insists that they appear in “Soul.” (Film review by variety I have noticed a few examples of two women sitting or standing in close proximity to each other in shots lasting less than a second, but the nature of their relationship is ambiguous.)
The most troubling thing is how this complaint apparently manifested itself in the studio. The March 9 statement from Pixar employees said that “Disney corporate reviews” were responsible for the decrease in LGBTQ representation at Pixar, which would include the tenure of Chapek’s predecessor as CEO, Robert Iger. That’s why Pixar employees say they found Chapek’s claim in a company memo on March 7 that the “biggest impact” Disney can have “is through the stimulating content we produce” so irritating.
“Almost every moment of openly gay affection is cut short at the behest of Disney, regardless of when there are protests from Pixar’s creative teams and executive leadership,” the statement said. “While creating LGBTQIA + content was the answer to correcting discriminatory legislation around the world, we were prevented from creating it.”
But none of the sources he spoke to variety could cite first-hand knowledge of Disney executives directly cutting LGBTQ content from specific Pixar features. Instead, the examples of “Luca”, “Soul” and “Inside Out” were presumably led by the single film’s team of directors or the studio’s leadership. In fact, Pixar has engaged in self-censorship, these sources say, out of the constant belief that LGBTQ content would not pass Disney review because Disney needed the films to be screened in markets traditionally hostile to LGBTQ people. say China, Russia, much of Western Asia and the American South.
Indeed, the inclusion of a one-eyed lesbian policewoman in “Onward” was enough to ban the film in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia; and the version released in Russia exchanged the word “girlfriend” with the word “partner”.
All of which makes the decision to restore same-sex kissing in “Lightyear” – the first Pixar film to be released in theaters rather than Disney Plus from 2019 – far more meaningful to the studio and its employees, especially those who have risked violating Pixar’s near-impenetrable silence on internal matters in their March 9 statement.
For Steven Hunter, the director of the short film “Out,” this effort was particularly important. Even though he’s no longer at Pixar and can’t talk about any specific case of censorship there, he said it was still “nerve-wracking” to talk about the company. But with LGBTQ equal rights threatened by a sudden set of state-level laws, the importance of visibility in the narrative was too great for him to remain silent.
“I’m alongside my colleagues,” Hunter said variety. “I’m really proud of those people for speaking. We need it. We need Mr. Chapek to understand that we need to talk. We cannot assume that these laws they are trying to put in place are not offensive, bigoted and, frankly, evil. We are not going away. We will not go back to the closet. “