Disney’s Complicated Relationship with LGBTQ+ Characters

The 2019 GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index ranked Walt Disney Studios as “Failing” for their ten films theatrically released in 2018 under their studio and official imprints. This means that across ten films released by the studios owned by the Walt Disney Company like Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Touchstone, not a single openly LGBTQ+ person was featured for the entire year of 2018. From the seven major film companies GLAAD evaluates, they cite Disney as having “the weakest history when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion of all the studios tracked in this report,” having ranked as either “Failing” or “Poor” within the last five years.

As disappointing as this is to realize, the only two openly and explicitly gay primary characters currently under the Disney brand are LeFou in the 2017 live action remake of Beauty and the Beast and Cyrus Goodman from the 2017-2019 Disney Channel Original Series Andi Mack. These two characters are also on polar opposite spectrums in regards to their quality of representation, with LeFou’s queerness reduced to flamboyant stereotyping and a blink-and-you’ll miss it ‘gay moment,’ and Cyrus’ coming out being a three-season complex journey of self-discovery and acceptance. This discrepancy raises the question as to why Disney struggles so much with explicitly LGBTQ+ representation, and if there is hope that it will improve going forward.

Josh Gad as LeFou in Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Joshua Rush as Cyrus Goodman in Andi Mack (2019)

To understand why 2017’s LeFou is a poor example of queer representation, it’s important to evaluate the original character from 1991’s Beauty and the Beast. Cartoonishly ugly with a silly voice, LeFou isn’t even the film’s primary villain. Instead, he’s the emasculated, buffoonish accomplice to Gaston, the true villain, whom he and the rest of his little town view as the paragon of greatness and masculinity. While a sidekick that’s really only there for comic relief and whose name literally translates to “the fool” works when that’s all he’s expected to be, we start running into problems when he’s reinvented as the new “first gay Disney character.”

LeFou in Beauty and the Beast (1991)

So, how was LeFou updated to be the 2017 champion of gay rights? He makes a lot of offhand comments about being in love with Gaston, which are often played a joke. While in the original film, Gaston is adored by the town, in the 2017 adaption, LeFou has to pay off his fellow bar patrons to join him in singing Gaston’s praises, changing  the point of the song from a mob mentality worship of everyone’s favorite symbol of toxic masculinity to a pathetic, one-sided serenade. And then, after Gaston leaves LeFou for dead at their battle at the Beast’s castle, LeFou realizes he was wrong for loving Gaston and is now a ‘good guy.’ As his consolation prize for coming to the good side, he gets to dance with the only other queer-coded townsperson for the film’s seconds-long “gay moment.”

If I’m trying to be positive about this character portrayal, I could argue that having one canonically gay Disney character is better than none at all. It’s one foot in the right direction, and while LeFou may not be a perfect gay character, his existence could be a sign of Walt Disney Studios warming up towards a progression of gayness, where at some point they will feel confident in releasing a film with an explicitly LGBTQ+ hero. But the thing is, that’s not a satisfying answer for our modern era, especially with his portrayal leaning so heavily on outdated stereotypically “gay” traits.  Gay film critic Michael Musto particularly criticized the film for having LeFou play into “the stereotype that gay guys always lust for hetero studs.” The GLAAD report is also very telling, and put in perspective against its other studio contemporaries Disney seems incredibly behind the times. Why is Disney still at a point where their first gay character is someone who must be redeemed for their bad choice of being in love with another incredibly problematic man? Why is this a character that has to be on the side of “evil” first and then switch sides to the “good guys”? Why can’t we just have positive, heroic gay characters from the get-go?

My best guess is that for the company, picking LeFou as their first gay character wasn’t really risky. To compare this to another example, when Disney began airing the television show Walt Disney’s Disneyland in 1954 as a means of promoting their brand new theme park coming in 1955, they chose a character from their most recent film, Peter Pan, to be the mascot of the park. Choosing Tinkerbell to be their animated ambassador of Disneyland rather than Mickey Mouse was a bit of an insurance policy. If the park failed, then Tink would be associated with that failure, but she that wouldn’t do the same damage to the Disney as if the park failed with Mickey, the icon of the entire company, helming it. Similarly, LeFou is a pretty expendable Disney character. If the first pass at establishing a gay character was met with horrible critical response, it would not do that much damage to the entire image of Disney –  he would just be a disliked character. While there has been a decent amount of campaigning to give Frozen’s Elsa a girlfriend, she’s the current face of the modern era of Disney success, so giving her an explicitly queer identity would be a far riskier move for the company, even if she would be a far more ideal candidate for “first gay Disney character.” In response as to whether Elsa would be given a girlfriend in Frozen II, director Jennifer Lee said “There’s so many movies that define a woman by her romantic interest. That’s not a story that we wanted to tell at this point in time. What we really wanted to tell was if you have these powers, how do you grow and change and find your place in the world and find answers that haven’t been found before?”

Tweet from the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend campaign (2016)

Even though the Walt Disney Company seems to be hesitant to include any major LGBTQ+ heroes in their feature films, they did have a significant win in their Disney Channel series Andi Mack. The showis the channel’s first live action serialized drama, which follows middle schooler Andi Mack and her two best friends Buffy and Cyrus as they navigate the real life complex problems that come with growing up. The show covers many sensitive themes, with Andi discovering that the person thought was her older sister is actually her mom, Buffy trying to overcome sexism in her school’s athletic program, and Cyrus coming to terms with his sexuality. While these topics are all a bit heavy for Disney Channel content, they are covered with sincerity and open mindedness, which is very refreshing for children’s television programming.

Cyrus comes out to his one of his best friends, Buffy, in the show’s second season after realizing he has a crush on Andi’s new boyfriend, Jonah, who he had grown to be close friends with in the first season. While the realization is overwhelming for him to admit, his honesty is met with love and support from Buffy, who reassures him that even if this is something new for him, he’s still the same Cyrus she’s always loved. Cyrus later admits his feelings for Jonah to Andi, and they bond over how heartbreaking having a crush on him can be. By the third season, Cyrus has moved on from his crush on Jonah, but wants to be able to tell him about his sexuality since they’re still close friends. Even though it’s harder than coming out to Buffy and Andi, Cyrus finally blurts out “ …and I’m gay” in the middle of a conversation, to which Jonah responds, “Cool!”  

It’s also refreshing to see that Cyrus’ character isn’t just defined by his sexuality, he has his own complex storylines dealing with growing up and friendships, and is often trusted by his friends to be a loyal confidant who gives thoughtful and emotionally intelligent advice.  Cyrus is often the character that will find the good in characters the rest of his friends tend to misjudge, helping Jonah’s ex-girlfriend Amber work through her parents’ divorce, and encouraging

Buffy’s basketball rival T.J. when he’s struggling with being diagnosed with dyslexia. Cyrus and T.J.’s friendship grows over seasons two and three from being newfound best friends to maybe being something more. Even though their feelings for each other aren’t explicitly stated, it’s clear the two of them have chemistry, and in the final episode the two of them imply having feelings for each other, ending their conversation holding hands. In regards to their final scene, show runner Terri Minsky said, “I think that first physical contact with somebody is so intense. The feeling of their hand and your hand intertwined, how unusual and connected and intense that is. I just felt like this was the story of these characters, that they finally understood what they were saying to each other, and it wasn’t like they had to wonder, is he saying this? or is he thinking this?”

T.J. and Cyrus in their final scene on Andi Mack (2019)

It’s frustrating when Andi Mack is such a clear example that Disney is capable of doing more when it comes to well written, complex, and sincere LGBTQ+ characters, but this writing is not reflected in their feature films. The real issue here is that The Walt Disney Company has more freedom in taking risks when it comes to programming that’s mostly targeted towards millennials and Gen Z kids, especially if it doesn’t necessarily need to reach a global market. The new Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series seems to be targeted towards a very similar audience, and within its first few episodes does seem to have solid LGBTQ+ representation, with it’s main character, Nini, having two moms, and two other principal characters, Carlos and Seb, being gay. However, the Walt Disney Company still seems to be very hesitant in including queer representation for its feature films, given that if they only releases about ten films a year, they have to make sure they aren’t isolating international audiences, with China being one of their largest demographics. So while we may continue to only see LGBTQ+ references that are minor enough to be edited out in feature films for the next few years, there is some hope in seeing that there is a willingness to include queer characters in their television programming going forward.





Inside the Controversy Surrounding Pokémon Sword and Shield

Pokémon is the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, with an estimated $95 billion in total revenue. When the newest games in the franchise, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, were announced this past February, fans all over the world were excited. However, as more and more information about the game came out over the next several months, the community at large grew more and more concerned. The biggest offender was the announcement that in a series first, not every previously existing Pokémon will be available in the new games. For anyone unfamiliar with the series, it is a staple feature to be able to take Pokémon from older games and transfer them into the new ones. However, as of Sword and Shield, more than half of the now 890 total Pokémon are unavailable, with only 400 being included, 81 of which are new.

While these exact numbers only became available when the game released this past week, fans were upset as soon as they heard the news. The event was instantly dubbed “Dexit”, a play on the Pokédex that catalogs the Pokémon, and Brexit (the new game’s region is roughly based on the United Kingdom). For many fans, the goal of completing the Pokédex by capturing every single Pokémon is the highest level of achievement in the franchise, but as of Sword and Shield, that is no longer possible. In an interview with US Gamer in June, Junichi Masuda, producer of the game, claimed that although many Pokémon were cut, the game would be “much higher fidelity with higher quality animations”. However, it is important to note that some outlets such as IGN have claimed this is a less than accurate translation of the original Japanese, and that Masuda’s original comment may have been referring to the Nintendo Switch as higher fidelity, and therefore more demanding of technical resources.

The new Pokémon Yamper using “Tail Whip”

Less than a month later, a new Pokémon was revealed, along with the above animation of it using the move “Tail Whip”. The flames of the controversy were fanned again, with fans taking this clip as “proof” that the developers had been lying about cutting Pokémon for the sake of increased visuals and animations. In addition to criticisms of quality, the animation for “Tail Whip” has been in use since Pokémon X and Y, released in 2013.

Following this, the fan reception of further content revealed remained mixed. Almost every announcement drew criticism, especially in regards to reused animation or animation seen as lackluster. Later footage drew complaints about the short draw distance for Pokémon, NPCs, and certain objects of the terrain, causing them to spontaneously appear on screen out of thin air.

An example of the short draw distance for 3D models

The last major hit for proponents of Game Freak lying about cutting Pokémon to improve graphics came a few days before the game released on November 15th. Several copies of the game had leaked, and data miners have claimed that many 3D models have been reused from older games dating back to X and Y. While there has been some suspicion of whether or not these claims are accurate, it has only sparked further debate about Game Freak’s development practices. Both sides have taken to social media with posts tagged #GameFreakLied or #ThankYouGamefreak, both of which were trending on Twitter in the days before the release.

Speaking from my personal experience with the game so far, it’s been a mixed bag. Yes, some less than stellar animations have returned, but I’ve also noticed a lot of new animations, particularly in “Pokémon Camp”, a feature that lets you play with your Pokémon and watch them interact with each other. The animations aren’t all perfect, with some being particularly choppy or static, but there is clear evidence of effort on Game Freak’s part. The short draw distance has definitely been noticeable, but the Nintendo Switch is not the most powerful console out there either, so it is understandable.

We may never know if Game Freak intentionally made false claims about why Pokémon were removed or whether or not models were reused. However, it is important to consider that on the internet, fans are easily enraged, and rarely consider the actual work required to fix the problems they have with games like Pokémon Sword and Shield. “Armchair developers” are rampant. That is not to say that the game is without its share of problems, or that the issues do not matter and fans should just shut up. Many have chosen to vote with their wallets by boycotting the game or buying it used in an attempt to not give Game Freak their money directly.

At the end of the day, the entire Dexit and animation controversy surrounding these games highlights the volatile nature of online reception and the importance of understanding the work that goes into something like making a game for the largest franchise in the world. I hope that both Game Freak and the fans can learn from this and that whatever comes next for the franchise, both sides are more open to understanding.






Japan Hesitates to Ban Loli Culture

I have always been a fan of anime and manga, everything from Slice of Life Romance to Sci Fi Mecha. Odds are if you name it, I’ve seen it. However, the one type of anime and manga that never fails to make me uncomfortable, and has since been put on my blacklist, are those of the “Loli” genre. A loli is a prepubescent girl or a girl that has child like qualities. These girls are often depicted in an “erokawaii” fashion which translates to erotic cute. In the world of anime, the word loli is often tied to “lolicon” meaning lolita complex. This describes a person who is sexually attracted to these young girls. The word loli originated from Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita. It is a story that follows a middle aged man who falls in love with a 12 year old girl, consequently leading to our current definition of the word loli. 

This genre is incredibly popular with anime fans. Shows like Eromanga Sensei, Oreimo, so on and so forth, have built a brand on sexualizing underage girls. Anime and manga have done a lot to try and work around the fact these characters look young without actually making them young or prepubescent. The excuse often given is that a character is much older than the manner in which they’re presented. For example, the character Shinobu from the Monogatari series who looks no older than 10, is actually 500 years old.

For years, Japan, which is one of the most powerful countries in the world, has had enormous issues involving child pornography. Sexualized images of children are everywhere in pop culture and it is only until recently that Japan took action. In 2014, a law was passed down by the Japanese government to ban all possession of child pornography (this of course includes the production of child pornography), but does not include the banning of anime and manga that contain explicit scenes of children. Nevertheless, this is only skimming the surface of the problem, and it is quite worrying that it took so long for the ban to come through. 

The reasoning behind all of this is that there is a target audience that is desperate to see characters that look like children, there’s an appetite and demand and it’s booming in sales. In 2018, Japanese domestic sales of manga topped over 3 billion dollars. Nothing truly depicts the scenery of modern day Japan more than anime and manga. These cute girls are marketed to sell everything imaginable, that includes the sales x rated materials. Some of these materials involve child abuse, child violence, and incest. These publishings are so graphic they have been banned in several countries. The Japanese government has tried to ban it, but artists and publishers have defended their work on the grounds of free speech. 

On September 10th of this year, the OHCHR, a subunit of the UN’s Human Rights Division, published guidelines of its recommendation to incorporate defenses against content that includes adolescents. The update stated, 

“The Committee is deeply concerned about the large amount of online and offline material, including drawings and virtual representations, depicting non-existing children or persons appearing to be children involved in sexually explicit conduct, and about the serious effect that such material can have on children’s right to dignity and protection. The Committee encourages States parties to include in their legal provisions regarding child sexual abuse material (child pornography) representations of non-existing children or of persons appearing to be children, in particular when such representations are used as part of a process to sexually exploit children,”

This has been a topic of controversy and has fueled an ongoing debate in the anime community regarding loli’s and loli culture. Leading to many questioning whether or not this content should be banned. Those in defense of the material claim that a child like image taking part in a sexual act is completely separate from it taking place in real life. Others say that banning or censoring this graphic material is “thought policing”. Some have even compared it to the argument that violent video games leads to people committing violent acts. Yet, the difference of the argument to ban loli content is that men are lusting after these young girls and it is being normalized and catered to though this type of media. This leads to the endangerment of real children. 

The idea of Lolicon isn’t just prevalent in anime and manga, it is a real life occurrence. School girls in Japan are often sexualized and objectified. It is a business called Joshi kōsei or “JK” which translates to “high school girl”. Girls as young as 15 dressed in school uniforms work in and hand out flyers promoting specialized “JK” cafes all around Japan. In these cafes, 30 dollars could get you a drink and 40 minutes with a girl. The clientele are often much older than the girls employed in the cafes. The worst part? All of this is perfectly legal, these school girls are up for sale. 

There are no proactive government agencies protecting these young girls from these kinds of businesses that profit off of their exploitation and fetishization. These businesses can be gateways to prostitution as seen in this Vice documentary.  

Pedophilia unfortunately exists everywhere, it is disheartening that there hasn’t been a way to secure the protection of children. This type of sexualization and objectification of children is incredibly harmful. This is not a matter of cultural differences or something lost in translation, it is child abuse, point blank period, and it must be put to an end. 







P.A. Works Animation Studio Offers Less Pay than McDonalds

The Japanese Anime industry has been growing in popularity in recent years.  It doubled in size to more than $19 billion annually between the years of 2002 and 2017. Fans are intrigued by its beautiful design, the art of storytelling and interesting characters. But what many of them don’t know is how brutal the industry is. Anime, in general, is a very time-consuming process that takes a lot of effort and requires you to be extremely detail-oriented. It is almost entirely hand-drawn and takes skill to do it quickly. Despite their hard work, a lot of anime artists have extremely low celeries and experience labor code violations. Some work up to 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, and are asked to work overtime with no compensation. This needs to be changed. 

P.A. Works animation studio located in Toyama Prefecture, Japan, and famous for its projects such as Shirobako and Sakura Quest is one of the anime studios that treat their workers unfairly. It pays approximately 770 yen ($7) an hour, which is a minimum wage for the area. In fact, the studio offers less pay than McDonald’s (980 yen / $8.60 an hour) and convenience stores (920 yen / $8 an hour). As Teffen puts it, “Working on a potentially beloved anime for one of Japan’s favorite studios is financially less rewarding than food service.”

What is even crazier is that P.A. Works actually pays above the average in the Japanese anime industry.  Other studios usually pay 2 to 5 yen per drawing and hire freelancers or self-employed artists because they can’t afford to have full-time animators. With such low salaries, artists have no choice but to live in a cheap dorm with a bunch of roommates. They end up saving money on food, going out, and traveling. Since transportation in Japan is very expensive, most of the artists tend to live close to work.

In Japan, animation studios usually pay their employees through a commission plan including P.A Works. P.A Works pays between 220-240 yen for each drawing if you are doing in-betweening. You would need to do four complete full-color in-between drawings an hour to make a minimum wage, which does not sound like an easy task to do. If you are just starting your career and do not have a lot of experience, it is absolutely impossible to draw four complete in-between drawings in such a short period of time. This results in many artists being forced to work extra hours to finish projects on time and not being compensated for that at all. 

It is also worth to mention that Japan is a collectivist culture. People tend to prioritize the needs of a group rather than their own. So, when artists are asked to work overtime to finish a project, they agree to do so even under tough conditions. They would agree to work 36 hours in a row, go home once a week, take shower in public bathrooms and so on.

On the bright side, P.A. Works is gearing up to launch an animator training course to help foster young talent. They will be preparing inexperienced animators to work fast and efficiently under strict deadlines. They also announced plans to roll new recruits into their monthly salary program by 2019. In addition, P.A. Works offers a special dorm for its employees. That way they help the artist to save money on accommodation and transportation. There are also a lot of organizations and donation centers in Japan who support underpaid animators and make their life a little easier. They run organizations that aim to provide a dormitory with the help of crowd-funding and donations for very cheap prices.

However, I still believe that this is not enough to solve the issue. P.A. Works and other studios need to appreciate their artists more for their hard work and dedication. A fair wage and overtime pay can significantly change the artists’ lives in a better way.



https://goboiano.com/p-a-works-now-pays-new-animators-22-less-than-mcdonalds/ http:// https://kotaku.com/average-anime-industry-salaries-get-depressing-1774852881

http:// https://sites.psu.edu/ayfunthingsarefun/2018/02/12/sweatshop-animation/comment-page-1/