new toy story movie controversy

Lightyear’s Same-sex Kiss Caused A Lot Of Controversy, Which Led To Disney’s First “Real” Lgbtq+ Representation.


The Complicated LGBTQ+ history of Disney

Asserting that Disney management had purposefully banned “overtly gay affection” in its feature films, LGBTQ employees and advocates at Pixar Animation Studios submitted a unified statement to Walt Disney Company leadership on March 9.

The shocking claim did not specify which Pixar films had withstood the censorship or which individual creative decisions were removed or changed. It was made as part of a bigger protest over the company’s failure to publicly address Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. However, the statement seems to have greatly impacted at least one instance.

A source close to the production claims that Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), who is in a significant relationship with another woman, appears in Pixar’s upcoming feature film “Lightyear,” which stars Chris Evans as the alleged real-life inspiration for the “Toy Story” character Buzz Lightyear.

A kiss between the characters had been removed from the movie, even though the studio never questioned the reality of that relationship. However, the kiss was added to the movie last week after the controversy surrounding the Pixar employees’ statement and Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s handling of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Why do countries not let people watch Buzz Lightyear?

Why do countries not let people watch Buzz Lightyear?
Why do countries not let people watch Buzz Lightyear?

So far, 14 countries, mostly in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, have banned the movie. This is mostly because of laws that make it illegal to be gay or show gay people on screen. The UAE said that the relationship between the two people broke the country’s rules for media content.

“Don’t Say Gay” and Disney

The move could signal a significant shift in how LGBTQ people are portrayed in feature animation in general, not just Pixar movies, which have historically avoided meaningfully portraying same-sex love.

In fact, there are several examples of openly LGBTQ representation in feature animation made for an adult audience, such as “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” from 1999, “Persepolis” from 2007, “Sausage Party” from 2016, and “Flee” from 2021. However, the prevalent strategy in animated films with a G or PG rating has been to tell, not show—and only just at that.

The teenage lead of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” created by Sony Pictures Animation and distributed by Netflix, Katie (Abbi Jacobson), who is arguably the most prominent LGBTQ character in an animated studio feature to date, is the exception that proves the rule: This explicit fact of Katie’s identity is only fully revealed in the final moments of the movie when her mother casually mentions her girlfriend.

Only a few clear-cut LGBTQ characters of any kind have appeared in Pixar’s 27-year existence. A one-eyed cop (Lena Waithe), which makes an appearance in a few episodes of “Onward” from 2020, addresses her girlfriend. Two mothers kiss their child goodbye at kindergarten in the 2019 film “Toy Story 4.” A brief glimpse in the 2016 film “Finding Dory” shows what appears to be a lesbian relationship, however, the film’s creators were reticent to define them as such at the time.

A gay man struggles to come out to his parents in the 2020 short film “Out,” which Pixar released on Disney Plus as part of its SparkShorts film. This is the most blatantly LGBTQ piece in Pixar’s history. But according to a number of ex-Pixar workers who spoke with Variety under the condition of anonymity, the studio’s creatives have attempted for years to include LGBTQ identity into its stories in a variety of ways, but have consistently been unsuccessful. (A Disney spokeswoman declined to comment for this article.)

It’s puzzling why a company that has given several dimensions to everything from plastic toys to the ideas of misery and joy would struggle to come up with a gay character who doesn’t have a romantic interest. But it also seems like Pixar has struggled to include LGBT representation, even in the background.

Variety was informed by multiple sources that attempts to add LGBTQ identity signifiers in the set design of movies set in specific American cities with substantial LGBTQ populations — namely, 2020’s “Soul” (in New York City) and 2015’s “Inside Out” (in San Francisco) — were unsuccessful. According to one source, a rainbow sticker that had been placed in a store window had been taken down because it was thought to be too “distracting.”

Although a studio insider maintains they do appear in “Soul,” other reports said same-sex couples were also eliminated from the background of these movies. (A Variety review of the movie highlighted a few instances of two ladies sitting or standing next to each other in images that last less than a second, although it is unclear what their relationship is.)The studio’s apparent response to this censoring raises the most serious concerns.

According to a statement released by Pixar employees on March 9, “Disney corporate reviews”—which would have included Robert Iger’s term as CEO—were to blame for the decrease in LGBTQ representation at Pixar. This is why Pixar staff members claim they were offended by Chapek’s claim in a memo sent to the entire business on March 7 that the “greatest influence” Disney can have “is through the inspiring material we produce.”

Despite objections from both the creative teams and administrative leadership at Pixar, the statement claims that “almost every moment of blatantly gay affection is deleted at Disney’s insistence.” Even though we are prohibited from doing so, “even if making LGBTQIA+ content was the solution to correcting the discriminatory legislation in the world.”

However, none of the whistleblowers who spoke with Variety were able to provide first-hand information about Disney executives specifically removing LGBTQ themes from particular Pixar films. Instead, the instances from “Luca,” “Soul,” and “Inside Out” were allegedly motivated either by the studio’s executives or by the team that made the particular movie.

According to these sources, Disney needed the movies to be seen in regions that have historically been unfriendly to LGBTQ persons, especially China, Russia, much of West Asia, and the American South. As a result, Disney forced Pixar to engage in self-censorship. In fact, “Onward” was outlawed in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia due to the presence of a one-eyed lesbian cop. The word “girlfriend” was also changed to “partner” in the Russian release.

Affirming the kiss: Lightyear Movie

The decision to reinstate the same-sex kiss in “Lightyear,” the first Pixar movie to debut in theatres as opposed to on Disney Plus since 2019, is made all the more significant for the company and its staff, especially those who took a chance by breaking Pixar’s long-standing, nearly impenetrable silence on internal matters in their March 9 statement.

That attempt has a special significance for “Out” short film filmmaker Steven Hunter. He claimed it was still “nerve-wracking” to talk about Pixar at all, despite the fact that he is no longer employed there and cannot comment on any specific incidents of censorship there. The significance of visibility in storytelling was too significant for him to remain silent, however, when LGBTQ equal rights were suddenly threatened by a torrent of state-level laws.

Hunter told Variety, “I support my colleagues. I applaud those people much for speaking up. We require that. Mr. Chapek must comprehend the importance of our speaking up. We can’t just assume that the laws they’re attempting to enact aren’t harmful, discriminatory, and, quite well, wicked. We are not leaving. We won’t return to the closet.

Is Lightyear a failure at the box office?

Why “Lightyear” didn’t take off: 6 things to learn from Pixar’s “meh” $51 million openings. “Lightyear” from Disney/Pixar opened in the U.S. with a disappointing $51 million, which was a long way from “infinity and beyond.”

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