Before cinemas shut down, one of the last movies I caught on the big screen was Onward. Disney/Pixar’s latest fantasy animation follows two elf brothers who go on a magical quest to bring their deceased father back to life. Amid all the mythical creatures, a lesbian character also made a very subtle appearance in the story.
In a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of way, one scene featured a female cyclops police officer named Specter who mentioned to her co-worker that she was helping to raise her “girlfriend’s daughter”. The character, voiced by lesbian screenwriter and actress Lena Waithe, only appeared briefly as the brothers travelled across town. She doesn’t have much role in the main storyline.
At first, when it was announced that Onward would feature an LGBTI character, people were sceptical. The initial released picture of the purple cyclops had many calling out its seemingly stereotypical flamboyant portrayal. The actual scene in the movie probably caught many off guard as Specter was very ordinary as far as the onscreen representation of LGBTI characters goes.
Other characters were also very casual with her statement. So, at least in the Onward universe, LGBTI families are well accepted. Delightfully surprising, yes. But, at the same, we have to ask: “Is that all?” Like, really?
Well, a minute appearance is better than none. Still, that very brief moment was enough to rile up some Muslim countries where homosexual acts are criminalised. The film was banned in several Arab countries, including Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The ban is not universal, however, as the film was still able to screen in countries like the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Specter’s dialogue was also reportedly changed in the Russian dub to be less gender-specific.
It seems Disney’s been testing the waters. The studio had a similar experience in its live-action Beauty And The Beast a few years ago as it subtly made the character LeFou gay. The film was banned in a few places, too. It was good to see that the ban didn’t deter Disney from incorporating LGBTI characters, no matter how small that inclusion may be. As audiences, we do hope the studio will take a bigger step in the future.