Take this news with a grain of salt, as it has yet to be confirmed by any other sources. The Sun is reporting that comedian Jack Whitehall is joining the cast of Disney’s upcoming film Jungle Cruise as the openly gay brother of Emily Blunt’s character. Whitehall’s character is described by sources as being “hugely effete, very camp, and very funny,” which is not necessarily the best way to describe a character who’s leading the charge in Disney LGBT+ representation.
Disney made headlines last year for their “exclusively gay” moment in Beauty and the Beast. The character of LeFou ends the film by dancing with another man for about two seconds, which is the cinematic equivalent of eating the crumbs out of a box of Cheez-its and calling it a meal. The film was banned in Russia and drew threats from Malaysia that they wouldn’t screen the film, but the hullabaloo was for nothing essentially; it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that barely registers.
There are very few LGBT+ characters in children’s films, outside of characters like LeFou. Even other franchises that are somewhat aimed at children, such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars, have avoided including LGBT+ characters; though Kevin Feige promises they are coming to the Marvel ‘verse at least. There is an untrue stereotype that LGBT+ characters are somehow too adult for kids, or that seeing them will “turn kids gay.” These are sentiments espoused by conservatives and homophobes that Hollywood feeds into with their inability to include LGBT+ characters onscreen in their more kiddie-centric fare.
Disney including a major gay character in a family-oriented film like Jungle Cruise is a massive step forward for a studio that is absolutely terrible when it comes to LGBT+ representation. However, it remains to be seen whether or not it will be good representation. Effete and camp are…well, they’re not necessarily the best words to describe a gay character. They come off as somewhat stereotypical. The last thing we need is a caricature of a gay man to appear in the film, as bad representation is equally as terrible as no representation at all.
Whitehall could deliver a marvelous performance, and the character could be wonderful. But those descriptors really set me on edge when it comes to this rumor. We don’t need someone to be campy, who gets to be the butt of the joke as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gets to play the literal straight man. We need nuanced, interesting gay characters who aren’t just stereotypes. It is long past the point in time where LGBT+ audiences need to accept terrible representation because it’s the only representation they are getting.
Of course, this is all just rumors. Disney could step up tomorrow and reveal that Whitehall’s character is straight, or they could come forward and say yes, he will be our first major gay character. Until then, we just have to contend with the concept of a possible stereotype breaking the ground at Disney. Hopefully, they know better, and this character is not as bad as he seems on paper. And regardless of whether he’s a stereotype or a well-rounded character, we need to continue to demand better representation, as one character is not enough to make up for years of being ignored.
(Source: The Sun; Image: Disney)
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