Disney reinstates gay kissing scene between two female characters on Pixar’s Toy Story spinoff Lightyear after outrage from workers who claimed the film giant actively censored ‘overtly gay affection’
- The dispute is the latest salvo fired by staff amid a row about the entertainment giant’s stance on gay rights
- A source told Variety that the film features a character named Hawthorne, voiced by actress Uzo Aduba, who is in a relationship with another woman
- The relationship was apparently kept in the film but a kiss between the two characters had been allegedly cut and was restored amid the recent uproar
- Neither Disney nor Pixar has made any public comment regarding the scene or the film, which isn’t slated to premiere until June 17
- Disney CEO Bob Chapek has been criticized for not condemning a Florida bill passed on Tuesday limiting LGBTQ discussion in schools
Disney is reportedly putting a kissing scene between two women back into their upcoming ‘Toy Story’ spinoff ‘Lightyear’ after Pixar employees accused the parent company of cutting gay characters from films.
The dispute is the latest salvo fired by staff amid a row about the entertainment giant’s stance on gay rights as politicians in Florida attempt to pass a law that’s become derided as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.
A source told Variety that the film – which stars Chris Evans as a fictional ‘real life’ inspiration for the ‘Toy Story’ character Buzz Lightyear – features a character named Hawthorne, voiced by actress Uzo Aduba, who is in a relationship with another woman.
The relationship was apparently kept in the film but a kiss between the two characters had been allegedly cut and was restored amid the recent uproar.
Neither Disney nor Pixar has made any public comment regarding the scene or the film, which isn’t slated to premiere until June 17.
Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), a character in the Toy Story spinoff Lightyear, has a relationship and a kiss with another female character in the film
Disney CEO Bob Chapek has been criticized for not condemning a Florida bill passed on Tuesday limiting LGBTQ discussion in schools
Protesters are seen outside State Senator Ileana Garcia’s office in Miami on March 9
Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who only took over in January, has been criticized for not condemning a Florida bill passed on Tuesday limiting LGBTQ discussion in schools.
In a memo to staff on Monday, Chapek tried to quell the anger, writing: ‘I want to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities. And, we are committed to creating a more inclusive company – and world.’
On Wednesday, he said he had called Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, to express concern about the legislation becoming law, and didn’t publicly oppose the bill because it was ‘more effective’ to do things behind the scenes.
Yet on Thursday, Pixar staff questioned the company’s claims in a letter obtained by Variety.
‘We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were,’ the letter states.
Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has defended the controversial bill, insisting it protects children
Chapek is seen in June 2018 at Disney’s Hollywood studios. He was in charge of Disney’s parks division before becoming CEO
‘Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.’
The letter claims that ‘nearly every moment of overtly gay affection’ had been cut, despite ‘protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership.’
The Pixar staff also demanded that Disney withdraw financial support of all legislatures who supported the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and that Disney ‘take a decisive public stand’ against the legislation and bills like it elsewhere in the country.
Pixar is noted for only featuring a tiny number of LGBTQ characters in their films.
The most famous to date is Specter, a cyclops police officer in 2020 fantasy film Onward, voiced by Lena Waithe.
Demonstrators are seen inside the Florida State Capital in Tallahassee on Monday, the day before the bill passed
Specter, top right, is one of the few gay characters in Pixar films – but her sexuality is only mentioned in passing
Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson, from the 2016 Disney animated feature film Zootopia, were ‘outed’ by the actors who voiced them. Disney has not disagreed
Specter’s sexuality is only briefly noted, when she says: ‘It’s not easy being a new parent – my girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out, okay?’
As a result, the film was banned in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia due to the scene, and in the version released in Russia, the word ‘girlfriend’ was changed to ‘partner.’
The same year, Pixar released a short film, Out, on Disney+, about a gay man who struggles with coming out to his parents.
Online lists curate the number of gay characters in Disney: Fans point out that the actors who voiced Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson in the 2016 animated feature film Zootopia said the characters were a gay couple, and Disney did not deny it.
They also note that Finding Dory and Toy Story 4 both featured, briefly, lesbian mothers – but their characters were so minor they were not named.
A poster for Lightyear, a Disney/Pixar spinoff of its most popular film, Toy Story, starring the voice of Chris Evans
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about the firefighting effort and available assistance for Bay County during a press conference
Chapek said that Disney would make donations to LGBTQ groups, but the Pixar employees said it was insufficient.
A Statement to Leadership from the LGBTQIA+ Employees of Pixar & Their Allies
We are writing because we are disappointed, hurt, afraid, and angry. In regards to Disney’s financial involvement with legislators behind the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, we hoped that our company would show up for us. But it didn’t.
Monday’s email, ‘Our Unwavering Commitment to the LGBTQ+ Community’, rang hollow. It began with the claim that Disney has a long history of supporting the LGBT community, but Disney Parks did not officially host Pride until 2019, in Paris alone. Disney has a history of shutting down fan-created Pride events in the parks, even removing same-sex couples for dancing together in the 1980’s. Additionally, Disney began capitalizing on Pride in 2018 with The Rainbow Mickey Collection, (while de-emphasizing the terms like LGBTQ+ and not even featuring explicitly LGBTQIA+ pieces such as Pride flag pins until 2021). To this end, it feels terrible to be a part of a company that makes money from Pride merch when it chooses to ‘step back’ in times of our greatest need, when our rights are at risk.
The second claim stated that ‘corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds’. However, the very email making this claim opened with a corporate statement regarding the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Eight days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Disney paused the release of theatrical films in Russia and announced ‘We will make future business decisions based on the evolving situation.’ Following the siege on the capital in 2021, Disney stopped all political donations to members of Congress who had objected to the presidential election results. In 2016, Disney told the state of Georgia: ‘We will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law’ in response to the controversial Religious Liberty bill. By taking a stand, Disney directly affected the legislative outcome in Georgia. It has been proven that Disney’s corporate statements can and do make a difference.
Finally, we come to the push for Content as the answer. We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were. Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney’s behest, regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar. Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it. Beyond the ‘inspiring content’ that we aren’t even allowed to create, we require action.
We are calling on Disney leadership to immediately withdraw all financial support from the legislators behind the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, to fully denounce this legislation publicly, and to make amends for their financial involvement. While signing on to donate to the HRC is a step in the correct direction, the shareholder meeting on Wednesday made it clear that this is not enough. Throughout the shareholder meeting, Disney did not take a hard stance in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, they instead attempted to placate ‘both sides’ – and did not condemn hateful messages shared during the question and answer portion of the meeting. This is not what it means to ‘unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities.’
Disney taking a stand by honoring their company values has changed the course of legislation in the past. If Disney is true in its values, it will take a decisive public stand against the discriminatory legislation occurring in Florida and offer tangible support for the LGBTQIA+ communities affected by bigoted legislation sweeping the country. Stand against this bill in Florida and against the similar bills in South Carolina, Arizona, Virginia, and Tennessee. Stand against the transphobic legislation in Texas, Iowa, Utah, Kansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama. Many hateful groups are attempting to eradicate us through legislation – we need you to stand with us entirely, not in empty words.
This matter is not something that can wait until Reimagine Tomorrow in April, or Pride Month in June. This matter needs to be addressed now. This is urgent. 42% of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered suicide in 2021, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth, with a large factor being the lack of support that these discriminatory legislations enable. Disney claims to care for the welfare of children, but supporting politicians like this directly hurts one of their most vulnerable audiences. There are lives at stake and Disney’s support could save those lives. ‘We still have more work to do,’ your email said. This is that work.
Signed with Pride,The LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies
‘While signing on to donate to the HRC is a step in the correct direction, the shareholder meeting on Wednesday made it clear that this is not enough,’ they wrote.
‘Disney did not take a hard stance in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, they instead attempted to placate ‘both sides’ – and did not condemn hateful messages shared during the question and answer portion of the meeting.’
The Human Rights Campaign – the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization in the U.S. – said it would refuse the donation until ‘meaningful action is taken to combat’ the legislation.
In a statement, HRC interim President Joni Madison, explained the decision: ‘Businesses have had and continue to have a major impact in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, from marriage equality to the defeat of House Bill 2 in North Carolina and beyond.
‘While Disney took a regrettable stance by choosing to stay silent amid political attacks against LGBTQ+ families in Florida – including hardworking families employed by Disney – today they took a step in the right direction.
‘But it was merely the first step.’
Disney has been under pressure to take a public stand against the legislation that critics say will harm the lesbian, gay, transgender and queer community.
The company employs more than 65,000 people at the sprawling Walt Disney World resort in Orlando.
The bill was passed by the Florida Senate on Tuesday, and will be signed into law by DeSantis, coming into effect on July 1.
The Florida legislation, referred to by its opponents as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, has stirred national controversy amid an increasingly partisan debate over what schools should teach children about race and gender.
Chapek said on Wednesday that Disney was ‘opposed to the bill from the onset,’ but chose to work behind the scenes, relying on its longstanding relationships with lawmakers to influence the outcome.
‘I understand our original approach, no matter how well-intended, didn’t quite get the job done,’ Chapek said during Disney’s annual shareholder meeting.
A spokesperson for DeSantis, however, said a call from Chapek on Wednesday was ‘the first time we have heard from Disney’ regarding the legislation.
‘The governor did take the call from Mr. Chapek.
‘The governor’s position has not changed,’ the spokesperson said via a statement on Twitter.
DeSantis, who is seeking re-election this year, has indicated his support for what is formally called the Parental Rights in Education bill.
‘The same Florida parents who take their families to Disney also support parental rights in education, because they do not want their children exposed to inappropriate content about sex and gender theory at school,’ DeSantis’ spokesperson said.
One Disney shareholder from California read a statement from his daughter, who had been accepted into the Disney College Program in Florida, and was ‘heartbroken’ that Disney failed to take a public position on Florida’s legislation.
‘You can’t stand on the sidelines when it comes to human rights,’ she wrote.
The Disney CEO said he had an ‘extraordinary conversation’ with DeSantis, who assured Chapek that the law would not be ‘weaponized in any way’ or used to harm or target gay, lesbian, non-binary or transgender kids or their families.
Chapek said the governor agreed to meet with him and LGBTQ+ Disney employees to discuss concerns.
Chapek said Disney has joined some 170 companies in signing a statement from the Human Rights Commission opposing anti-LGBTQ state legislation.
The company also pledged $5 million toward organizations, including the HRC, that are working to protect LGBTQ rights.
Disney’s failure to openly condemn the legislation sparked widespread anger on social media.
One woman tweeted: ‘I’m transgender and a long time Disney shareholder and used my responsibility yesterday to vote against the reelection of Bob Chapek to the Disney board. He needs to be replaced as CEO because the company should be fighting loudly for the LGBTQ community.’
One man, who has an annual pass to Walt Disney World, criticized Chapek’s leadership and praised his predecessor, Bob Iger, who retired in February 2020.
‘This is not Disney’s choice. This is Bob Chapek’s choice. He does not get to hide behind the company’s name,’ he said.
‘Bob Iger came out against this bill. If he were still CEO, this wouldn’t be happening.’
Writer Charlotte Clymer tweeted: ‘We’re all learning and evolving, and there’s more than enough room for companies to make good faith mistakes and work to adjust accordingly.
‘But Bob Chapek defending Disney’s political contributions to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers who are viciously attacking kids really isn’t good faith.’
And Disney employee Steve Lowtwait, an animation art director, tweeted: ‘Hey Disney. Yeah you, Bob Chapek. Do you know who has thick skin and will bounce back if the big corporation denounces their bill? Politicians.
‘Do you know who is highly volatile to cultural messages and will be hurt for years by the passing of this bill? LGBTQ youth.’
In other matters, Disney shareholders elected all 11 board members, ratified the appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers as Disney’s independent public accountant and supported the compensation for the company’s top executives.
Investors rejected all shareholder proposals except one, which calls for the company to report on both median and adjusted pay gaps across race and gender.
‘We appreciate our shareholders’ view on this important issue, and the Board accepts the results of today’s vote,’ the company said in a statement, adding it is committed to pay equity.
Another critic said: ‘I have been feeling nothing but anger towards Bob Chapek for his gross actions lately.
‘I seriously hope Disney gets rid of him soon because as someone who is in the LGBT community, it’s utterly appalling to see him still funding that revolting bill.’
What is the Parental Rights in Education bill?
HB 1557 was introduced by two Republican members of the Florida Legislature – Representative Joe Harding and Senator Dennis Baxley.
They say the bill’s aim is to ’empower parents’ in their children’s education, and make teachers recognize the distinction between ‘instruction’ and ‘discussion.’
‘What we’re prohibiting is instructing them in a specific direction,’ Baxley said about how teachers lead students in a classroom.
‘Students can talk about whatever they want to bring up, but sometimes the right answer is, ”You really ought to talk to your parents about that.”’
The bill applies to children in kindergarten through third grade.
It states that ‘classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur.’
It also requires districts to ‘adopt procedures for notifying a student’s parent if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,’ something LGBTQ advocates argue could lead to some students being outed to their parents without the student’s knowledge or consent.
It was passed on March 8 in a 22-17 vote. The state House had approved the bill late last month. DeSantis has said he will sign it into law, and it will come into effect on July 1.
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