Congratulations, Disney – welcome to the 21st Century.
While, let’s face it, Disney is still struggling somewhat as a company to get on board with the concept of sexuality as a whole, the company has been dabbling with the idea that homosexuality exists and should be reflected in their media.
We got a glimpse of this in Beauty and the Beast earlier this year, when Josh Gad played a confused (in many senses of the word) Lefou, unsure of his own sexuality, and desperately fawning over Luke Evans’ Gaston.
This was enough to get the movie banned in Russia, but most Western audiences who actually watched the movie saw it as little more than a tiny distraction. Not plot relevant, not particularly overt. Were it not for the huge amount of news coverage the story got, most audiences probably wouldn’t have even noticed it.
This time, Disney is trying to be a bit less subtle, as the company’s television show, Andi Mack, attempts to embrace modern attitudes of sexuality and inclusivity with a character coming out of the closet to his closest friends.
In the upcoming hour-long season premiere, the character of Cyrus, already an established part of the Andi Mack universe, makes the decision to tell his friends that he’s gay.
Disney’s clearly very pleased with the decision to so brazenly address such a subject, as indicated by a recent public statement on the episode:
“Andi Mack’ is a story about ‘tweens’ figuring out who they are. Everyone involved in the show takes great care in ensuring that it’s appropriate for all audiences and sends a powerful message about inclusion and respect for humanity.”
While they’re a little late to the party, Disney does deserve credit for finally addressing such a pertinent modern issue in one of their shows, although in all fairness, most of the credit should go to Andi Mack showrunner Terri Minsky and her team of writers and producers.
So does this mean that Disney will start embracing LGBTQIA+ stories in their upcoming movies and shows? Will Elsa get a girlfriend in the Frozen sequel? Will there be a traditional Disney romance with two Prince Charmings?
Probably not – at least, not any time soon. Disney has always shown a propensity to drag their feet on these issues, and while Andi Mack has made a step forward, there’s nothing to say that another corner of the Disney empire won’t take two steps backwards at some point in the near future.
The easiest comparison to make (even though it’s very, very far from perfect, so apologies in advance if it seems a bit reductive) is the number of Disney Channel original shows that have featured protagonists of color over the past few years.
At one point, with shows like Smart Guy and That’s So Raven, it seemed like Disney was eager to boost their channel’s inclusivity and ethnic representation (even if the shows with completely Caucasian casts still far outnumbered the few outliers).
Then, one day, almost overnight, shows featuring African American characters at their heart disappeared all but entirely, as the network’s interests (and target demographics) shifted. Sitcoms across all media were getting whiter and whiter, and the Disney Channel rode a trend rather than attempting to maintain a broader appeal or any semblance of television inclusivity.
This isn’t to say that any progress Disney makes will be undone soon after. Progress is made at Disney, slowly, and without any concrete direction at times.
With any luck, the company will manage to keep pushing the boundaries. In the meantime, though, we’re unlikely to see any protagonists in Disney shows that aren’t heteronormal, and that’s a shame for the millions of fans worldwide who’d like to see themselves better represented in the media.
Oh well. At least we have Cyrus to carry the torch of sexual inclusivity for the moment.
It’s certainly something – and to those young viewers who may be questioning their own sexuality, this small gesture from the House of Mouse could well be the most important thing in the history of television.