God may work in mysterious ways, but Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter always comes ready to slay. Why else did The Lion King, Disney’s latest live-action adaptation, pull in over $191 million in its opening weekend? (And that’s just the domestic gross!)
Still, some moviegoers weren’t too pleased with the film they flocked to the theaters to see. The Gays™ are mad that Scar, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, isn’t as gay as they remembered from the animated 1994 musical.
“The biggest misstep of the new Lion King for me was the hetero-fication of gay icon Scar,” said one social media user. “Like still using the camp as hell lines but without the camp.”
“I thought The Lion King was wonderful. Timon and Pumbaa were perfect. ‘Spirit’ fit beautifully in the film,” said another. “My only criticism is I wish Scar delivered one line like the original and he was more gay thx!”
Now while I disagree with the comments about Scar, these social media critics are pointing to a very real phenomenon. Historically, the main way LGBTQ+ people have found ourselves represented in film and television was through characters that were coded as queer, though their sexual and gender identities had no significant presence, because homophobia. And more often than not, those characters were also evil — HIM from The Power Puff Girls, James from Pokémon’s Team Rocket, Jafar from Aladdin, Prince John from Robin Hood, and Captain Hook in Peter Pan, to name a few. Again, because homophobia. Even the mythology around The Little Mermaid’s Ursula herself was that her animation style was modeled after the equally diabolical drag queen, Divine.
The same can be said of Scar, The Lion King’s murderous antagonist. In the original animated version, the character, voiced by Jeremy Irons, fell in line with the then-expected coded-as-gay villainy that came to define countless Disney properties. He’s campy, catty, and effeminate, limp paws included — characteristics that are stereotypically attributed to queer people. And if you just listen to the original version of “Be Prepared,” Scar’s voice is basically reminiscent of an entitiled and disgruntled (white) gay man who demanded his right to marry while ignoring the plight of LGBTQ+ folks of color.
Understandably, however, it’s not absurd that those of us who grew up on the original Lion King would want to maintain much of what we remember of the original, including Scar’s latent homosexuality. But I’m more interested in having explicitly queer characters, and those explicitly queer characters played by openly queer people, than the tortured and feigned visibility we’ve been given. No longer are we at a point where we have to take the scraps of representation Hollywood has proffered in years past. Quite contrarily, we can and should be wanting our cake and eating it too in the form of explicitly LGBTQ+ characters that span the range of diabolical and heroic, flawed and unassailable, and everything in between.
(Let it also be noted that many of our preoccupations with what we gleaned from the source Lion King is the same basis racists are using to say Ariel from The Little Mermaid can’t be a brown-skinned girl with locs. They don’t need anymore fodder, I’m just saying.)
Hell, it’s 2019 and our demands for meaningful inclusion are finally being heard and acquiesced to. In fact, that the new Scar is not subliminally gay — and Billy Eichner says he played Timon with a “gay sensibility,” whatever the hell that means — is sign of progress. And perhaps if we gave up the ghost of the past, such a more representative Promised Land might more readily make itself present as we demand that Disney and other gatekeepers step their pussy up and create meaningful space for people and characters of our communities.