The streaming wars are officially here, as Disney’s new streaming platform Disney+ launches today. It represents the first real challenge to the domination that Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu have held over the industry for the past several years.
Disney+ has plenty of weapons in its arsenal. It has the Disney and Pixar films, the entire library of Disney Channel Original Movies, National Geographic, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But one tool it doesn’t have at its disposal is LGBTQ+ representation. Having browsed the list of programming the service will have at the time of its launch, I find myself asking: Where are all the queer people?
For instance, Valkyrie (played by bi actress Tessa Thompson), who appears in Avengers: Endgame, is the only LGBTQ+ character with multiple scenes in any film on the service, and she’s only been confirmed as bisexual off screen. Thor: Ragnarok, in which she has a larger role, isn’t yet available on Disney+, while Thor: Love and Thunder, in which she finally gets an onscreen romance, isn’t out yet. There’s also a nameless character at the beginning of Endgame played by the film’s co-director Joe Russo, who talks about going on a date with another man in his support group.
When it comes to TV, there’s Cyrus Goodman, one of the title character’s best friends on Andi Mack. This year he became the first Disney character to ever say “I’m gay,” which is wonderful but also shocking at how long it took. The service also just announced that one of the characters in its wonderfully cumbersomely titled High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez), a fabulous, flamboyant choreographer at East High School, will also be gay.
While Disney+ will have just two gay characters — Cyrus and Carlos — it has no regular or recurring queer women or trans characters at all.
When it comes to non-recurring characters, the pickings are still extremely slim. Other queers on the service include: the gay sheriff and deputy who came out in the finale of Gravity Falls; the two moms in one scene of Good Luck Charlie; a gay prince mentioned in Princess Diaries 2; RuPaul, Neil Patrick Harris, and Lady Gaga having cameos in various Muppets shows and movies; and the gay alien couple in Star Wars Resistance, who actually seem cool.
There’s an entire movie about P.L. Travers, the queer creator of Mary Poppins, but unfortunately, Saving Mr. Banks erases her sexuality from the movie.
This is especially noticeable considering how platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have been leading the way in LGBTQ+ representation. According to the 2018-2019 GLAAD Media Report, Netflix has consistently had the highest number of LGBTQ+ characters of any streaming platform, including 88 regular and recurring LGBTQ+ characters last year. Hulu had 18 and Amazon Prime had six, which was down from 13 in 2017 because of the cancellation of Mozart in the Jungle and One Mississippi, which still have past seasons available for streaming.
But it’s not just quantity — it’s also quality. Streaming shows like Orange is the New Black, One Day at a Time, Shrill, Difficult People, Tales of the City, and Sense8 have featured of the best trans and nonbinary characters and actors on TV. Transparent featured more trans actors in recurring roles than any show before Pose, Laverne Cox earned two Emmy nominations for playing trans inmate Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black, and Queer Eye not only had an episode about a trans man, but one of the hosts, Jonathan Van Ness, is nonbinary.
It’s not an excuse to say that Disney mostly makes family and children’s entertainment. Shows like The Legend of Korra, Steven Universe, Adventure Time, OK KO, and Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power all feature LGBTQ+ main characters and are marketed toward younger viewers. Steven Universe even had a lesbian wedding episode, and this season She-Ra features nonbinary actor and activist Jacob Tobia playing a nonbinary shapeshifter. The fact is that Disney is just far, far behind everyone else when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation.
As more original content comes to Disney+ over the next few years, we’ll likely start to see more LGBTQ+ characters. Gay teen superhero Wiccan is reportedly coming to the Marvel original show Wandavision, while lesbian hero America Chavez could be getting her own show. A TV show spinoff of Greg Berlanti’s teen film Love, Simon has also been announced, but there’s no airdate set, and when the live action Beauty and the Beast joins the platform, there will also be Lefou (Josh Gad), who danced with a man onscreen for one and a half seconds.
Still, that’s not nearly enough. With Wiccan headed to Disney+ in 2020, the platform will only have three LGBTQ+ characters in its shows, and all three will be cisgender gay men.
I know a lot of queer people who are excited to start watching Disney+, and I’m one of them. But the startling dearth of queer people stings, and more than that, it’s outdated, lacking creativity, and just plain irresponsible. With the Trump administration ramping up attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, we need positive representation now more than ever. Disney’s LGBTQ+ erasure sticks out like a sore, straight, cis thumb, and unless it does something to fix the problem, the platform is going to look like it’s stuck in the early 2000s.