Disney has taken certain actions in response to the Bill. They have signed a Human Rights Campaign statement opposing similar legislative efforts around the U.S. and are set to meet with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis regarding the Bill at some point in the future. Now, another action appears to have been taken following Disney’s response to the Bill and criticisms of its response.
Pixar’s Response to “Don’t Say Gay” Bill
As we noted above, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill has prompted a number of responses from Disney. The Bill’s formal name is the “Parental Rights in Education Bill.”
ABC News notes that the “bill would limit what classrooms can teach about sexual orientation and gender identity.” The Hill also shares that the Bill would “restrict mention of LGBTQ+ topics in classrooms that are not ‘age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.’”
Thus far, we’ve seen Bob Chapek make a number of comments about the Bill, including some more formal statements during the Shareholder meeting and a later apology. There have also been responses to the Bill and Disney’s actions made by the Human Rights Campaign, Florida’s Governor, California’s Governor, and Disney Employees. Disney’s responses (and initial lack thereof) have been criticized by a number of sources and individuals.
A statement was released by some employees at Pixar regarding the Bill and Disney’s response. Deadline had shared that a letter signed by “The LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies” was circulated internally.
The letter expressed that Chapek’s memo regarding the Florida Bill “rang hollow.” The letter also noted that the “Disney Parks did not officially host Pride until 2019, in Paris alone” and that “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.”
The letter from the Pixar employees also made comments about Chapek’s statement indicating that the “best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce.”
In the letter, the signatories note “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.”
Changes to Pixar Movie
According to Variety, on March 9th, the joint statement from LGBTQ employees and allies at Pixar (referenced above) was sent to leadership within the Walt Disney Company. For one future movie, it looks like the statement might have had an impact.
Variety shares that a source close to the production of the upcoming Lightyear film from Pixar has indicated that the movie has a significant female character in it called Hawthorne, voiced by Uzo Aduba. In the movie, Hawthorne is in a “meaningful relationship with another woman.”
Variety shares that the “fact of that relationship was never in question at the studio,” but a kiss between the characters had been cut from the movie. Now, however, things have changed. Following Disney’s response to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the statement from the LGBTQ employees and allies at Pixar, the kiss has been reinstated into the film.
Lightyear is essentially the movie that would have inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy within the Toy Story world. Director Angus MacLane shared, “my ‘Lightyear’ pitch was, ‘What was the movie that Andy saw that made him want a Buzz Lightyear toy?’ I wanted to see that movie. And now I’m lucky enough to get to make it.”
According to Variety, throughout Pixar’s 27-year history, there have been only a few “unambiguous LGBTQ characters of any kind.” In Onward, there is a one-eyed cop who mentions her girlfriend. In Toy Story 4, two moms are seen hugging their child when the child goes to school. In Finding Dory, Variety says that there is a “brief shot” that features “what appears to be a lesbian couple, though the movie’s filmmakers were coy about defining them that way at the time.”
Pixar also released a short film in 2020 called Out, which is about a “gay man struggling with coming out to his parents.” This was released on Disney+ as part of the Sparkshorts program.
According to Variety, however, “multiple former Pixar employees” have indicated that “creatives within the studio have tried for years to incorporate LGBTQ identity into its storytelling in ways big and small, only to have those efforts consistently thwarted.”
Variety also shares that multiple sources told them that “efforts to include signifiers of LGBTQ identity in the set design of films located in specific American cities known for sizable LGBTQ populations…were shot down. One source said that a rainbow sticker placed in the window of a shop was removed because it was deemed too ‘distracting.'”
Variety reports, however, that “none of the sources who spoke with Variety could cite first-hand knowledge of Disney executives directly cutting LGBTQ content from specific Pixar features.” Instead, it appears that things were cut by each movie’s own filmmaking team or Pixar studio leadership. The sources indicated to Variety that Pixar effectively “engaged in self-censorship…out of an abiding belief that LGBTQ content wouldn’t get past Disney review because Disney has needed the films to play in markets traditionally hostile to LGBTQ people: namely China, Russia, much of West Asia and in the American South.”
Just the inclusion of the lesbian cop in Onward got the film banned in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, and the terminology was changed to “partner” in Russia.
Steven Hunter, the director of Pixar’s Out short film (who is no longer at Pixar) shared “We need Mr. Chapek to understand that we need to be speaking up. We can’t assume that these laws that they’re trying to put in place aren’t hurtful and bigoted and, frankly, evil. We are not going away. We’re not going back in the closet.”
Pixar’s Lightyear is set to be released on June 17th, 2022. We’ll continue to keep an eye out for more updates on this situation.