Queer Representation in the Media - ‘Cruella’ and “Disney’s First Gay Character”

  • Editorials
Yui Kurosaki ('23)

       In the past decade, the normative culture worldwide about queer representation and diversity in the media has shifted in a way that is now a crucial factor in many new releases of films and television shows. According to GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, 18.6% of the 116 films released from major studios in 2019 included characters that were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ). Compared to the 2012-13 record, which reads that only 4.4% of all characters were LGBTQ characters, this is a significant improvement of about 14%. However, despite the increase in the number of queer representations in the media, the biggest problem lies in the depiction of them. 

 

       Poor depiction of queer characters in the media is often due to their stereotypical portrayals. Artie, played by John McCrea of the 2020 Disney movie ‘Cruella,’ Disney’s first-ever LGBTQ+ character, is an example of this framed stereotype. Artie fully embodies the typical gay stereotype in the movie: He runs a vintage clothing store in London. Even though it is never directly stated that Artie is queer, his appearance and scripted mannerisms make it clear that this was Disney’s attempt at sculpting a gay character. His role in the film is also relatively small as he’s only a sidekick to the protagonist, Cruella de Vil. He would help her with the fashion side of criminal acts – -the newspaper clipping dress being an example – she performs throughout the film. In fact, fashion has long been seen as a stereotype of homosexuality. They are often based on the reciprocal relationship between men and fashion, as designers such as Dolce & Gabbana and Abercrombie & Fitch have often used homoerotic imagery in their advertising from the early 2000s, creating a sentiment that most gay men enjoy shopping. The body language and mannerisms of Artie are also debatable. Because many people associate femininity with male homosexuality, mannerisms such as limp wrists and frantic hand gestures are often embodied by actors in mainstream media to distinguish them from heterosexual characters. 

 

       What could be the possible outcomes of these stereotypical depictions of queer individuals in the media? Although gay men being fashionable and having feminine traits are overly generalized stereotypes, some gay men do enjoy fashion and/or embrace femininity. However, when we look at queer representations that are based on these stereotypes,. we also need to consider that there are many gay men who do not associate themselves with fashion or other creative fields – we shouldn’t limit or categorize queerness based on how well they fit into our perceived view of how we believe they should be. Therefore, these standarized depictions of gay men as fashionable, flamboyant, and extravagant men who are also able to understand  ‘women’s issues’ (many are portrayed as relationship advisors for a female lead) in the media, influences the perception of gay men in real life. A Japanese cartoonist, Tomimurakota illustrates the consequence of this issue in her comic essay on sexual orientations. In this, her friend, who is gay, is held back from coming out to his collegues despite them being openly supportive of the LGBTQ+ community as he feels pressured to fit their ‘artistic’ expectations of a gay man: instead, he was just a regular businessman. 

 

       The production of stereotypes surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, driven by the recent representation of queer people in the media, calls for improvements. Though this should apply to all forms of media and entertainment, this particular case is to be handled with a critical eye as a media with global influence like Disney, whose works specifically target younger audiences, will hold greater responsibility for how queer people are to be perceived. Moreover, the rapid increase in inclusion of queer characters in films and TV raises a question of the purpose behind these actions, hinting at the issue of queer baiting where is “diversity” is implemented merely for commercial purposes. Judging from the poorly underdeveloped characters, Disney’s idea of queer representation, along with many large media corporations,  is a character whose main role is to simply exist on screen. 

 

Sources: 

 

東京都総務局人権部 じんけんのとびら. "東京都総務局人権部 じんけんのとびら." 東京都総務局人権部 じんけんのとびら. 31 Mar. 2021. Web. 19 Oct. 2021. <https://www.soumu.metro.tokyo.lg.jp/10jinken/>

 

Gavia Baker-whitelaw. "'Cruella' proves that Disney has a long way to go with queer representation." The Daily Dot. 1 Jun. 2021. Web. 19 Oct. 2021. <https://www.dailydot.com/unclick/disney-cruella-gay-character/>

 

Wikipedia Contributors. "LGBT stereotypes." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Oct. 2021. Web. 19 Oct. 2021. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_stereotypes#Appearance_and_mannerisms>

 

GLAAD. "Overview of Findings (2019)." GLAAD. 14 May 2019. Web. 19 Oct. 2021. <https://www.glaad.org/sri/2019/overview>

 

  • cruella
  • disney
  • lgbtq+
  • media
  • queer
  • representation

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