Disney faces backlash over ‘stereotypes’ in first openly gay role

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Host Jack Whitehall poses at the AMD British Academy Britannia Awards in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. October 27, 2017 . REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Campaigners for LGBT rights said the company risked botching a watershed moment by “playing up to negative tropes”

by Sonia Elks | Thomson Reuters Foundation

LONDON, Aug 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Disney is facing a backlash over a report its first openly gay major film character, played by comic actor Jack Whitehall, will be “hugely effete” and “very camp”.

Campaigners for LGBT rights said the company risked botching a watershed moment by “playing up to negative tropes and received ideas about queer people” in “The Jungle Cruise”, an action adventure set in the 19th century.

Disney has not confirmed the report in Britain’s Sun newspaper and no one from the company was available for comment.

“An increasingly diverse audience both wants and expects to see and hear itself reflected authentically,” said Giovanni Bienne, the chairman of British acting union Equity’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) committee.

The Sun newspaper said Whitehall, who is heterosexual, would play a “camp” man in the upcoming film, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt.

The film industry has faced growing calls to reflect a greater diversity of characters on screen and reports of Whitehall’s role met with criticism on social media.

“At best, these stereotypes are tired, at worst they are damaging and homophobic,” said Callum Jackson, 25, who took to Twitter to criticise the decision.

“By having unrealistic and one-sided portrayals of any community, it forces members of that community to act, think and feel along certain lines,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“That leads to issues of self-acceptance and feeling marginalised from your community.”

Some also expressed disappointment that a heterosexual actor had been cast in the role.

There has been a backlash in the LGBT community over heterosexual actors being cast to play gay or transgender roles, a practice some compare to blackface, whereby white performers would paint their faces to play caricatures of black people.

“We’d very much welcome a decision by Disney to appoint a gay actor to play the role,” said a spokesman for the British media and entertainment union Bectu.

Last month, Scarlett Johansson pulled out of playing a transgender character in the planned movie “Rub & Tug”, saying she realised her casting was “insensitive”.

Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast”, released last year, featured a fleeting gay romance that was met with applause by LGBT activists but caused an outcry in more conservative countries, with Malaysia threatening to ban the film.

The number of LGBT characters in major films has fallen in recent years, according to the American gay and transgender media advocacy group GLAAD.

It found that just 14 of the 109 releases by the seven largest movie studios in 2017 included LGBT characters.

(Reporting by Sonia Elks, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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