by Prashalan Govender
Disney’s next live-action film, Jungle Cruise, has garnered a lot of attention. Unlike recent live-action releases, this film is not based on a classic story or a sequel. Instead, the film is based on a beloved attraction featured in Disneyland. And, while this production is certainly nuanced, Disney has chosen to pursue a less fresh route with regards to it’s casting of their first major gay character in a film. They’ve done this by choosing Jake Whitehall, a straight white male, to bring queer representation.
The film which also stars Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson follows the story of a boat skipper, Frank (Johnson), who is enlisted by Lily (Blunt) and her brother, McGregor (Whitehall), to find a tree that has magical healing powers. The journey is slated to have them encounter all sorts of obstacles on their way to the magical tree. Obstacles such as wild animals who are intent on killing them and a rival German expedition.
Lily’s brother, McGregor, was announced to be the first noticeably gay character in a Disney film as previously Disney has kept homosexual relations and noticeable queer behaviour to a minimum so that they can edit out the scenes to comply with international boards’ criteria. While this is undoubtedly a big step for the juggernaut studio, the decision or rather, the conduct with which the decision has been executed, has been met with a fair share of backlash from progressives.
This is because Whitehall is not part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Neither has he made a noticeable presence as a LGBT+ ally, he is most known for his stand-up comedy and his Netflix show - Travels With My Father. Further, the description of his character that has come out so far has included language that purports stereotypes. The language used in the description includes words like “effete” and “camp.”
Disney has undoubtedly noticed the controversy and criticism but instead of addressing the backlash head on, they’re trying to minimise the bad press. Although, Whitehall is included in the promotional material like posters his substantial absence in the trailers is noticeable.
If the film came from a smaller studio then the action of casting a heterosexual person to play a queer character may have been forgivable. However, the film comes from undoubtedly the biggest studio in the world whose work has infinite influence. Thus, all one can do is hope that this spark of controversy turns into a fire that Disney cannot ignore and will have no choice but to distribute accurate and ethical representation.