The kissing scene between two characters of the same sex was added to the film after it was initially cut during editing.
The protest bore fruit. On March 9, Pixar employees released a letter accusing Disney, their parent company, of censoring their attempts to include LGBTQ characters in their feature films.
This missive signed by “Pixar LGBTQIA+ employees and their allies” comes as Disney studios are criticized for their inaction on the bill considered anti-LGBTQ “Don’t Say Gay” in Florida.
If the text does not specify which Pixar films have or have not escaped censorship or what has been cut or modified, a source close to the production of the new Buzz Lightyear – scheduled for June 2022 – entrusted to variety that a kiss scene between two characters of the same sex had been cut from the next Pixar feature film.
In Buzz Lightyear the female character of Hawthorne played by Uzo Aduba has a romantic relationship with another woman. Following the letter written by Pixar employees and the controversy surrounding Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s reaction, however, their kiss was reinstated in the film last week, reports Variety.
A turning point for LGBTQ representation in animated films?
In its 27-year history, Pixar has portrayed only a handful of LGBTQ characters on screen. In the movie Onward (2020), Specter, a one-eyed policewoman who appears in a few scenes, mentions his girlfriend. In Toy Story 4 (2019), two moms hug their preschool child. Finding Dory (2016) features a brief shot of what appears to be a lesbian couple.
Pixar Studios’ most openly LGBTQ project is a 2020 short film called Out, about a gay man who struggles to come out to his parents. It aired on Disney+ as part of the SparkShorts program.
But, according to several ex-Pixar employees interviewed by Variety on condition of anonymity, the studio has tried for years to incorporate LGBTQ identity into its storylines, to varying degrees. Efforts “systematically thwarted”, reports the American media.
Gay couples, decor and symbols removed from backgrounds
According to Variety, Pixar also reportedly struggled to incorporate gay representation, even in the background. Several sources said that efforts to include signs of LGBTQ identity in film sets located in American cities known for their large LGBTQ populations – New York for Soul (2020) or San Francisco for Inside Out (2015) – were rejected.
According to a source cited by Variety, a rainbow sticker placed in a store window was removed from a scene because it was deemed too “distracting”. Other interviewees claim that homosexual couples would also have been removed from the background of these films.
“Virtually all moments of openly gay affection are being cut at the behest of Disney, regardless of protests from Pixar’s creative teams and management,” the employees said in their March 9 statement.
Self-censorship to maximize dissemination
However, none of the sources interviewed by Variety could cite any proven cases of cuts made following a request from Disney management. The American media reports, on the contrary, that Pixar employees themselves would have resorted to self-censorship, convinced that with LGBTQ content, these films would not have been broadcast in China, Russia, in a large part of Western Asia or in the Southern United States, markets that are essential for Disney but hostile to LGBTQ people.
Indeed, in 2020, the mere appearance of a lesbian policewoman in Onward was enough to have the film banned in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In the version released in Russia, the word “girlfriend” was replaced with the word “partner”.