Disney made headlines when they announced their first major gay character in Jungle Cruise, but did they deliver?
Based on the Disneyland theme park attraction of the same name, the film follows scientist Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) as they join river boat captain Frank (Dwayne Johnson) to journey through a dangerous jungle in search of The Tree Of Life.
Set in the 19th century, at a time where LGBTQ+ rights were non-existent and the majority of the community would remain closeted, Jungle Cruise made headlines when it was announced in 2018 due to the fact that Whitehall’s character would be the studio’s first openly gay character on the big screen.
At the time, however, the announcement was mired in controversy. The character was described as “hugely effete, very camp and very funny,” which drew criticism from some in the LGBTQ+ community who worried that a heterosexual actor portraying a stereotypically “camp” character could come across as offensive.
Disney don’t have the best track records when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation, either. In 2017, they received criticism for their “exclusively gay moment” in Beauty and the Beast when villainous sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) dances romantically with another man during the movie’s final scene in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.
A kiss between two women in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and a brief scene in Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, in which an openly gay man discusses a date, was also criticised by viewers and LGBTQ+ activists for doing the bare minimum.
We’re happy to announce that Jungle Cruise’s LGBTQ+ rep is much more substantial. In one scene, MacGregor discusses his sexuality with Johnson’s character and reveals that he joined his sister on her expedition to Brazil because she “stood by” him while others condemned him because of who he “loved”.
Although he doesn’t specifically use the word “gay”, he further explains how he broke off three engagements with women because his “interests happily lay elsewhere,” which prompts Frank to raise a toast for “elsewhere”.
At a press conference, Johnson said: “I felt that the scene was really exactly what it was, which was two men talking about what they loved, and who they loved.”
In an interview with Variety, Whitehall also praised the “really well-written scene” and said it was “one that we certainly thought about and talked about,” adding: “I hope that it’s a scene that audiences enjoy… I certainly felt at the time that I was proud of the work that we’d done.”
Although the scene was relatively minor, it marked a significant departure for the traditionally conservative storylines we’re used to from Disney. It received mixed reviews from viewers and LGBTQ+ critics, who denounced Disney for failing to actually define Whitehall’s character as gay.
“Frustrated right now over Disney’s obvious pussyfooting with one of its central characters in the Jungle Cruise movie being outwardly gay, resorting to “my interests lie elsewhere”,” said one Twitter user. Another wrote: “Watched Jungle cruise, Disney still cannot do gay characters.”
Frustrated right now over Disney’s obvious pussyfooting with one of its central characters in the Jungle Cruise movie being outwardly gay, resorting to “my interests lie elsewhere” 🤦🏻♂️
— Renato Miguel Ruiz (@RenRuiz) July 29, 2021
watched jungle cruise, disney still cannot do gay characters pic.twitter.com/gWpXqaCCUU
— shi @ oddtaxi brainrot (@shilucowo) July 30, 2021
Disney needs to stop with their fake Pride crap.
Another movie (Jungle Cruise) and there’s a “Gay” character who doesn’t even utter he’s Gay but we “assume” he’s gay because of mannerisms….mmmkay.
— Eddy 🏳️🌈 (@CrazyEddyBee) July 28, 2021
Disney introducing another confirmed/unconfirmed openly but not quite gay character with Jungle Cruise pic.twitter.com/Oe56p56T3r
— ChristoPhairy (@cntb1988) July 28, 2021
One more thing about Jungle Cruise. It features the 1st Disney character to fully come out. But until then, it’s fussy gay man jokes, weakness, stupid showy dressing. Moreover, when he makes the turn to “empowered,” it’s 100% on the terms of hetero machismo. Who let this happen?
— David Poland (@DavidPoland) July 28, 2021
However, there were some who appreciated Disney for including an “explicitly gay character” and not trying to “cover it up or sugar coat it for the dumb homophobes”.
the new Disney jungle cruise movie has an explicitly gay character I was shocked when he outright said it
— cat (@cptkirrk) July 29, 2021
Jungle Cruise spoiler alert. Emily Blunt's brother, played by Jack Whitehall, is a gay and a likeable one at that. He's supported by both Emily's and Dwayne Johnson's characters. Thanks, Disney. This sort of thing should have happened, I don't know, 40 years ago, but I'll take it
— michael musto (@mikeymusto) July 27, 2021
ALSO JUNGLE CRUISE WAS GAY IN A VERY BLATANT WAY THEY DIDN’T TRY TO COVER IT UP OR SUGAR COAT IT FOR THE DUMB HOMOPHOBES I LITERALLY WAS PRACTICALLY SCREAMING IN THE AUDIENCE
— Jules (@RebasCornDogs) July 30, 2021
Jungle Cruse spoiler: Jungle Cruise does have a major gay character and while he never says "I'm gay" or "I like men" or anything like that, I think it's good representation. He's not open about it because of hate he had been through and loves his sister for accepting him.
— Ante Flan (@NotALemur) July 30, 2021
Disney introduces another gay character in Jungle Cruise, but the twist here is, unlike the fashion designer in Cruella, they're actually a developed character.
— Courtney Lanning (@CourtLanning) July 27, 2021
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Jungle Cruise also stars Édgar Ramírez, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Veronica Falcón, Dani Rovira, Quim Gutiérrez and Andy Nyman.
The film was released 30 July simultaneously in cinemas and through Disney+ with Premier Access.