Disney Animated Film Will Lead With A Gay Protagonist For The First Time Ever

Disney's Strange World movie will feature the first-ever gay protagonist for the media company.

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Published

It seems that Disney is coming through on their promise to have at least 50% of its characters be either minorities and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community. Eight months ago, Karey Burke, the President of Disney General Entertainment, released the company’s progressive statement of intent via a video on Twitter. Despite receiving backlash and having their videos banned in other countries, it seems that Disney is not backing down. In fact, Disney is about to make history by releasing a film with its first-ever gay protagonist in their new animated feature, Strange World, according to Yahoo! Entertainment

Strange World is a story inspired by 19th-century science-fiction novelist Jules Verne. While Mary Shelly is the mother and originator of the science-fiction genre, Verne, who started writing about 50 years later, became the prolific father of science fiction with his famous classics like Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. It’s based on his style of sci-fi adventures that the Strange World universe was created.

The film follows the story of the legendary Claudes, a family of explorers who find themselves in a strange new world, unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. The clan must work through their differences to complete the mission that sent them to this strange place. 

ethan claude strange world

Ethan Claude, played by gay comedian and actor Jaboukie Young-White, is the youngest in the family and the film’s protagonist. Unlike his family of exceptional people, Ethan is still trying to find out where he belongs in the world. The film follows Ethan on a personal journey that includes a flirtatious crush with a school buddy that Ethan hopes will develop into something deeper.

However, this is not a coming-out story, Young-White says. Ethan being gay is just a part of who he is, and it isn’t emphasized or turned into a plot device for the film. “It’s an aspect of Ethan and one of the many things that makes him who he is.”

Young-White thinks it’s great that Strange World doesn’t focus on Ethan’s sexuality. In fact, Ethan’s family is very accepting of who Ethan chooses to love, and it’s not a “big deal.”

Gabrielle Union plays Ethan’s mother, Meridian, and Jake Gyllenhaal plays Ethan’s dad, Searcher. Both Union and Gyllenhaal have expressed how much they appreciated the diversity written in the script, as not only is Ethan gay, but he comes from an interracial family.

“It’s so beautiful to see such a diverse cast, and have these ideas be normalized in the world,” Gyllenhaal pointed out, while his co-star reflected on how Strange World doesn’t downplay the gayness like many blockbusters have been accused of. “In this one, it’s very clear,” Union said.

Strange World is written by Qui Nguyen, who is known for writing another Disney animated feature, Raya and the Last Dragon. Nguyen also co-directed the film alongside Don Hall, who directed Disney’s Big Hero 6. Alongside Young-White, Gyllenhaal, and Union, the film also stars Dennis Quaid as Jaeger, Ethan’s grandfather.

Over the past couple of years, Disney has been sprinkling more diversity into their animated features. In 2020, Onward featured Disney’s first self-identified lesbian character, and this year’s Lightyear featured the animation giant’s first on-screen same-sex kiss. 

Unfortunately, their representation of LGBTQ+ characters has not been without backlash. These Disney films have been banned in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations, where homosexual conduct is not currently legal.

Despite the backlash, it seems that Disney is not backing down from their promise of inclusion, and the studio will likely continue creating content featuring diverse characters. 

Strange World will be released exclusively in theaters on November 23rd.