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This is the latest development in Disney's handling of the highly-controversial "Don't Say Gay" legislation in Florida. The situation ultimately sparked backlash from LGBTQ employees and allies at Pixar, who sent an open letter to top Walt Disney Corporation leadership, claiming that certain executives were actively censoring depictions of "overtly gay affection" in the studio's projects.
“We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were,” reads the above-mentioned staff letter. "Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it."
In the case of Lightyear (a spinoff of the hit Toy Story franchise), Uzo Aduba (Solos) voices a "significant female character" by the name of Hawthorne, who enjoys "a meaningful relationship with another woman," writes Variety. "While the fact of that relationship was never in question at the studio, a kiss between the characters had been cut from the film. Following the uproar surrounding the Pixar employees’ statement and Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s handling of the 'Don’t Say Gay' bill, however, the kiss was reinstated into the movie last week."
Several anonymous staff members spoke with the Hollywood trade outlet and purported that Pixar's best efforts to include LGBTQ characters and themes — no matter how big or small — have been "consistently thwarted" over the years. With that said, the studio was able to introduce its first overtly gay character in a 2020 short entitled "Out." While the short's writer-director, Steven Hunter, no longer works at Pixar, he did voice support for his former co-workers.
“I’m really proud of those folks for speaking up," he said in a statement Variety. "We need that. We need Mr. Chapek to understand that we need to be speaking up. We can’t assume that these laws that they’re trying to put in place aren't hurtful and bigoted and, frankly, evil. We are not going away. We’re not going back in the closet."
A story about the fearless Space Ranger who would serve as the basis for the best-selling action figure fans know and love, Lightyear was directed by Angus MacLane (a veteran Pixar animator, whose work includes the original character designer for Buzz Lightyear and Emperor Zurg). Chris Evans leads the voice cast as a young and hopeful Buzz. Aduba, James Brolin, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Keke Palmer, Efren Ramirez, Peter Sohn, Dale Soules, Taika Waititi, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. co-star.
The movie, whose look and story were influenced by classic science fiction, is currently slated for a wide release on Friday, June 17. Disney has yet to announce whether it will receive a theatrical, streaming, or hybrid rollout.