Onward and upward? It has been confirmed that out Hollywood mogul Lena Waithe voices a queer character in the upcoming Disney/Pixar movie Onward.
Directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Kori Rae, the animated fantasy film focuses on two elven brothers (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) trying to bring their father back from the dead with a resurrection spell.
Waithe, 35, voices the small but memorable role of Officer Specter, a cyclops cop in a same-sex relationship. The character reportedly appears in one scene.
Behold: Character posters for #PixarOnward, including newly-announced cast @AliWong, @LenaWaithe, and @_MelRodriguez_.✨ Check back tomorrow to see the brand-new trailer for the film. pic.twitter.com/ZJXcPZT1NY
— Disney and Pixar's Onward (@pixaronward) December 16, 2019
Slate notes that when Specter and another officer pull over a distracted driver, Specter sympathizes, saying, “My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out.” Specter’s girlfriend does not appear on-screen.
“It just kind of happened,” Rae, who is married to producer Darla K. Anderson, told Yahoo of the character’s sexuality. “The scene, when we wrote it, was kind of fitting and it opens up the world a little bit, and that’s what we wanted… [Waithe is] an amazing actress and writer—I think we improvised for about an hour for a small part.
“It’s a modern fantasy world and we want to represent the modern world,” Scanlon added.
“I want to make a whole new movie about Officer Specter, we already have the material,” Rae told EUR. “[Waithe] basically wrote it all and gave us a backstory.”
Let’s be honest, this is how straight people see us anyway. pic.twitter.com/s4MT3UNbZl
— Gideon Glick (@gidglick) February 22, 2020
Slate praises the “exclusively gay moment” in Onward, referencing the phrase director Bill Condon famously used to describe a scene with LeFou in Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast. “The film doesn’t pause to let it sink in or isolate the moment with a cut for emphasis,” Sam Adams writes. “It passes unremarked, because in this world, it’s accepted as a fact of life.”
Officer Specter is being touted by some outlets as the first openly LGBTQ character in an animated Disney film. Pixar did, however, include blink-and-you’ll-miss-them lesbian moms in Finding Dory and Toy Story 4, and bisexual artist Frida Kahlo appeared in Pixar’s Coco.
Finding Dory co-director Andrew Stanton declined to confirm the sexuality of the couple in his film, saying, “They can be whatever you want them to be.” One Million Moms, an online conservative Christian group affiliated with the American Family Association, called for a boycott of Toy Story 4, calling the film’s lesbian characters “dangerous.”
Its many queer-coded characters aside, Disney has been criticized in the past for underwhelming or overhyped LGBTQ representation, including a same-sex kiss in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and an unnamed grieving gay man in Avengers: Endgame.
Join Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer and director Dan Scanlon on their bold journey in #PixarOnward. Get your tickets:
Advance screenings 2/29:https://t.co/sS76dqGP5K
— Disney and Pixar's Onward (@pixaronward) February 20, 2020
Jungle Cruise will reportedly feature Disney’s first openly gay live-action character, played by British comedian Jack Whitehall. Disney will also introduce the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first same-sex couple and same-sex kiss in The Eternals with characters played by Bryan Tyree Henry and Haaz Sleiman.
For her work on Netflix’s Master of None, Waithe, an outspoken champion of LGBTQ visibility and acceptance, made history as the first woman of color to win an Emmy for writing for a comedy series. Her other TV projects include Boomerang, The Chi, and Twenties; she made her feature film screenwriting debut with Queen & Slim.
Onward is in theaters March 6.