#Disney films have changed drastically in the past 25 years, and I'm not just talking about the introduction of CGI. The definition of a Disney princess has been constantly redefined since the nineties, evolving to represent a more diverse spectrum of women from all walks of life.
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Beauty and the Beast's Belle gave us an intelligent and free-spirited female lead; A far-cry from the rather two-dimensional, doe-eyed damsels of decades past. Not long after followed Aladdin's Jasmine, the first non-white princess, who paved the way for Mulan, Pocahontas and Tiana. In fact, Disney princesses represent all corners of the globe:
More recently, Disney heroines such as Brave's Merida and Frozen's Elsa (though not an official Disney princess) were the first in the franchise to not have a love interest in their storylines.
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However, it hasn't all been gold stars for Disney. Whilst they may have made leaps and bounds in representing an array of different protagonists, their princesses have been frequently criticized for their uniform body type, seeking validation and worthiness through a male love interest, and various other feminist failings.
But Disney's most recent animated release has changed all that. #Moana's directors may argue that she's no princess, but their movie did give us a female protagonist who defied the failings of her predecessors. With her Islander heritage, curvier body type and even a narrative based around ancient Polynesian mythology, Moana is a bold move in the right direction for Disney.
And now, Moana directors Ron Clements and John Musker say that Disney's next princess might be stepping into territory the franchise has never encountered before.
An LGBT Disney Princess?
In an interview with Huffington Post, Clements said the "the possibilities are pretty open at this point" for an LGBT Disney princess, and Musker agreed:
"It would be driven by a director or a directorial team that really wanted to push that and if [Disney Animation’s Chief Creative Officer] John Lasseter liked the idea, but I would say we haven’t ever really [had] restrictions placed on what we’ve done".
As the directors of Disney's most recent and diverse animation to date, it would make sense that they would have a good insight on Disney's future creative direction. But is it the right choice?
1. It's The Logical Next Step, And The Right One
Simply put, Disney have more than enough lovesick ladies in their repertoire now. If you want to watch a handsome prince rush in to sweep a sweet, pretty princess off her feet and live happily ever after, you can take your pick of any number of Disney titles. They're not going anywhere. In the meantime, it's time for new stories.
As we've seen through Disney's gradual climb up diversity mountain, providing a variety of characters with varying ethnicities, personalities and backgrounds has become a priority. It's slow but sure progress towards the new era of Disney, and it's inevitable that that new era is going to include characters with various sexualities and gender identities.
Here's the thing: LGBT people exist, and they aren't going to go away, no matter how hard you close your eyes and will them to disappear. This isn't Peter Pan, and they're not technically fairies.
It's important to have positive representations of LGBT characters on screen. Because before they were adults, LGBT people were children. And when they needed positive role models to look to in their favorite fictional narratives, there often were none. All this does is create a sense of isolation and ostracism, because it sends a subtle but clear message: You are not accepted. And that in turn can cause very damaging mental health issues.
2. Is It Appropriate?
But shouldn't we be protecting children from sexual themes, or avoid confronting them with complex social concepts that they simple aren't going to understand?
As mentioned above, LGBT people do exist and live among us, regardless of how unaware of them you may be. Trying to shelter your children from them is pointless; Mostly because it kind of isn't possible. You won't always be able to automatically detect someone's gender or sexuality (no matter how sharp you may claim your "gaydar" is).
More importantly, there's a clear distinction between sex and sexuality. The easiest way to understand this difference is to look at Disney films.
You're never going to see sex or sexual references in an animated Disney movie, but you're certainly going to see a lot of relationships. Disney narratives are famous for their trademark romances, and yet you'll rarely hear parents complaining about the implied sexual activity that's going on between the lovebirds in question. If Disney can manage to base the majority of their storylines around heterosexual love while still keeping things completely family friendly, you can guarantee they would do the same when discussing other sexualities and genders.
As for the issue of children being unable to comprehend the concept of different genders and sexualities, you'd be surprised at how much kids can actually understand when you explain it to them. Children are incredibly observant and eager to learn, and are capable of understanding more complex ideas than we give them credit for.
Not to mention that if children are raised in a world where LGBT people are given fair representation in media, the need to "explain" this idea to them becomes obsolete. Do you remember having the concept of being straight or cisgender explained to you as a child? No, you most likely learned it from socialization and the world around you, just as you would have learned about other sexualities and gender identities if you grew up around LGBT-identifying people.
3. Is Romance On The Cards?
So how will Disney introduce their LGBT character? Many Disney fans have been petitioning for a lesbian romance for Elsa in #Frozen 2 with the popular hashtag of #GiveElseAGirlfriend. Even Idina Menzel, voice of Elsa, is in support of the idea. And after so many heterosexual Disney romances, it would be well overdue.
While a same-sex relationship would be a great way to positively represent LGBT characters, a romantic interest actually isn't necessary to establish someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. It might also repeat the tired Disney trope of characters' reliance on a romantic interest. Characters like Moana, Merida and Elsa have established themselves as strong, independent characters without the need for validation through the attention of a significant other, or a story that's based around finding "true love".
4. But Won't My Kids Turn Gay?!
No. I'm very sorry to disappoint you, but that's really not how that works.
Do you think Disney's next princess should be LGBT?
(Source: Huffington Post)