When the second Finding Dory trailer dropped, beady-eyed fans quickly picked up on what appeared to be a lesbian couple on a nice day out at the aquarium. This provoked a divided reaction (because of course it did), with some people preemptively praising the film for its diversity, while others questioned the appropriateness of queer relationships in children's media.
But now it seems as though the debate can be silenced — the initial reviews of the film are in, and these two characters are never confirmed to be anything other than gal pals. Huh.
After GLAAD published their report on LGBT representation in Hollywood earlier this year, Disney and Pixar have come under fire for failing to include any LGBT characters in their feature films. In that light, the apparent inclusion of a lesbian couple in Finding Dory seemed to be the first step to repairing this lack of diversity. But if the women aren't confirmed to be a couple, surely it's still up for debate?
Straight Until Proven Otherwise
Unfortunately, leaving the matter ambiguous is problematic within itself. Sure, if we see two women together on what could be a date, some people will draw the conclusion that they're romantically involved. But unless they're more direct about expressing their attraction to each other (and sometimes even then), most people will assume they're just friends.
This is thanks to a little notion known as Compulsory Heterosexuality, which is the idea that all people are assumed to be straight unless otherwise stated (probably repeatedly, with emphasis). Considering most people in the world are heterosexual, it's understandable that we just sort of assume everyone we encounter is part of this majority.
For representation though, that means that you have to be very, very clear that a character isn't straight. There are many ways of doing this, but the clearest way is probably to have the characters in question refer to themselves as one of those handy LGBT terms.
In the case of the couple in Finding Dory, we can interpret them as romantic all we want, but the fact is that this will sail over many people's heads and therefore it doesn't really count. To be honest though, even if it were made clear that the women are on a date, that still wouldn't be a slam dunk for LGBT representation.
If this debate feels familiar, it's because a very similar situation arose after Frozen was released. The film was praised for including a gay couple: The shop owner Oaken and his apparent husband who appeared with their children in the sauna.
But again, we run across the problem of ambiguity, not to mention that of blink-and-you'll-miss-it representation. Unfortunately, while the filmmakers did have the opportunity to confirm that yes, that was Oaken's husband we saw, they opted for viewer interpretation over anything else. Frozen writer and co-director Jennifer Lee stated:
"We know what we made. But at the same time I feel like once we hand the film over it belongs to the world so I don’t like to say anything, and let the fans talk. I think it’s up to them."
Here's hoping they decide whether or not Elsa's gay before Frozen 2, because a lot of hopes are riding on that already.
Ultimately, it's a pretty poor situation when not only are LGBT characters shoved to the sidelines, appearing in brief flashes, but they're also not even confirmed to be LGBT in the first place. And it's especially disheartening to find out that Finding Dory falls into these traps, considering Dory herself is voiced by Ellen Degeneres, who is something of a pioneer for lesbians in Hollywood.
Ah well. The only thing to do is to is to wait patiently for a time when LGBT characters can actually be included in the main cast of Disney movies. And until then, maybe we should just rewatch Paranorman a few more times.