Disney continues to prove that profits are more important than actual representation with the release of ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

After four years, Disney has finally concluded its controversial Star Wars trilogy with “The Rise of Skywalker,” and fans couldn’t be more divided. 

While some adamantly defend the direction Disney took, others may believe irreversible damage has been done to their beloved franchise. During the marketing for “The Rise of Skywalker,” Disney seemed determined to grab as much attention from this picky fanbase as possible, boasting that the film would contain the first gay kiss in the franchise’s 40-year history.

“In the case of the LGBTQ community,” director J.J. Abrams said in an interview with Variety, “it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film.”

While this all seemed promising, people who went to go see “The Rise of Skywalker” were probably disappointed to find that this heavily advertised kiss was a two-second-long moment between extras that were hidden among a crowd of characters, as reported by Vanity Fair. Disney’s hypocrisy has been on full display when it comes to cinematic representation of same-sex couples. The company boasts representation in its films, yet relegates it to “blink and you’ll miss it” moments in order to appease their more conservative filmgoers, thereby making as much revenue as possible. As a result, Disney’s claims of being representative are rendered hollow and disingenuous when one looks at the context.

The biggest factor that seems to hold Disney back from following through on same-sex couples is the threat it poses to the company’s foreign revenue, especially in regard to China, a country where only a small portion of the population approves of homosexuality, according to Newsweek. Cnet.com claims that modern Hollywood seems to prioritize the Chinese box office over the domestic box office due to how much China can make or break the amount of revenue a film pulls in. For example, Screenrant reports that 2013’s Chinese premiere of “Iron Man 3” had four minutes of extra footage constructed to appeal to the nation’s audiences. The film went on to gross an impressive $121 million from China alone. 

Disney’s money-hungry approach to foreign audiences is what causes it to tread lightly when representing people of the LGBTQ community in their films, as same-sex couples aren’t viewed in a favorable light in many of the countries Disney acquires its foreign revenue from. As a result, Disney may slip in moments that can easily be edited out when shown on foreign soil. The BBC reports that the same-sex kiss in “The Rise of Skywalker” was edited out in Singapore, a country where same-sex marriages aren’t recognized and sexual relations among the LGBTQ community are illegal. 

Analogous to this was when “Avengers: Endgame” was released earlier in 2019, promising to have the first openly gay character in the Marvel Universe, according to Buzzfeed. However, this character was nothing more than a brief cameo done by the film’s director, Joe Russo. While there’s nothing wrong with the appearance of a gay character, Disney can’t point to something so small and pretend like it’s a game-changer for the LGBTQ community because the scene was changed in Russia’s dubbed version so as to bypass the country’s ban on what it believes is gay propaganda, according to Meduza. To save money, Marvel’s first gay character was only allotted seconds of screentime in order to collect a greater amount of foreign revenue by appealing to Russia’s anti-LGBTQ sentiments, completely undermining any point it was trying to make.

This problem isn’t just limited to Disney’s live-action outings, either. Pink News reported about a married gay couple in “Zootopia,” and while this sounds great on the surface, nearly everyone missed it, and Disney never confirmed whether it was true or not. According to Slashfilm, a similar occurrence happened when fans speculated whether “Finding Dory” contained Disney’s first lesbian couple after its trailer was released back in 2016. Yet, Disney chose to play it safe and leave it up to interpretation. 

Disney remains as ambiguous and non-committal as possible when it comes to LGBTQ representation in their films in order to appease both ends of the political spectrum. The media juggernaut has proven that it prioritizes revenue over-representation throughout the years, yet that still doesn’t stop them from using same-sex representation as a marketing tactic in the United States. Same-sex representation is great, but Disney can’t pretend that it’s in favor of it until audience members no longer have to play a game of “Where’s Waldo?” with the company’s movies.

Ian Welfley is a junior communications/media arts and design double major. Contact Ian at welfleim@dukes.jmu.edu.