LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - For a brief moment, it looked like Pixar had finally made history by offering up the first gay character in a Disney animated film. The Internet erupted last month over a new trailer for "Finding Dory" that showed two women next to a baby stroller that's attacked by an octopus. Some viewers wondered if they were a lesbian couple, as US Weekly and other entertainment outlets reported on the speculation. It would have been long overdue after 16 previous Pixar films had been populated exclusively by heterosexuals.
But according to our spies at an early screening, "Finding Dory" doesn't break any gay glass ceilings. The animated women who were the subject of intense online chatter make a blink-or-you'll-miss-it appearance in the sequel, which opens on June 17. It's up to viewers to decide just how they know each other, as the camera scurries past them. (Disney didn't respond to a request for comment.)
Against a national -- and international -- conversation about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, gay characters are barely granted speaking roles in movies. According to a study from GLAAD, only 22 of 126 studio releases last year featured characters that identified as LGBT. Many of those films were lower budget efforts, not the kind of blockbuster productions that have audiences lining up. (Disney and Paramount were the only studios with movies that didn't feature a single gay character.)
This seems starkly out of touch with advancements in society for the gay and transgender community. Just last summer, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the United States. "Finding Dory" might feature the voice of Ellen DeGeneres, who became the first lesbian TV star to come out of the closet in 1997, but it joins the rest of the summer blockbusters that ignore the LGBT community.
Bryan Singer used to infuse his "X-Men" films with a gay subtext (the mutants had to "come out" to friends and family), but that's not a theme of the latest installment. There's yet to be a gay Marvel star in the "Captain America," "Iron Man" or "Avengers" franchises. Last February's "Deadpool," the lone comic book hero who is pansexual, still only had sex with women.
When Andrew Garfield suggested that Spider-Man could be gay, Sony Pictures quietly put the lid on that idea -- and instead rebooted the character as a high school student. For all the talk about the men (or even women) who could play James Bond, there weren't any headlines about gay actors who could portray him (although Rupert Everett suggested the idea in 1999). In fact, as bad as #OscarsSoWhite has been for not recognizing any actors of color for two consecutive years, the last openly gay actor nominated for an Academy Award was more than a decade ago: Ian McKellen for playing a wizard in 2001's "Lord of the Rings."
Hollywood isn't homophobic, but studio executives are still crippled by fear. As major blockbusters rely heavily on China and other countries intolerant of LGBT rights, a gay character is viewed in the industry as a financial risk. But that's also why so many young ticket-buyers are starting to feel like TV is more cutting-edge than the movies. Since characters on the big screen aren't representative of our society, they seem out of touch with what's going on in the world.
A studio like Disney could afford to pave the way for change. "Finding Dory" is one of the most-anticipated movies of the summer, and in 2016 you'd be hard-pressed to find too many tickets buyers who don't have gay friends, family or colleagues. Isn't the ocean big enough for Dory to find someone who isn't straight?