‘Onward’ does nothing for LGBT representation


Illustration by Emily Brinkman

Lena Waithe’s character in “Onward” contributes little to the plot, and her sexuality is only referenced in a throwaway line about her and her girlfriend’s kids. The ruckus over the character being the first LGBT character in a Disney Pixar film is pointless because her sexuality would be completely ambiguous if that one line was cut. 

Waithe plays the character Specter in “Onward,” Disney’s latest animated feature film set in a magical world filled with elves, centaurs, fairies and other creatures who have succumbed to the ease of modern technology. Specter is a kind, but tough cyclops police officer with a girlfriend and children who are referenced, but never shown.

This isn’t Specter’s movie, though. “Onward” centrally revolves around brothers who are on a quest to fulfill an ancient spell that can resurrect their father for one day. Ian and Barley Lightfoot, respectively played by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, set themselves on an overnight road trip to find the mysterious phoenix gem for the spell.

Specter does not have anything to do with this. She does not personally know the brothers and is not introduced until the second half of the movie. The first time viewers are introduced to Specter is when the brothers are pulled over and have to disguise themselves as their mom’s new cop boyfriend, Colt Bronco, to get away from Specter. 

Specter, accompanied by another police officer, lets them go, but not before she lets Bronco know about her and her girlfriend’s adopted children. The entire scene where Specter is introduced only serves as a funny but unnecessary gag until the brothers leave. Specter then raises suspicion of the situation and calls for backup.

Apart from that one scene, Specter is only shown one more time, where she has a single line during a police chase. 

Specter is essentially a background character in “Onward,” which makes the conversation around what it means for there to be an LGBT character in a Disney movie seem so overdramatic. If it were not for that one word, “girlfriend,” Specter would just be some forgettable, undeniably ugly, sexually ambiguous cyclops cop. 

LGBT representation is not done by writing a single, easily cut throwaway line. Specter is barely even a character. How can she represent anything? Specter’s only character trait is that she is a police officer with some unseen, unnamed family. Disney could not even be bothered to show Specter and her family during the final cheery sequence where the movie goes around town, showing how great everything is thanks to the boys’ quest. 

Specter’s limited appearance and importance in “Onward” has not stopped several countries from banning it. Russia released the film only after editing the scene by changing the word from “girlfriend” to “partner.” The minimal LGBT references and the ease of which Russia edited the film really show how much Disney actually cares about representing marginalized communities: not at all. 

Director of “Onward,” Dan Scanlon, even said he wished Waithe’s role was more fleshed out. If Disney cared more about representation and less about dirty, box office dollars from conservative countries, then maybe there would be more fleshed out LGBT characters. It’s not like Waithe’s character is the first time Disney has claimed LGBT representation over some vague, throwaway line or scene. 

Specter does not need her own movie, TV spin-off or even more screen time in “Onward.” She is just a weak character that has been falsely hyped up by media outlets as some monumental moment for Disney and Pixar. If anything, Specter’s line about her sexuality should have just been cut. It was a dull line for LGBT representation, and if Disney wants Russia’s money so bad, then they should just go all-in for it. 

This circus that goes down every time Disney has some minuscule queer representation has got to stop. It is exhausting and overdone on all sides. Disney needs to write an LGBT character with some semblance of a personality and importance to the plot or just not write them at all.