Disney's upcoming action-adventure movie Jungle Cruise is facing backlash for casting a straight man, Jack Whitehall, in a stereotypically gay role. This will be the second time that Disney featured a gay character in a live-action children's movie, following Josh Gad as Gaston's loyal henchman LeFou, but it will be the first instance of an openly gay character.
Based on the Disney theme park attraction of the same name, Jungle Cruise will feature Dwayne Johnson as a boat captain named Frank who's been hired by a sister and brother, played by Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall, respectively. Their goal is to travel down a river in order to discover a tree that allegedly possesses the power to heal. The movie also stars Édgar Ramírez, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Andy Nyman, and Quim Gutiérrez, and is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows, The Commuter). Jungle Cruise will be one of many movies based on a Disney theme park attraction, including Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomorrowland, and The Haunted Mansion. Unfortunately, the movie is coming under fire after character details revealed that Whitehall's character is gay, but described as perpetuating gay stereotypes.
According to a description from The Sun, Whitehall's character is described as "hugely effete, very camp." Various people have been voicing their disapproval of Whitehall's casting, arguing that the stereotypical description is made worse by the fact that it will be portrayed by a straight man. Omar Shariff Jr. (grandson of Academy Award nominee Omar Shariff) said on Twitter, "Really @Disney #JungleCruise ? Your first significant gay role will be played by a straight white man perpetuating stereotypes? Fail! This ship should sink." While comedian James Barr tweeted, "when so many gay actor friends of mine are turned down for straight roles because there’s a “whiff of gay”, it’s frustrating to cast NonGay people in gay roles." That said, some people object to the criticism, arguing that an actor should be able to portray any person, no matter their sexuality (see: Michael Rapaport responding to Barr by tweeting, "No I want REAL Boxers playing Boxers and REAL Alcoholics playing Alcoholics. Who needs Denzel when you can get the real thing?")
Some critics have compared this controversy to the recent backlash Scarlett Johansson faced after she was cast in the biopic Rub & Tug, in which she would have starred as a real-life transgender man. Johansson ultimately left the project, referring to "ethical questions" that were raised following her casting, as well as her initial reaction to the controversy.
Between arguments surrounding everything from inclusive representation to hypersensitivity, Whitehall's casting has certainly stirred up some unique backlash. On one hand, actors like Timothée Chalamet and Benedict Cumberbatch were nominated for Academy Awards for their portrayal of gay characters in Call Me By Your Name and The Imitation Game, respectively, and were praised for their roles. On the other hand, Whitehall is met with criticism before anyone has even seen his performance So, really, the main argument here for critics opposing Whitehall's casting has less to do with the fact that a straight man is playing a gay man, but with the fact that a straight man is feeding into gay stereotypes. If Disney cares enough to represent the LGBTQ community through a mainstream tentpole like Jungle Cruise, they may want to consider some well placed tact - especially for the community in which one of their characters belongs.
Source: The Sun
- Jungle Cruise (2019) release date: Oct 11, 2019