Disney Characters Can Hurl Slurs, but Not Say 'Gay' on TikTok

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday November 15, 2021
Originally published on November 15, 2021

Shang from the Disney film "Mulan"
Shang from the Disney film "Mulan"  (Source:Disney)

Thanks to text-to-speech tech, Disney characters on TikTok will say whatever you type...unless you want to use the words "gay," "lesbian," or "queer," The Gamer reported.

The social media platform features a number of popular Disney characters through which users can talk, with typed text turned into AI-generated speech. But despite Disney's recent stand against anti-LGBTQ+ censorship in refusing to allow scenes with gay content to be scissored out of the international release of "Eternals," TikTok users won't hear certain words pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community if they include the terms in their typed remarks; instead, the characters will skip over them, The Gamer detailed.

Disney characters are "the only voices" on the platform that automatically edit out words relating to the LGBTQ+ community, the article noted.

Moreover, while the function makes characters skip over words like "gay," "lesbian," and "queer," "They will, however, say bisexual and trans, making the whole situation even more bizarre," The Gamer pointed out.

"The most charitable reading of this is that the three words were accidentally picked up by a profanity filter, since certain personalities online like to use them as insults," the article added. "However, using an algorithm that conflates sexualities with swearing and insults might just raise more concerns than it eases."

The Gamer recalled that Disney has long made it easy for countries hostile to sexual and gender minorities to excise dialogue or imagery that acknowledges these areas of natural human variability.

"Prior to 'Eternals,' LGBTQ+ content in Disney films was reduced to small cameos" and "almost exclusively unnamed background characters" that could be eradicated with a snip, the article explained, and any dialogue referencing LGBTQ+ people could be conveniently lost in translation.

The latter "reportedly happened with both 'Avengers: Endgame' and 'Onward's' Russian releases," The Gamer recalled, "in which dialogue was changed to remove any implication of a character being in a queer relationship."

But with "Eternals," Disney seemed to draw a line in the sand, and with the fleeting — but unapologetic — depiction of the title character in the MCU television series "Loki" as both gender-fluid and bisexual, the brand seemed to be making genuine, if modest and belated, strides.

Social media users took note of the automated censorship, pointing out that the text-to-speech function seemingly has no problem with other terms, including certain truly offensive slurs.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.