In recent years, Disney has sparked controversy regarding the treatment of their LGBTQ characters. During one of the last scenes of “Rise of The Skywalker,” there is a brief shot of two women who appear to be kissing. Keen-eyed fans noticed how brief the scene was and speculated that the shot was intentionally short so that it could be easily cut out for international audiences who might find the kiss offensive. These fans were proven right days after the film’s release when news outlets reported that the scene was cut for Singapore, where same-sex marriage is illegal. If the scene had been included, the film would likely have been restricted to Singaporeans ages 18 and up, cutting deep into Disney’s revenue. While Disney arguably had its hands tied dealing with censorship laws, many fans have criticized the company for lacking a real stance on LGBT representation. Queer characters are included or excised to appeal to certain audiences not because Disney cares about LGBT representation. This practice is far from new and not unique to material coming from the United States.
Last March, the Japanese video game company Sega released “Persona 5 Royal,” an updated version of its predecessor simply titled “Persona 5.” The original game was controversial for featuring a scene, which the game portrays humorously, involving two stereotypically-gay men sexually harassing a minor and was considered by many to be homophobic. Queer and allied players were upset by what they believed was an association of homosexuality with sexual predation, and the game’s developers acknowledged the feedback. The game’s developers promised to fix the scene in “Persona 5 Royal” but only for the European and North American versions of the game—the Japanese version of the game is presumably unaltered. The updated game features altered dialogue, which removes the original implication of sexual harassment. While the change certainly makes the game more tolerable for LGBTQ players, it represents another hollow victory for queer representation. The change was only made to appease a regional demographic not because the developers realized that they did something wrong—they most likely are not even aware of the change in the international releases. One could even argue that the change constitutes a form of dishonesty on the part of Sega: they inaccurately translated their own game to make it seem less homophobic than it is. Unlike the “Rise of The Skywalker,” the excuse of censorship laws doesn’t apply in this case. While same-sex unions are not legally recognized in Japan, there are no laws that would be violated regarding the portrayal of gay people in the media. It is not as if Japanese audiences are unaware of the fight for LGBT rights: there are several openly-gay Japanese politicians. Last March, a district court in Japan found the ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.
What international releases demonstrate is that media production companies are mostly reactive and rarely proactive when it comes to politics. For the sake of demographic appeal, companies will adopt whatever they believe to be the dominant political view of the region they’re targeting. LGBTQ representation in popular culture, however, is a victory in the sense that it represents an existing shift in attitudes but not of company executives themselves.