Strange World's Ethan Clade Will Make History For Disney Animation Studios As Their First Openly Gay Protagonist

This Thanksgiving, Disney's "Strange World" will hit theaters. The animated film is set in a fictional land surrounded by mountains that are uncrossable. Well, that's what everyone but a few enterprising people think. It is life's mission for Jaeger Clade (voice of Dennis Quaid) to find out what's on the other side. His son Searcher Clade, however, doesn't want that life, and he discovers a plant that brings electricity to his land. While Jaeger leaves to follow his dream, his son settles down, marries a pilot named Meridian (voice of Gabrielle Union), and has a now-teenage son Ethan (voice of Jaboukie Young-White).

The film has a pulp/sci-fi feel to it, as they all journey into a land full of unusual creatures, but the real heart of the story is the love of family. "Strange World" is also historic in that it doesn't give simply a nod or a passing moment to a queer character. Ethan has a crush on a guy. It's not implied, it's not just spoken about but not seen, and Searcher is excited to meet his son's crush, embarrassing Ethan with his enthusiasm. Meridian and his friends fully support him, as does everyone else around him. Ethan is gay, and the representation in "Strange World" is even better because it's not portrayed as anything but an everyday thing. It is absolutely lovely to see. 

/Film's own Vanessa Armstrong recently spoke to producer Roy Conli and director Don Hall about the film, and they both talked about how happy they were to be a part of this moment.

It's about damn time

In the past, we've seen tiny nods to queer relationships like the three seconds of screen time that a lesbian couple had in "Finding Dory" or LeFou dancing with a man in the live-action "Beauty and the Beast" but "Strange World" fully embraces queer identity. As I watched this film, I kept writing in my notes, "This is wonderful!" I also wrote, "Oh my gosh, they're finally doing this," more than once. Even better is how we weren't looking at an older generation that doesn't quite get it. Even the elders in the film are excited to give out dating tips for Ethan and his crush. There is no hesitation. There is no hemming and hawing. It's just one kid hoping for a relationship with another and has a loving community who wants to help ... and gently tease him about it. 

Roy Conli said that Ethan as a gay character was always the plan "from day one." He said that Don Hall was creating "these wonderfully diverse worlds. It was something that we fell in love with: this character's compassion, and he's such a wonderful human being that it was just a part of who he is." He also mentioned that Ethan's heart "is so pure, and that's why we love the character so much."

Hall confirmed that Ethan was gay from the beginning of development, so this isn't an instance of shoehorning in diversity for the sake of it. "We're very fond of Ethan as well for all those reasons and really can't wait for the world to see him and embrace him."

"Strange World" will hit theaters on November 23, 2022.