This is an op-ed piece discussing the release of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Walt Disney Studios’ relationship with the LGBTQ+ community.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, many movies were either delayed or sent straight to PVOD or streaming. Many of those that were delayed still don’t have new release dates, and one of those movies is Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
Based upon the British musical, which was inspired by the BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, opened at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on February 13th 2017, before moving to the West End’s Apollo Theatre on November 6th. It follows 16-year-old Jamie New, who dreams of becoming a drag queen, as you may have guessed.
The musical has been a smash hit in the UK is currently set to reopen on May 20th. It was nominated for 5 Laurence Olivier Awards (Britain’s equivalent to the Tony Awards), including Best Lead Actor in a Musical and Best New Musical. Sadly it went home empty-handed, mostly due to a little show called Hamilton.
It’s been such a hit that the show was recorded for cinemas just one year after it debuted. Since the Sheffield and London production, there have been tours in the UK and Australia, a translated production in Seoul. It will make its American debut in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre on January 16th 2022. Jamie has been such a smash that special guests appearing in the show have included Michelle Visage and Drag Race winner Bianca Del Rio.
Now, you may be asking, what has this show got to do with Disney? Well, the show has nothing to do with Disney, but the movie adaptation certainly has a lot to do with it.
20th Century Fox acquired the film’s distribution rights in June 2019, and it managed to survive Disney’s acquisition of Fox later that year, with its distribution now being handled by 20th Century Studios. It’s was originally given an October 2020, but I don’t even need to say why it was delayed to February 26th 2021. Unfortunately, the movie would be removed from Disney’s schedule due to pandemic, so it currently sits awaiting a release date while Disney reshuffles their movies.
Though, many members of the LGBTQ+ community have been left a tad confused as to where Disney stands with the topic. While the company as a whole is very gay friendly, the same is yet to be translated into their film studios, and with the cancellation of Four Dads and Nimona, and the moving of High Fidelity and Love, Victor from Disney+ to Hulu, it hasn’t made them look particularly good in the eyes of their LGBTQ+ fans, especially since the latter two were moved after Disney heads deemed them “too mature” for Disney+ – the same service where you can watch John Walker bash a man’s head in with the Captain America shield.
Many fans have become so frustrated with the LGBTQ+ representation that Disney and LucasFilm were actually booed during the 2019 London Pride Parade! I was actually a witness to this, and it was something that I wholeheartedly disagreed with since the people marching in Disney’s section of the parade were likely not the people in charge of the decisions made. They were probably just allies and community members who wanted to express who they are and wanted to have some fun. As they say, it was a case of picking fights with the wrong people.
As for the projects that Disney hasn’t cancelled or moved, well, they have an even shakier history with the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s mostly due to their recent string of “gay cameos”.
The gay cameos, as I call them, are controversial elements in Beauty and the Beast (2017), Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Onward, each of which featured a gay character whose role was short enough to be cut or (as in Onward’s case) dubbed over for international markets such as China, Russia and Malaysia where LGBTQ+ activities are either extremely censored or outright illegal. What didn’t help was that ahead of the releases of these films, the directors often boast about how their film features gay characters and then we see the film…
Despite Disney’s poor track record of LGBTQ+ characters in their films, elsewhere in the company they’ve saught to include the community in many ways. For example, the introduction of a ‘fifth key’ named the ‘Inclusion Key’ which represents one of the key values their company must follow. The Inclusion Key serves as a way of introducing a new way for Disney’s employees of colour, as well as employees of different genders and sexualities to feel open and welcome within the company. With this key they’ve introduced disclaimers to their older films and will be updating certain attractions to fit the modern world.
Before the introduction of the fifth key, Disney introduced a range of Pride inspired products, now called ‘Disney’s Rainbow Collection’ brand, and while it has been mostly met with praise they have received their fair share of criticism, recently the Pride Pop! Vinyls came under fire for including a random assortment of characters including a Pride Stormtrooper, which is an odd choice to include in such a selection. Disneyland Paris is also the only Disney theme park in the world to have an annual Pride Celebration, which Disney have held since 2019. They faced many pushbacks from conservative groups who called for a boycott, but Disney went ahead and the celebration was a huge success and will be a yearly event once Disneyland Paris reopens.
With the USA’s Pride Month just a few weeks and the UK’s Pride in London festival postponed to September, this summer would be the perfect opportunity for Disney to release Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. It would be an amazing addition to the Disney+ lineup.
There is an argument to be had that the film should see a traditional cinema release. When you consider that it’s possibly Disney’s unashamedly loudest and proudest LGBTQ+ movie in their entire history, as well as their first to feature an openly gay lead character, it does warrant being seen on the big screen. While I’m personally not a fan of Disney+ Premiere Access, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie may very well warrant such a release, especially when many cinemas around the world are still closed.
However Disney chooses to release the movie, I’m sure someone will have something to say about it. If it goes straight to streaming, then many will say it should have gone to theatres. If it goes to theatres, many will say it should have gone to streaming. Either way, the film will still likely be either banned or censored in many countries, which is why Everybody’s Talking About Jamie needs as much support as we can muster to show that films like this are worth making.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie stars Max Harwood, Lauren Patel, Sarah Lancashire, Shobna Gulati, Ralph Ineson, Sharon Horgan, and Richard E. Grant as Loco Chanelle. It’s directed by Jonathan Butterell and is currently awaiting a new release date.
UPDATE: 24/5/21: Since the publishing of this article it has been announced that Disney has sold Everybody’s Talking About Jamie to Amazon’s Prime Video. It will be released on September 17th.
The documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 is available on BBC iPlayer (UK only) and Amazon Prime Video (region depending). For tickets to the musical, see here.