Is Disney’s Luca a gay movie? Yes, and we need to say so.
Those saying it’s an innocent tale of childhood friendship are doing a disservice to gay boys, who need a story about what it’s like to come out, and how fun life can be when you do.
If spoilers are important to you, read this after you’ve seen the film.
I’m not the most woke person on the planet. I’m intersectional only at my leisure, and not one to examine every jot and tittle through a prism of race, gender, or sexual orientation.
I am a few things, though: I’m Italian-American, and I’m gay. Italians have an expression: Diciamo pane al pane e vino al vino. We call bread, bread and wine, wine; we call things as they are.
If you’re reading this, you likely know what Disney’s new movie Luca is about: two boys who are sea monsters hide their true identities in order to adventure together in human society.
Enrico Casarosa, the director, insists Luca is an innocent tale of pre-pubescent friendship, before romantic feelings complicate everything. More generically, it’s a Disney story about hiding our true selves and serves lessons about tolerance.
Will it play in Peoria?
Disney is forever cautious with any subject that smells political. Mormons devour Disney movies with their kids. Same for parents who take their kids to Sunday school at Texas mega-churches. In a polarized society, parents are especially tuned-in to anything that may seem political or feels like “political indoctrination” or “forced diversity.”
After the blowback Disney got from racists who didn’t like that Asian woman in the Star Wars movie, you can’t tell me audiences don’t sniff out and bitch about diversity.
So, from a marketing perspective, why say something is gay if you don’t have to? You’ll make more money from a broader audience if you don’t.
But let’s call bread, bread and wine, wine, shall we?
Luca is an LGBT movie.
When I finished Luca, I messaged my childhood friend M — , who had watched the film with her two young daughters the night before.
Tell me if Luca is a gay movie, or if I just want it to be. I say it is, I said.
A few minutes later she wrote back, It’s super gay. It’s about two boys whose dream is to run away together riding on a Vespa.
That, reader, is all you really need to know, sea monsters notwithstanding.
Still, the more we digested it, the gayer it became. There’s literally a coming out scene. Not only does Luca come out, but he watches his friend change on the beach. He goes back home and tosses himself onto his bed, exhilarated by having been out and having met someone exciting who is like him.
There were scenes of jealousy triggered by a girl that any gay boy who was ever 12 recognizes; there’s an outing that smacks of internalized homophobia; there’s a hand-drawn picture like the one I drew of me and my best friend in third grade.
M — pointed out that she cannot recall a “running after a train” scene that was not a romantic convention. John Wayne never ran after a train like that for another man.
You could argue Luca is about innocent kids, and not about romance or love.
Yeah? So were the first ten minutes of Up.
Luca’s ending reflected cowardly writing.
I hated the ending of Luca. The boys were in love. They needed to end up together. Or — if the film is echoing Roman Holiday — Casarosa should have clued the audience in from the start that love was ill-fated and impossible for bigger reasons.
Instead, one boy went to school, and the other became a pescatore. The class and educational divide, if not the distance, hints at a murky future between them.
I’m trying to think of the message my 12-year-old self might have taken from this film. It’s okay to fall for your best friend — to dream of adventuring forever with him and for a while to have a yin to your yang — but summer eventually ends and you’ll end up on a train with a girl, off to start your “real” life without the person you really want at your side.
Che palle. That’s the ending you write when you construct a winking allegory that makes sure people who go to mega-churches know Luca isn’t a gay romance.
I’m sick of allegory. It reminds me of Hollywood during the Hayes code. All gay boys have, mostly, is allegory, because nobody ever wants to SAY for certain their male characters are gay. (To go back to Star Wars, Finn and Poe could have been and should have been if anyone had the stones to do it).
Gay kids need things to be clear, and they need to see that things work out. They need gay characters, and they need those characters to be funny and kind of awesome and ultimately get what they seek. They need to see that life after coming out can be adventurous and fun and accepting.
The running-after-the-train scene left me cold for this reason. It would have kicked me in the nuts if I knew for sure the boys were in love but could not be together for big reasons. All I had instead was another insufficient allegory. All I can truthfully say is, “he ran after his good friend to say goodbye.” That’s bullshit, because that isn’t all that happened. I can hear the missing notes, and you can, too.
CT Liotta is a writer, among other things, living in Philadelphia. His first LGBT Young Adult novel, No Good About Goodbye, releases on Kindle Vella in July. Follow him on Twitter @CTLiotta