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They Wrecked It: Reflecting on Homophobia in Disney's Wreck-It Ralph

11/30/2012 04:47 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

I am a 35-year-old gay man and life-long video gamer. As a kid I felt like a sissy -- or rather -- I WAS a sissy. I feared competitive sports, or anything I thought would draw attention to my boy boobs, limp wrists and my high-pitched voice. I got teased for the way I looked and the way I acted ("girly!") and when I got a little older, called a fag. I felt like a loser in the real world, but fortunately the real world was only part of my reality. There was a place I could go where I felt invincible -- and for fleeting moments, I actually was. I played video games. I may have been a fourth grade misfit by day, but when I got home I could turn on, drop out and fit in. Video games were a steadily growing world pastime, which then in its infancy was indisputably a realm for "boys." I could take out my frustrations by ninja-staring dinosaurs in the face, feel strong by punching the biggest goon on the block radly across the street, and even prance over dancing mushrooms and smiling clouds into fields of flashing flowers without the slightest bit of self-hatred. Gaming was the one "boy" thing I was good at, and I loved it.

Last year saw one of the biggest and best-rated game franchises in the world, BioWare's Mass Effect, offer players the ability to choose a gay relationship complete with PG-13 sex scene if you were an attentive and suave enough player. Bioware's decision to include a gay option was a huge deal for me, even if Cortez wasn't really my type. My older-self took a look over my shoulder to the little-me hiding in a playground tire during gym class, drawing pictures of Q-Bert in the dirt. "It gets better man, I swear it does -- and look little-me, in the future there's a Disney movie coming out about VIDEO GAMES and I'm pretty sure it's supposed to not suck, and a hilarious gay-friendly comedian named Sarah Silverman voices a character, and so does a lesbian actress and electronic book spokeswoman named Jane Lynch! It has Q-Bert in it! It's going to be amazing, and we have a boyfriend now to take to see it! How can anything actually BE better than this!

I was psyched to see Wreck-It Ralph. I couldn't wait for little-me to sit there inside today-me's head looking out of our eyes and watching our secret world get the main stream treatment it deserved, complete with old school fan service, and a super catchy J-Pop tune (OMG that song is so catchy). I was crestfallen when the game's villain turned out to be yet another mincing gay stereotype. At first I let it go -- I really wanted to enjoy Wreck-It Ralph.

That's when Ralph, the lovable hero (depicted perhaps uncoincidentally as an exaggeratedly tough masculine guy), quips about the King of Candy's palace color story, pink. A gag is had at the defensive king's lispy expense: "IT'S SALMON!" Pink would have been a bad choice for a palace made of candy?

Then it gets much worse.

After some limp-wristed gesticulating by our villain, Ralph grabs him, shakes him, and calls the confectionary monarch a "nelly wafer" (it's like Nilla Wafer, get it?)

"Nelly."

That word is hardly thrown around these days, and I'm sure most young kids seeing Wreck-It Ralph wouldn't know what it means. However, when entered into Google for anyone that didn't already know it's definition, here it is:

"Offensive Slang: Used as a disparaging term for an effeminate homosexual man."

There's very little grey area here. The hero of the Disney animated movie I just saw shook the mincing, effeminate villain and called him a homophobic slur (after already insulting his decorating taste!).

When the movie was over I still couldn't shake that jarring scene. Wreck-It Ralph was wrecked. It had everything I wanted, and would have been a totally enjoyable experience had I not felt marginalized and diminished by it. My partner didn't even notice the slur and enjoyed the movie -- was I imagining it? After stewing in my anger juices on the ride home, I decided to see if anyone else had mentioned it online. A quick Google search for "homophobic slur Wreck-It Ralph" pulled up a few other people's similar reactions to the scene, but I couldn't find anything more than a sentence or two. Most reviews I read don't mention it at all. My partner went to bed, and I sat down at the computer to reflect. I'm not a journalist or an activist. Professionally I'm a sculptor, and the director of a nonprofit that serves emerging LGBT artists. Tonight however, I'm a pissed off gay gamer sitting in front of a keyboard.

Wreck-It Ralph is a pretty great movie barring the things mentioned above, and I'd hate to see it tossed into the same Disney vault that Song of the South has been doing time in all these years, but unfortunately I don't think this one's a quick-fix. Disney (never mind the American film industry) has made yet ANOTHER of its villains an effeminate male. Let's not forget Aladdin's Jafar, Lion King's Scar, Jungle Book's Sher Kahn and Robin Hood's Prince John (the last three mentioned are all feline by the way, which is weird, but I'm not writing a dissertation so I'm going to let that go for now). Disney could remove the "nelly" slur from later releases of Ralph (something they MUST do), but no team of animators is going to be brought in to "butch up" the poor King of Candy, just as no one has done anything about the other villains. Today children everywhere are safe from the racial implications of Song of the South's contented singing slaves, but when will they be safe from blatant homophobia at the movies -- at children's movies no less?

What Disney executive screened this movie and didn't notice what I noticed? How did John C. Reilly read that line in his script and not go "Uh guys, I'm not comfortable saying this"? And why have neither Sarah Silverman or Jane Lynch said anything either? I hope that by sharing my thoughts on Wreck-It Ralph, I can inspire someone else to say they've had enough, or reach out to Disney directly, or even just shout from your status update that blatant homophobic slurs are not welcome in G-rated animated films. Tell the Disney you will not tolerate anymore effeminate, mincing villains. Show Disney that LGBTQ people, even (and especially) mincing effeminate ones, have been and can be heroes and heroines in the real world, even if the fantasy worlds our culture creates aren't currently reflecting it. Tell the world you want to see a change. Demand it. Beat the boss. Wreck it.