Queer Coding in the Hollywood Film & TV Industry

Updated: Nov 24, 2020


Written by: Akshinta Das

Edited by: Ria Kejriwal

Queer Coding or Queer Baiting is a term used to depict a queer relationship without acknowledging it. It is a negative representation of the queer community.


Queer coding, as the name suggests, is when characters are shown to be queer or are given stereotyped “LGBTQ traits”. For example, showing “feminine” traits in men, and “masculine” traits in women. Even though their queerness has little to do with the plot of the story, fans may question their sexual orientation.


Animated movies play an integral part in shaping the lives of young children. They kindle their imagination, creativity, and vision. What they see at that young, impressionable age is what they absorb, and eventually, become. The stories they hear and the images they see form the foundation for everything they create in their adult life. Unfortunately, the film and television industry has its own way of projecting queerness to its audience--a way that does not paint an authentic picture of the queer community and only nurtures the belligerence they have faced.


There are many characters in animated movies who have been queer-baited or queer-coded. Some are plain to see, whilst others are very subtle. Here are a few popular villains who are queer-coded:


1. Governor Ratcliffe Film: Pocahontas This villain is prone to prissiness, with his pink bows and pigtails, and has a pet who hates manual labor. While John Smith heads and seeks adventure in the woods, Ratcliffe stays in his tent, prim and tidy. He’s foppish and concerned with money, style, and clothes.



2. Scar Film: Lion King Scar is the gentler version of Mufasa, which he laments as being in the shallow end of the gene pool. His wit may be biting, but he hates taking physical action unless forced to. Scar is a preening lion with a limping paw who complains about being surrounded by idiots.


3. Jafar Film: Aladdin Jafar is natty, obsessed with dressing up and with Aladdin. He wants to marry Jasmine for the drama and glamour of being her betrothed. Also averse to physical labor, he uses his hands to do magic and keeps his hands metaphorically clean. Jafar is a paradigmatic example of queer coding because of his “effeminate” nature and his manicured beard.

4. Ursula Film: The Little Mermaid Based on a real-life drag queen Divine, Ursula takes a step away from her male counterparts. She is aggressive, loud-mouthed, and has a harsh voice and demeanour.




Why are villains queer-coded?


Queer Coding is effectuated in villains because the queer community has generally been associated with violence and negativity. Ursula’s brassiness or Scar’s prissiness shows things that are not actually present in society. As these films or television shows assign queer traits to negative characters, they teach children and other viewers to identify those traits as villainous, hence teaching them that the LGBTQ+ community is villainous.



Shifting Narratives: From Villainy to Queer Spotlights


A recent trend of giving Elsa (“Frozen”) a girlfriend is a major change for the concept of queer coding, showing that it can even be positive. With this, queer kids will receive the message that being queer is normal.

So, I would like to conclude with what Walt Disney once said: “Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood.”