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Strange World cast and crew on Disney’s latest openly gay character

"I think we can’t wait for the world to embrace him like we did,” says director Don Hall.

By Emily Maskell

Ethan Clade in Disney's Strange World
Ethan Clade voiced by Jaboukie Young-White in Disney's Strange World (Image: Disney)

The creators of Disney’s Strange World, the studio’s first film to feature an openly gay teen romance, have revealed more details about the upcoming animated fantasy.

The film will follow three generations of the adventurous Clade family as they embark on a journey to an “uncharted and treacherous land where fantastical creatures await.” Among the voice cast are Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu, and Jaboukie Young-White.

Disney announced the project in an Instagram post last year, introducing viewers to Ethan Clade, a biracial, openly gay 16-year-old who gets tongue-tied when he’s near his crush, Diazo.

Director Don Hall shared that in creating the film, the character’s identity “never got broken down like that. It was more organic,” he told Variety.

“His gayness is one part of him. He’s also bold and wildly empathetic, which is why he becomes sort of the conservationist in our film,” Hall added. “Also, he’s impulsive as teenagers kind of are. So to us, he was just a flesh-and-blood, well-rounded character, and I think we can’t wait for the world to embrace him like we did.”

Amongst mysterious creatures and flora, flying fish, and moving rocks, being gay is said to be organically presented as totally normal in this family action adventure.

The sentiment of naturally discovered characters is echoed by co-director and writer Qui Nguyen who shares: “I have a biracial family, so it was something that was easily relatable to me to [have] two people with very different backgrounds fall in love.”

“And now my kid walks both those lines of us — fully Asian, fully Jewish — and that was something I understood inherently,” he adds.

Disney's Strange World
Disney’s Strange World (Image: Disney)

“Folks keep using the word ‘normalize,’ and you don’t have to normalize normal. It just is,” Gabrielle Union (who plays Meridian Clade) explained. “You got to see a loving family that was incredibly supportive of their child’s identity, and their version of trying to steer him to safety or steer him is more in terms of his occupation — and the route he’s gonna go in life.” 

Jaboukie Young-White, who plays gay teen Ethan, and identifies as gay shares he was particularly proud of how the film approached Ethan’s identity.

“It wasn’t explained or this or that, or have to go through the coming out thing — and that’s okay. I think we’re well past that as a culture,” the actor noted.

“I thought that it was pretty cool, just in the fact that Don and Qui, the creators, really have a commitment to just reflecting what our world looks like and what reality looks like, in a way that isn’t heavy-handed or forced,” he continued. “It’s kind of just the way it is.” 

On the red carpet for the film’s premiere, Young-White also praised Strange World’s queer representation for not being “self-congratulatory”: “it’s not announcing itself, it’s just accepting it as a normal reflection of our reality.”

Jake Gyllenhaal (who voices Ethan’s father, Searcher Clade) also commented on the film’s characters, sharing that the directors encouraged the actors to “enrich these characters.”

“We want you to bring your own ideas, and if there are things that we feel like are holes, tell us,” Gyllenhaal recalls them sharing, something he notes is “really helpful for deepening the characters and then also making a deeper story.”

Strange World is out in the UK on 23 November.