Ellen DeGeneres has revealed that there will be a transgender character in the new Finding Dory movie.
The talk show host, who voices Dory the blue tang fish in the Finding Nemo sequel, said in an interview with USA Today: “There’s a stingray that’s becoming sting-Rhonda, so there’s a trans sting in the movie.”
If true, “Sting-Rhonda” will be the first transgender character to appear in a major movie aimed at children.
At a recent press conference, DeGeneres emphasised the importance of media representation for all kinds of minority groups. “I think everything that we see in the media, whether it’s television or film or anything you see, should represent everything that’s happening in the world,” she said. “I think everybody in the world should be seen and represented.”
The revelation comes shortly after the internet bubbled with speculation that Finding Dory will also feature a lesbian couple, after a trailer showed two women – one of whom had short hair – strolling through a park with a baby.
However, the movie’s director Andrew Stanton has refused to confirm the rumour. “They can be whatever you want them to be,” he told USA Today. “There’s no right or wrong answer.” Producer Lindsey Collins added: “We never asked them.”
And DeGeneres – who married actress Portia de Rossi in 2008 – has light-heartedly dismissed the idea.
“If that’s the definition of a gay woman, then how dare you?” she joked. “Just because someone has a short, bad haircut doesn’t mean she’s gay. She just has a bad hairdresser!”
In recent years, several Pixar and Disney movies have shifted away from the stereotypical storyline of a heterosexual romance. Fundamentalist Christians in the US accused Frozen of pushing a “pro-homosexual” agenda, thanks to protagonist Elsa’s complete lack of interest in male suitors. (The movie also features a very brief moment where a sauna owner appears to show off a picture of his husband and children.) Twitter users recently launched a campaign to give Elsa a girlfriend in Frozen 2.
However, there continues to be a conspicuous absence of major, openly LGBTQ characters in films aimed at children. GLAAD, a US organisation that promotes understanding of and equality for the LGBTQ community, recently named and shamed Disney for “failing” to represent LGBT people in their films.
And positive representation of LGBTQ characters in movies matters. While representation of transgender people in cinema for adults is gradually improving, trans characters have traditionally been depicted as "victims or villains" in Hollywood movies, with the majority of characters being portrayed as sex workers. Within this context, seeing a smiley stingray onscreen – who just happens to be trans – is a pretty big deal.