Queer Coded: Scar ("The Lion King")

I’m sure there’s going to be someone out there that’s going to say, “What, Monique? This is a lion! Scar doesn’t count!” Yeah, he’s a lion, invisible person who doubts my logic. But that doesn’t mean Disney, or any other studio, for that matter, won’t stoop to putting some Hollywood queer coding on a non-human character. They made Simba and Kovu hot, didn’t they? (Don’t even act like you didn’t think they were as a kid!) They’re lions, too, and putting human sexuality on animals is disturbing. 

So what makes Scar a queer coded character? To quote Feminist Disney, queerness is “[a] character that is given certain characteristics that are likely to reference ‘queerness’ in the audience’s subconscious.” As a character, Scar is not only a villain because he has meglomaniacal and fratricidal urges. Those urges are couched and, to a certain extent, repackaged, as effiminate and slight tendencies. Watch this scene between Scar and Mufasa:

First of all: This is such a good scene. I’m a big Lion King fan (which includes seeing the film dozens of times and when it came back to the theater, seeing the traveling Broadway show twice, and getting both the film and Broadway soundtracks as well as some other songs from that Songs of the Pridelands cd). To me, this scene is just one of the many scenes that makes The Lion King the best Disney film ever. Even better than Aladdin (even though Aladdin is right up there on my list).

However, just because I’m a huge Lion King nerd doesn’t mean I don’t critique it just like any other movie. There’s a ton on this scene that exemplifies how Scar is a queer coded character. First, there’s just the physical presence of both Scar and Mufasa. Mufasa was designed to be king-like and “manly,” with a broad nose and build, a thick flowing mane, seemingly thicker fur (which might just be a mental effect from everything else on Mufasa being bigger and bolder) and regal, upright bearing (as upright as a lion can be).

Meanwhile, Scar has a slight build. Everything about Scar’s physicality is based around narrowness and length; Scar’s leaner than Mufasa, but in an almost-sickly way, which makes his build look off compared to Mufasa. Scar’s facial features are both exaggerated (his eyes and eyebrows) and longer (his nose in particular), creating more opportunities for animation, for sure, but also creating the illusion that Scar is more dramatic.

Scar’s attitude, his stereotypical movements and affectations, and Jeremy Irons’ campy performance gives Scar a very draggy feel to him. Scar sarcastically saying he’ll have to practice his curtsy doesn’t help matters. Unfortunately, drag and queer-coding is used in this film like how it’s usually used in Hollywood, as either easy humor (like when Timon—voiced by gay actor Nathan Lane—who off-handedly suggests dressing in drag and doing the hula, then having to actually go through with it) or, in the case of Scar, evil.

I already know there will be some people who’ll sit and read all of this and still write something in the comments section saying, “You’re stupid for even focusing on this. It’s just a kids’ movie.” Exactly, imaginary person. It is a kids movie. Kids’ movies are part of the ways children are indoctrinated into the adult world and believe what adults think is right and wrong. But, because there’s the excuse that “it’s just a kids’ movie,” people overlook the micro-aggressions that are embedded in these films, passing it off as harmless characterization. There will be people who get what I’m writing. And there will be those who will still pass off what I’m writing as someone with too much time on their hands, which is really annoying.

Even still, I ask you: What do you think about Scar and queer-coding? Give your opinions in the comments section below!