12 Coding, Baiting, and Fishing: A Tale of Queerness in Pixar’s Luca

"In a world where queer coded cinema is swimming in stereotypes and queer baiting is all about reeling in the cash, Pixar's Luca is the catch of the day when it comes to outlining what these trends actually look like."

Ginger White

“In a world where queer coded cinema is swimming in stereotypes and queer baiting is all about reeling in the cash, Pixar’s Luca is the catch of the day when it comes to outlining what these trends actually look like.”


Cinema runs on stereotypes. Whether that means breaking them or buying into them, this is simply a fact. They make for a more easily translatable story, and save valuable screen time and dialogue that would normally be wasted with exposition or explanation. There really aren’t many exceptions to this rule, either, even when it comes to the portrayal of the gay community. There’s also a lot of easily recognizable experiences and stereotypes to pick from, too. From conversion camps and homophobia, to oversexualization and dehumanization. From the gay best friend to the queer coded animated villain. These tropes and short-hands in media- specifically cinema, have become so easily recognizable that they can even be identified in stories that are not outwardly queer. Hence, queer coding, and even worse, queer baiting.

 These two trends are extremely apparent when it comes to Disney-Pixar’s most recently released animated movie- Luca. This movie as a whole can be identified as an allegory for the queer experience because of the notoriety of these tropes, which makes it the perfect case study to help break them down with. The creative team at Luca has denied any intentional queer coding or overt queerness but examining these indicators not only examines how media treats queerness but explains why so many people believed this to be queer.

So what does queer coding and queer baiting mean in media and how is Pixar’s Luca the ideal example to discuss these topics? Let’s dive in.

Queer-coding: What is it?

Before delving into the specific example of Luca, however, one must examine the history of queer coding and what part it plays in our media today. Luckily, there have been many conversations on this topic. One of which is had and transcribed on the podcast Your Queer Story, which feels like an appropriate venue for such a topic. The episode, aptly named Queer Coding in Film, kicks of with a handy definition of the term queer coding. It is classified by this particular source as

“The sub-textual portrayal of a queer character in the media whose identity is not explicitly confirmed within canon. This concept refers to a character that encapsulates what might be considered “queer traits” that are recognizable to the audience, but are never labeled or claimed by the content creator.” (Your Queer Story)  The podcast continues, explaining that these tropes come not only from stereotypes, but from real experiences in the LGBTQ+ community. Queer coding was originally introduced as a way to work with (and around) the Hays code, a “morality” enforcing rule book about what could and could not be shown on television and in film. The Hays code was created in the 1930s, but was upheld well into the 1950’s, especially when it came to queerness, or as it was referred to back then, “sexual perversion.”

However, though the Hays code was not necessarily in place any longer, that didn’t mean that queer coding disappeared. Used in the days of the Hays code to codify villains as queer in order to merge the two, evilness and homosexuality, it was used in a similar way after as well. Disney, of course, is the most called upon example, as they churned out a plethora of villains who were all a little flamboyant, or too independent of a woman, or followed around by a swooning, same sex associate, or actually based on a drag queen. Now, some may argue that queer coding is a positive thing, look, at least this character can be assumed queer, isn’t that enough? Or some may say this is all just speculation, which of course, is valid. However, when there are continuous characters that are all examples of different stereotypes for the LGBTQ+ community and they are all villains… it’s no longer a coincidence and it’s not representation, it’s demonization.

Queer baiting: Reel them in, then let them go

Queer baiting, on the other hand, can be briefly defined as

“ producers and purveyors of media implying queer content in order to lure in viewers and then not following through.” (Nichols) In fact, the term is so defined in the peer reviewed review of Queer Baiting and Fandom: Teasing Fans through Homoerotic Possibilities by Joseph Brennan. This same article, written by Allene Nichols, deepens this shallow definition, drawing a quote from the book to do so:

“Queer baiting is no longer focusing on misleading hints, but on lack of representation overall: queer content that is only hinted but never confirmed or even denied, queer characters who are not allowed the same expressions as heterosexual characters, and queer characters who are allowed the same expressions as heterosexual characters but who are quickly gone are all used to exemplify insufficient queer content and poor representation” (38) (Nichols)

To put it once again in simpler terms, there are areas where queer coding and queer baiting overlap, with queer coded characters being used as marketing tools to get people into seats, expecting a canon moment of representation, only to find out they have been falsely reeled in.

Differences in Queer coding and Queer baiting and how it applies to Luca

However, there are also differences between queer coding and queer baiting. This is broken down by PHD candidate Kodi Maier in the article Luca, Disney and Queer baiting in Animation. In this article, Maier struggles to determine whether this film is an instance of queer coding or baiting. On one hand, the film makers or marketing team never teased the possibility of queerness and the film seems only to use a very queer coded narrative. However, they do eventually settle on determining it as both, and quote Professor Sean Griffin, explaining,

“Disney has recognized a “‘gay market’ for its product, and not a ‘gay agenda’”. In other words, Disney is willing to create animated films and television shows that suggest queer content, but only so long as it doesn’t damage its conservative image.” (Maier)

This lends credence to the idea that there may be some baiting in Luca, as it sticks so closely to a queer coded story-line that it will speak to a wider queer audience, drawing them in, while also drawing in the audience who will be happy with the fact that there is nothing concretely or canonically queer about it.

Luca summary

Pixar’s animated film Luca is a tale of a young sea monster named, of course, Luca, who lives in the waters of Italy in the late 1950’s. In this reality sea monsters such as Luca have the ability, once on land, to blend in with the rest of society by taking the appearance of human beings. However, this illusion disappears when any contact with water is made. Luca has always dreamed of exploring the surface, but his parents, on the other hand, are extremely afraid of humans and have forbidden him from going anywhere near the land.

One day, Luca is going about his daily routine when he sees a strange object. It ends up being human detritus and this discovery leads him to meeting a fellow young sea-monster, Alberto. Alberto spends most of his time on land and eagerly brings Luca with him to see what it’s all about. Luca initially is terrified of disobeying his parents but soon is drawn in by the charm of this boy and the allure of achieving his dreams.

Luca and Alberto spend day after day together, exploring the surface and becoming closer, dreaming about one day seeing the world together. This, however, comes to an end when Luca’s parents discover what he’s been doing for weeks and confront him. Their solution to his new found passion is to send him to stay with his bottom dwelling uncle until he loses all desire for the surface. Terrified of this prospect, Luca and Alberto run away to the nearby land town of Porto Rosso. Here they befriend a young girl named Giulia, a fellow outcast, and make enemies of the local bully, Ercole. Ercole and his posse are determined to hunt down sea monsters, as the town is afraid of them and is offering an award. They corner Luca and Alberto in an alley one night, and when Alberto mouths off and stands up to them, Ercole starts beating him up, saying that they don’t want people like him and Luca in town.

While these events are happening, Luca’s parents are looking for him, the kids are training to win the Porto Rosso annual triathlon, and Giulia and Luca are bonding over knowledge, which makes Alberto jealous, building tension. This tension breaks in a scene on a beach where Luca and Alberto get into a fight. Inspired by Giulia, Luca wants to go to school, which Alberto argues is impossible for boys like them and that they should stick to their dream of seeing the world. Giulia tries to intervene and this leads to Alberto revealing that he is a sea monster. Giulia is horrified and Alberto expects Luca to side with him and also reveal himself. Instead Luca screams and alerts the town that there’s “a sea monster!”

This dramatic falling out and Luca trying to remedy this while still trying to compete in the triathlon and avoid his worried parents, leads to Alberto revealing to him that his father abandoned him and he has no one. It also leads to Luca eventually revealing his true identity to the town, and Alberto staying by his side, showing his identity too. They expect to be killed, but Giulia’s dad, who they have gotten close to this summer, proclaims that they are who they are, and encourages the town to accept them. As this happens, two elderly women who have been joined at the hip for the whole film silently reveal that they are also sea monsters.

In the end, Luca goes off to school with Giulia and Alberto finds his new home with Giulia’s dad. They say a tearful goodbye at the train station and that’s the end of the film.

Dissection of the allegories and coding in Luca, plot point by plot point

There are several instances of queer coding in this animated movie, all drawing from stereotypical experiences of the gay community, as well as old allegories for the gay experience often used in media. To break down the instances of coding, it’s wise to begin with the overarching plot. A young boy dreams of being something he knows he’s not allowed to be, something his parents don’t approve of. He meets a slightly older boy who shows him that it is actually possible to have what he wants and they end up becoming very close. This speaks to a trope in cinema of a wiser, older queer person showing the ropes to a younger, unsure person. This, though not an issue in this instance, is actually often seen as a problematic trope in cinema, especially when the age gap is inappropriate, as it then associates homosexuality with pedophilia, which was a scare tactic that was (and still is) used by homophobes against the gay community.

When the young boy’s parents find out, they declare they’re going to send him somewhere that will “fix him.” This can be seen as a clear allusion to conversion camps, a horrible occurrence in the queer experience that, though less common today, are none the less a well known association with the LGBTQ+ community. Thus, the boy and his companion run away, which is an unfortunate occurrence for many LGBTQ+ youth whose parents do not accept them.

Once in town, they must hide their true selves in order to be accepted by the prejudiced community. This can obviously be compared to having to “pass” as straight in order to be safe in homophobic society and actually speaks to a wider trope in media, monster hood being used as a metaphor for queer identity. This is discussed in Lindsay Ellis’s video essay on Monster-hood in films, which focus on how the monster in The Shape of Water represents and is relatable for minority communities, and how monsters in film often stand for both the need to hide from society and society’s fear of “corruption.”

The concept of monster hood representing the queer world is additionally dissected in the peer reviewed article, Monsters, Desire and the Creative Queer Body. Here, however, the example of Frankenstein’s monster is utilized,while alluding to the wider concept of monstrosity in media.

“Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monstrous is both a construction, a figure who signifies selves and ways of living the world cannot ‘bear to see’, and a narrative ‘form of unleashing’, a way of writing ourselves out of the ‘bind’ of gender binaries, hetero-normative desires and traditional forms of kinship.” Much like the way that Frankestein’s monster must hide from society, and closeted members of the LGBTQ+ community must blend in to survive, Luca and Alberto must hide their true forms in order to escape prejudice.

There are also the events that transpire in the town, including the beating of the two boys by the antagonist, which draws a heartbreaking parallel to not only homophobic beatings in history, such as the famous case of Matthew Sheppard, where a man was beaten and left alone for death for being known as a homosexual, but also in other films. For example, the film It: Chapter 2, released in 2019, opens with an extremely similar scene, where two men who are being openly gay in a small town are approached by a gang of bullies. When one of them talks back to the aggressors, they are beaten up.

Additionally, there is the scene where Alberto reveals himself to be a monster and Luca throws him under the bus. This can be read as a clear allegory to well known cases in history, where men would engage in relationships or encounters with openly gay men and when they were discovered or simply done with the other person, they would throw them under the bus, or react violently. Essentially, what can be seen here is one person protecting his own closeted identity by putting a spotlight on someone else’s who happen to be more out than they are.

Finally, there is the small moment near the end of the film, when the boys have been revealed to the town and they are joined by two elderly women. This can be read as other queer people, in this case, two older lesbians, feeling safe enough to come out themselves, following the boy’s example. This speaks to the concept of safety in numbers when it comes to the queer community, and being inspired by others to live your truth,


Queer coding and baiting has a long history in Hollywood, and draws on stereotypes and recognizable milestones in the history of the queer community and experience. There are many notable occurrences of this, however, one of the most recent stand outs in this arena is Pixar’s latest movie, Luca, which showcases new characters, old allegories, and queer coding so precise that it serves as an example for the phenomenon itself.

Works Cited

Maier , Kodi. “Luca, Disney and Queerbaiting in Animation.” The Conversation, 15 July 2021, theconversation.com/luca-disney-and-queerbaiting-in-animation-164349.

Ellis, Lindsay, director. My Monster Boyfriend. YouTube, YouTube, 2 Mar. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=YesMWAxqJ60.

Jones, Stacy Holman, and Anne Harris. “Monsters, Desire and the Creative Queer Body.” Continuum, vol. 30, no. 5, 2016, pp. 518–530., doi:10.1080/10304312.2016.1210748.

Nichols, Allene Rasmussen. “Queer Baiting and Fandom: Teasing Fans through Homoerotic Possibilities. JosephBrennan, Ed. U of Iowa P, 2020. 256 Pp. $50.00 Paperback.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 53, no. 6, 2020, pp. 1462–1464., doi:10.1111/jpcu.12971.

Your Queer Story. “Queer Coding in Film.” Your Queer Story, Your Queer Story, 25 Nov. 2020, yourqueerstory.com/queer-coding-in-film/.



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Coding, Baiting, and Fishing: A Tale of Queerness in Pixar’s Luca Copyright © 2021 by Ginger White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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