Disney slammed for pulling doc on queer lyricist Howard Ashman as Little Mermaid hits screens

On the left, the promotional image for Disney+ documentary Howard. On the right, a promotional image for Disney's A Little Mermaid remake.

Disney is facing pushback for deciding to remove its documentary on The Little Mermaid songwriter Howard Ashman from its streaming service, as the same time as the film remake hits cinemas.

Update: Disney+’s documentary Howard will not be removed from the service.

Howard Ashman was the Oscar-winning playwright and lyricist behind The Little Mermaid’s most beloved songs, including “Under The Sea” and “Kiss The Girl”.

The gay songwriter died aged 40 in 1991 due to AIDS-related complications, after he was diagnosed with the disease while working on the Disney underwater fantasy film.

A documentary film about his life, impact and untimely death, entitled Howard, premiered at film festivals in 2018, before being released on Disney+ in 2020.

However, according to Deadline, the film is one of many original movies and series set to be removed from the streaming service in the coming weeks, as the entertainment giant undergoes a content purge. 

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More than 50 films and series, including young adult LGBTQ+ fantasy show Willow, which was cancelled by Disney after just one series, will be removed from Disney+ and Hulu, which is also owned by Disney.

A Disney spokesperson confirmed to Variety that content will begin to be removed from 26 May.

Many viewers appear particularly angry about the decision to remove Howard from the streaming service at the same time that Disney releases the live action remake of The Little Mermaid into cinemas.

The new film, which stars Halle Bailey as Ariel and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, also features remakes of many of Ashman’s classic songs, including “Part of Your World” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.

A number of people have shared their fury at Disney’s decision to remove Howard, with one person calling the timing “f**ked up”.

“The f**ked up timing of releasing a remake of The Little Mermaid in theatres, guaranteed to make BILLIONS of dollars, and removing the documentary about the man who gave the film its heart and soul a week prior. Holy s**t I’m seeing red right now,” one person shared.

Others are making the point that the timing is particularly unfortunate due to Pride month beginning just days after the film is slated to be removed. Ashman is often seen as an LGBTQ+ icon in the film world, and is credited with helping to push Disney further towards LGBTQ+ inclusion in its studios.

“Removing the Howard Ashman documentary is disgraceful,” another person commented on an article about the film’s removal. “An action so disgusting to the legacy of the man who spearheaded the Disney renaissance with The Little Mermaid and died from AIDS in 1991 right after finishing Beauty and the Beast. And this is before Pride month too, which makes it worse.”

A third person added: “I don’t really care about Walt Disney, I care about Howard Ashman. And for the only official doc about one of the company’s most important (and gay) figures to be removed with no alternative days before pride month, it’s pretty sad. Go watch Howard while it’s still there.”

Disney+ subscribers can expect to be able to watch Howard until the 26 May.

PinkNews has contacted Disney for comment.

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