The Importance of LGBTQ Characters in Children's Films & Television
With everything that’s affecting our social climate nowadays, any progressive moves are worthy of applause. In a number of new releases, we’ve seen an increased amount of LGBTQ representation in movies — especially in children’s films, including the release of Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast and Lionsgate’s take on Power Rangers, which premieres today.
Although these motions are definitely a step in the right direction, there’s still much work to be done. Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon announced the introduction of one openly gay character in the film, and the backlash about it was swift. In Alabama, the movie was pulled from debuting. Some southeast Asian countries, including Singapore and Hong Kong, screened a censored version of the film, while Malaysia canceled the film altogether.
Even with this opposition, Beauty and the Beast remained mostly unfazed; it still ended up grossing a record $170 million at the box office in its opening weekend. So, what does this initiative mean for Hollywood and its continued effort toward LGBTQ inclusion? SheKnows had the privilege of asking Megan Townsend, lead entertainment media strategist for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, some important questions about LGBTQ representation in film and TV. She gave us some great insights.
SheKnows: How do you feel about Hollywood’s increased inclusion of LGBTQ characters in films, particularly children’s films? Why is it so important we see more?
Megan Townsend: We’re happy to see film beginning to more accurately reflect the real world, which includes LGBTQ people of all ages. These portrayals in films aimed at young people are incredibly important. They both help real LGBTQ youth to recognize they are not alone and accelerate acceptance within their peer groups. This ultimately creates a safer environment for LGBTQ young people to be authentically themselves.
SK: Do you happen to know how much LGBTQ representation (in film and TV, in general) has increased over the past year?
MT: GLAAD’s most recent Where We Are on TV report found a record-high percentage of LGBTQ series regular characters on scripted broadcast series, as well as the number of transgender regular and recurring characters more than doubling across broadcast, cable and streaming series. However, the numbers are only part of the story, as last year over 25 queer female characters were killed off of their respective shows. It is not enough for LGBTQ characters simply to be present on screen; they need to be crafted with thought and substance and should reflect the full diversity of our community.
The mainstream film industry continues to lag far behind other media when it comes to portraying LGBTQ characters. In 2015, 73 percent of the few films that actually included LGBTQ characters had less than 10 minutes of screen time for those characters. Further, a historic low percentage of films passed GLAAD’s Vito Russo Test. Hollywood has the chance to foster understanding in the films it exports to foreign countries where it is difficult for LGBTQ people to live free and happy lives. These small moments we are currently seeing will pave the way for larger stories.
SK: When do you think we’ll start seeing more agender or genderfluid characters in films and TV shows?
MT: TV is beginning to be more inclusive of a wider spectrum of identities as more programming platforms are available. There is currently a gender nonconforming character on Showtime’s Billions (Taylor, played by Asia Kate Dillon), and the upcoming Heathers TV adaptation will include a genderqueer character named Heath.
SK: How do you feel the new Beauty and the Beast and the upcoming Power Rangers handled the gay characters/storylines in their respective films?
MT: LeFou’s happy ending was a small moment in Beauty and the Beast, but it was a large step forward for the industry. Disney’s decision to update the character for a more contemporary audience — who see LGBTQ people and families every day — paid off at the box office with the film breaking records as the biggest March opening of all time.
The Power Rangers film is a good moment of casual inclusion, recognizing that LGBTQ people exist by raising the question of whether Trini is having "girlfriend problems." We hope to see her story further developed in possible sequels.
SK: What are the best characters that accurately represent the LGBTQ community in children’s films, and why did you choose each character?
MT: The 2012 animated film ParaNorman was the first animated feature film to be nominated for a GLAAD Media Award after Mitch, the lunk-headed, jock older brother of the best friend of the main character, casually talks about his boyfriend. In many other cases, viewers may not have known they were watching a gay character without reading outside directors' confirmations (How to Train Your Dragon 2’s Gobber, who had an ambiguous coming-out line, Zootopia’s Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson) or other background knowledge of a character (Dumbledore from the Harry Potter book series and 2014’s The Lego Movie).
Television has come much further with LGBTQ-inclusive all-ages programming like the GLAAD Media Award-nominated animated series Steven Universe, which includes multiple queer characters. Disney XD’s Star vs. the Forces of Evil recently aired the network’s first same-sex kiss, and Disney Channel introduced its first out characters on Good Luck Charlie in 2014. Nickelodeon’s The Loud House was recently nominated for a GLAAD Media Award in Outstanding Individual Episode for its "Attention Deficit" episode that included a gay couple and their son, and the network previously aired the series The Legend of Korra that ended with Korra and Asami getting together.
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