Should LGBT+ Characters Be in Children’s Films?

In 2012, an animated children’s film called ParaNorman featured an openly gay character – a stereotypical jock character named Mitch Downe, who reveals his orientation at the end of the film when he says “You’re gonna love my boyfriend. He’s like a total chick-flick nut!” Also in 2012, an animated children’s television series called The Legend of Korra featured as its titular character and hero, Korra, a bisexual woman who shares a romance with another woman named Asami. And more recently, in 2017, the live action Disney film Beauty and the Beast featured an openly gay character in Lefou, the villain’s sidekick.

Slowly but surely, LGBT+ characters are making their appearance in children’s media, and people are fairly divided on the matter. On the one hand, we have those who support the idea, saying that children need to see LGBT+ people represented in media because LGBT+ people exist. Maybe the child in question will grow up to belong to the LGBT+ community, and if they do, then the process of coming to terms with themselves will be that much smoother if they have grown up feeling like they are valid and like they are allowed to exist. As a bisexual woman myself, I grew up seeing bisexual people in the media, but they were always represented as morally inferior, dirty, and incapable of fully loving or being loved, and so these were the ideas of bisexuality that I grew up with, and the ideas that I applied to myself when I began to realize what I was. Perhaps the process would have been a little bit easier for me if I had grown up watching The Legend of Korra. And if a child does not grow up to belong to the LGBT+ community, this type of media continues to be of use to them, because chances are, they are going to meet an LGBT+ person at some point in their lives, and this media normalizes this community for them. A gay boy is not “weird” or “effeminate”; he’s just like Lefou.

But then again, on the other hand, we have the people who are opposed to LGBT+ people appearing in children’s media, and this is the perspective that I want to speak to. For the most part, the argument that I hear to support this perspective is that, if children are surrounded from a young age by LGBT+ people, then this will lead them to become LGBT+ when they grow up.

There are two things that I want to state toward this: first of all, being surrounded by a particular sexual orientation at a young age does not influence your future sexual orientation. Both of my parents identify as straight, most of the couples that I saw in movies and television  were straight, all of my friends’ parents growing up were straight, and I still wound up being bisexual, and I imagine that this is the case for most LGBT+ people. The majority of people identify as heterosexual, and more than that, the heterosexual narrative is the one that is most focused on in our society. So why would a child who would identify as straight have their orientation changed because there was a queer couple in their favourite movie growing up?

But even saying that, I’m going to continue on to make a somewhat contradictory statement here: maybe it will influence them a little bit, and maybe that’s okay. I’m not saying that a child who would have otherwise grown up to be a completely heterosexual, totally masculine cis-gendered manly man will now be a homosexual drag queen because he grew up watching ParaNorman (I mean, if he did, that would be awesome too), but maybe he’ll grow up to be a little bit more open, a bit more fluid with his identity. Maybe he’ll question gender roles a little bit. Maybe, if he does feel even the slightest crush on someone of his own gender, he won’t be ashamed to pursue it, even experiment if he wants to. Or at the very least, maybe he will support LGBT+ people, when he could have hurt and bullied them otherwise. And what’s wrong with any of that?

To say that you don’t want children watching media with LGBT+ characters in it because it might make them grow up to become LGBT+ implies that there is something wrong with that. It makes it sound like growing up to become LGBT+ is a) a choice that people make at some point in their development and b) a wrong choice. It is a mistake that must be avoided, and that just isn’t true. There is nothing wrong with growing up to enter into the LGBT+ community, and there is nothing wrong with learning more about the world around you, and there is nothing wrong with experimenting with and questioning your identity. And although I say this, I know that there are people who are going to disagree with me, and there are going to be people who continue to keep their children at home when the newest animated film comes to theatres featuring an LGBT+ character, but personally, I think that’s a shame, and specifically, it’s a shame for the children in question. Films that are willing to tell the stories of LGBT+ characters are offering children a gift: the gift of understanding and open-mindedness, the gift of questioning and learning about the world around them and the identity within them. This is a gift that should continue to be given, and it is a gift that I wish everyone could experience.


Thirteen Reasons Why Review

As the entire internet has been talking about Thirteen Reasons Why, I found myself curious to watch it, despite my reservations based off the fact that I knew the book existed growing up and never really had an interest in reading it. I had always sort of figured that it would read like a teacher’s lecture about why bullying is bad and suicide is never the answer. And while I still haven’t read the book, so I can’t say if that’s the case for Jay Asher’s work, that is not what I found in the Netflix television show.

The television show discusses in close and sometimes graphic detail issues such as suicide, bullying, rape, depression, and women’s issues, and I have to admit, I really admire the show for the directions that it sometimes chose to take. I should say, right off the bat, that I really enjoyed this show and could not stop watching it – but more on that later. First, I’m going to list off the parts of the show that I really enjoyed, and the reasons why I would recommend it to others.

The show represents bullying in a very mature and realistic way. The kids who bully Hannah (for the most part) are not one-dimensional bullies who are completely irredeemable: they are either incredibly hurt people who are too busy dealing with their own problems to notice the pain they are simultaneously causing, or they are realistically dumb kids who just don’t think that this is something that can hurt someone. And the way that the show represented either end impressed me hugely: I liked that I cared about many of the bullies, but at the same time understood why they deserved the retaliation that they received. They were neither good nor evil people, they were just people. To a certain extent, even the show’s hero, Clay, is depicted as an imperfect person, as Clay contributes to some of the bullying that goes on at school, and it’s hard to say how much of the extent to which he blames the bullies for Hannah’s death is rational. And on the other spectrum, I enjoyed the way in which simple dumb kids were depicted. There are several scenes throughout the show where characters (particularly male characters) give Hannah very back-handed compliments and genuinely don’t understand when she gets offended, and this feels very realistic to me. This is something that people (women in particular) experience all the time is a society run on a limited definition of beauty, and it was nice to see this expressed in a very realistic way and to have it explained why, exactly, this isn’t okay.

And although the show has received some criticism about the fact that, while showing characters with symptoms of depression, mental illness is never explicitly discussed, I didn’t really mind the way it was portrayed. As someone who has suffered from depression in the past (and who has a tendency to go back to depressive thoughts from time to time), I found that the symptoms of depression were clear enough that I knew what they were trying to convey. And, more than that, it really reminded me of how it felt to have depression but to not realize that you do, and to not have your mental illness recognized by people around you – which, admittedly, mostly happened to me when I was a teenager. And the majority of the characters are teenagers. Teenagers who, repeatedly, have their emotions and issues belittled unintentionally by the adults around them, and the show does a very realistic job of portraying this as well.

These facts about the show has earned it a very special place in my heart, and when I was watching it, I found that I could not look away – both because I was so engrossed in what was watching and because, at some points, I just couldn’t look away. It was like stumbling upon a car crash – you just want to keep watching until you find out what the body count is and how gory they died. There are three scenes in particular that I found to be incredibly graphic – two rape scenes and a depiction of suicide. Thus far, I’ve been praising the show for how realistic their depictions have been, but these three scenes are where I wonder if a line needs to be drawn. Upon completing the show, I found myself feeling emotionally drained and very low, and these three scenes in particular are responsible for that. They are just so graphic, so intimate, and as much as I can see the benefit of that, I can also see the harm for a specific audience.

And more on that, the way that the show treated Hannah’s decision to kill herself was sometimes questionable. Clay, the show’s protagonist and the perspective through which we see most things, believes that Hannah was justifiably driven to suicide through the actions of those around her. They let her down, they are responsible – not her. We do see other perspectives from time to time, including a school councilor who assures Clay that Hannah’s suicide wasn’t his fault and a fellow student who claims that everyone deals with pain and that “suicide is for the weak,” but Clay’s perspective is the one that is given the most weight, and it’s a perspective that I don’t agree with. When someone kills themselves, it is natural to feel like you could have done something more to avoid that outcome, but it is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. Everyone deals with pain, and everyone deals with it differently. If someone makes the choice to end their life, it is because they are dealing with overwhelming mental illness. And more than that, it is a choice that they made. It is not your fault. And the fact that they keep working under the assumption that Hannah’s suicide was the fault of anyone else but Hannah seems a little bit unfair. Yes, those who bullied and assaulted her should be held accountable, but her choice to take her own life is a separate action.

Despite my problems with the show, however, I have to say that I really loved it in the end. I loved how fleshed out and realistic the characters were, I love that they took on such important issues, and I loved that they were willing to take risks and be dark when they needed to be. I don’t know if I would recommend this show to everyone, just because of how dark and how graphic it is, but if you think that you can handle it, I would definitely say that it’s worth the watch.

A Review of the Original 1966 Star Trek

So I recently embarked on the much-larger-than-I-then-realized task of watching all of the Star Treks. That’s right, all of them. The movies. The animated series. The spin-offs. And guess what? I’ve only just finished with the original 1966 TV series.

I’ve got a long way to go.

But, to be honest, I’m curious about it. Geek culture is something that has always drawn my attention, and I have a tendency to want to appreciate everything that makes it what it is. So far, it’s been relatively easy. I love comic books. I enjoy Star Wars. I’m not quite on board with the board games yet, but to be fair, I haven’t had too much of a chance to play them (in high school, I was always excluded from playing on the basis that I was a girl). But Star Trek is always one thing that eluded me, mostly because I’d never watched it before.

But I decided to change that. And not only to change it, but to dive right in, to really see what it is about this series that made it such an important icon in geek culture.

Starting with the original series.

Finally, I was going to see for myself what made William Shatner so memorable. Finally, I was going to laugh at the red-shirts myself. And finally, I was going to find out what a tribble was.

And, I know, Star Trek is something that has been talked about before, but the way I see it, I have a somewhat unique perspective on it, based on the fact that I am a young feminist watching in 2017 who has not grown up with the show. I am a little bit bias simply because I went in wanting to enjoy it, but overall, I feel like I’m a fairly decent test to find out how well the original series holds up.

And how does it hold up? Not great. Not great, my friends.

Not because it’s a bad show – far from it. I found myself enjoying a good amount of it, and despite the long breaks I needed to gather the mental strength it took to watch this show, I still found myself wanting to go back after a while. It was a fun, cheesy series, and I have a feeling that that’s all it ever intended to be.

But let’s be honest here – the show belongs firmly in the 1960’s. It very much reflects the post-WW2 American belief that all things American automatically mean good, and don’t think that I’m fooled by the fact that they kept saying that they were representing ‘earth,’ they meant America every damn time they said it.

The show follows a very basic, almost repetitive pattern. The Enterprise goes to some new planet, there’s an alien race of some sort that looks surprisingly human and speaks English fluently, one of the crew (usually Captain Kirk) falls in love with a beautiful woman there, but there’s something about the alien race that is decidedly primitive and the crew is forced to Show Them The Way, to correct their backwards way of thinking by imposing earth logic on them. Sometimes, they’ll mix it up a little bit and the alien race will actually be more advanced than earth, and when that happens the episode usually just ends with them laughing at how violent humans are.

The original Star Trek series (I can’t speak for the rest of the series as I haven’t seen it yet) is very much focused on impressing national pride in the American audience. But from what I can gather, that isn’t what fans of the show enjoyed. They enjoyed the space exploration, the idea of this great future where it’s possible to go to these far-off planets and discover what’s among the stars – and that is very much present in the show, and I have to admit, that is something I enjoyed. I liked the idea of discovery and advancement, and I’m not trying to belittle that from the show at all. I just found myself laughing at the very Americanized and narrow-minded way that they often went about it.

And since I mentioned the beautiful alien lover that pops up in nearly every episode (after a while, I simply started to generically refer to her as Woman of the Week), let’s talk for a bit about the role of women in this show.

It’s not great.

It’s actually rather poor.

But then again, what else can I expect from a show made in 1966?

Going into this series, one thing that I’d heard from people was that it was an incredibly progressive show. Women were shown to be in positions equal to men. Women were respected in their careers. And, not just women, but race was an important aspect of the show too – and I won’t deny this last one. In some ways, the original series is more racially progressive than some of the TV shows we have today, because I got the sense that they were very much focused on employing people of colour and putting them in positions of respect. It wasn’t perfect, but I definitely noticed it and appreciated it.

And as much as it is true that women were employed on the Enterprise, and the show did repeatedly have female characters who were scientists or something of that nature, the writing of these characters was still incredibly sexist. Like, incredibly 1960’s-American sexist.

The show made it very clear that, although women were employed on the Enterprise, they would stop working and start procreating the moment that they got married.

And they were going to get married – that wasn’t even a question. Every female character is above all interested in finding love. If they even think about having other priorities, then there always seems to be some man there to ask the question, “but don’t you miss being a woman?” (yes this is an actual thing that is said on the show).

And for the most part, the show focused on writing their female characters only in how they related to the male characters. They all fell easily into tropes, either that or they didn’t feel fleshed out enough. They were the Lover, or the Temptress, or the Un-womanly Villainess, or the Damsel in Distress. They existed only to further the plot line of the male characters, and if they didn’t do that, then they were just sort of there, not really explored deeply enough to be human. I found Uhura’s character especially disappointing for this, because going into the series, she was the one I wanted to like the most. She looked amazing, and I’d seen her everywhere representing the show, but for the most part, she just sort of sat at her desk, looking pretty and telling Captain Kirk that she was “getting a signal,” and if she ever was involved in the main plot, then she mostly played the role of telling Captain Kirk how heroic he is and how she knows that he’ll protect her.

But, again, in much the same way that I can’t blame the show for being pro-American propaganda, I can’t really blame it for being as sexist as it was. It was made in 1960’s America, when women’s rights weren’t really as developed as they are now. And for the most part, the sexist writing that they employ is so over-the-top, so extreme (I’m going back to that “but don’t you miss being a woman” line) that it’s hard to get mad at it. I mostly just found myself laughing, and after a while, it sort of just added to the dated charm of the show.

Because there is very much a dated charm to the show, and a lot of this goes back to the special effects. I think it’s fairly common knowledge at this point that the special effects of the original show are bad. Like, really bad. Like, I’m a fan of 80’s slasher movies, and I can’t even excuse these special effects. In one episode, the alien species was literally just a dog in a costume – and that was an inventive one. Most of the aliens are just people, and when the rare moment of inspiration does strike the make-up artists and they decide to do something crazy, you almost wish they wouldn’t because you can tell that they’re way out of their depth here. And for those of you who are curious about that question that I opened up earlier about what tribbles are, they’re bean bags with fur. Sometimes they purr.

But, to be honest, the bad special effects sort of work in the show’s favour. It’s hard to take all of their dated ideals seriously when the very same episode features as its villain a guy in a really bad Halloween costume. Maybe, if this show was more impressive in its special effects, I’d be singing a very different tune right now. Maybe I’d be saying that it’s a shame they put so much effort into a show that time made irrelevant. Who knows?

And one thing that I absolutely must say in the show’s favour is that it lucked out with an incredible cast. You have to try really hard to not like Leonard Nimoy, whose sass knows no bounds, even when he isn’t saying anything. While I had issues with the way that Captain Kirk was written (he more than anybody embodied the outdated ideals that I so disagreed with in the show, and the jokes about him being a whore are completely true. In nearly every episode, he is hunting for sex, to a point where I started to wonder if he even saw women as anything more than tools for his gratification), I have to admit that William Shatner is an incredibly charismatic man – which is something that an actor needs to fill this role properly. He really reminds me of later actors who would play similar roles, like Harrison Ford and Nathan Fillion, in that there’s just something about them you have to like. James Doohan is also very likeable, I will always love George Takei, and as much as I complained about how underused Uhura was, Nichelle Nichols is an incredibly graceful and beautiful woman who still drew my attention every time – and something needs to be said for the fact that she was the first black woman on television to not be in a simple serving role. Despite all my problems with the show, and despite the fact that the writing wasn’t always perfect, there was still just something about these people that always drew me back in.

So, overall, do I recommend modern audiences to turn back to the original 1960’s Star Trek show? Well, yes and no.

No, for all the reasons I listed above. It’s very dated, and you need to have a high tolerance for that if you’re going to watch it. Overall, I think Star Trek can best be described as that older uncle or grandfather who’s a great guy, really, but he can occasionally say some really sexist and/or offensive stuff, and it’s up to you to decide how seriously you take it.

But at the same time, it is sort of a marvel to see. Star Trek has become such an incredible cultural icon – not just in geek culture, but in pop culture as well, and this is where it all began. As dated as it is, as sexist, as pro-American back before the Vietnam war killed all that enthusiasm, it’s still important for that reason. So maybe don’t disregard it completely. Don’t take it too seriously, and if you’re going to watch it expect some major cheese, but maybe check out an episode or two just to see how far we’ve come.