It might just be one line in the final scene of the Netflix animated family movie “The Mitchells Vs The Machines,” but with it, the film embraces a queer portrayal beyond anything Disney, the most famous children’s programming company, has ever been willing to do in its animated films.
“Are you and Jade official?” Mom Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph) says to her daughter, Katie (Abbi Jacobson). “And will you bring her home for Thanksgiving?”
As a straight parent, I’m grateful to see more homosexual portrayal on kids’ shows. I have seen for myself how heteronormative conditioning begins in young children; this is often before they realize their own identity and usually before they are born. My husband and I were saddened – but not surprised – to receive well-meaning gifts of baby clothes marked “Ahoy ladies!” and “Ladies’ man” at the birth of our own child, elements which projected on him a completely presumptuous orientation and in contradiction with our parental philosophy.
When kids can’t see people like them in books or on screen, it’s easy for them to feel invisible.
The world can be a scary and stigmatized place, and I don’t want to imitate that kind of environment in my home. To achieve this, I believe it is essential to avoid assumptions – but the same is true of demonstrating that loving people and loving families come in all kinds. So being able to see families and diverse people represented in family entertainment is a much needed help as a parent.
Representation of all kinds matters – from canonical queer representation to positive portrayal of Blacks, Indigenous peoples and all people of color. When kids can’t see people like them in books or on screen, it’s easy for them to feel invisible. Over time, feeling invisible to the world can cause them to feel like they don’t matter when they do, or to like that there is something wrong with them then. that there is none.
Accurate representation helps people feel less alone, especially people from marginalized communities. Helping LGBTQ children feel seen enough to talk to someone, seek help, is essential considering that the 2019 Trevor Project National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 39% of LGBTQ respondents had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months, a percentage that rises to more than half for transgender and non-binary youth in particular.
The world can be a scary and stigmatized place, and I don’t want to imitate that kind of environment in my home.
Queer kids deserve to see characters like them – and characters who accurately represent them, not characters where their identities are simply suggested and certainly not those where they’re stereotyped as villains or sidekicks. They deserve to see themselves as the protagonist of their own stories, like Katie Mitchell.
In “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” Katie’s quirk is part of who she is, but it’s not the only characteristic that makes her stand out.
“Katie is the kind of character that I would like [my two young nieces] look and be inspired by and want to be like, ”said Jacobson, who voices it. “She’s totally herself, wildly creative, a big big sister, hilarious, queer, [and] excited to delve into his passions.
As my 7-year-old chuckled and laughed through the whole movie, at no point did he even particularly take note of Katie’s initial coding – as she puts it – “quirk,” or later confirmed queerness. He was just fascinated by this cool teenage character who loves rainbows and drawing just like he does.
Queer kids deserve to see themselves as the protagonist of their own stories, like Katie Mitchell.
And, just as important as Katie, it’s important for kids to see a parent like Linda Mitchell, who supports and loves Katie for who she is. As the mother of a growing first grader who is just beginning to understand life, I want him to feel safe coming to see me no matter what he might struggle with on the road. . Linda Mitchell being there for Katie demonstrates it for him (and maybe for the parents who will be watching this movie with their children).
This isn’t the only show we’ve been able to watch with this kind of presentation: PBS’s “Arthur”, Nickelodeon’s “Legend of Korra” and Cartoon Network’s “Steven Universe” are among the shows that lead the way, and Netflix’s “Representation Matters” collection celebrates diversity of all kinds.
One of the shows, “Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts” has become a family favorite because of its compelling history and great music – but we also love it for its well-executed portrayal of LGBTQ characters of color and its infusion of Korean pop culture. and language. My son, like many kids his age, didn’t blink when Kipo’s best friend Benson told him he was gay.
One day, maybe, my child will enjoy growing up with “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” and a character who is herself without any excuse.
Yet for decades Disney has refused to create an explicitly LGBTQ character in any of its films, let alone confirm or deny the supposed quirkiness of its beloved main animated film characters. More recently, in the magnificent “Raya and the Last Dragon”, as the flirtatious energy between Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and her nemesis Namaari (Gemma Chan) electrified the stages, the studio shut down before making an official claim of romance. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Tran revealed that she chose to inject romantic feelings between her character and Chan’s, but was quick to make it clear that the issue was not addressed by Disney in the text.
Likewise, in “Frozen” and “Frozen 2”, although Elsa has become an LGBTQ icon outside of the hit movies and songs from the “Let It Go” and “Show Yourself” films, both of which are widely regarded as release hymns, Disney has chosen to leave the subject matter open to interpretation.
“The Mitchells vs the Machines” is of course not perfect: every writer, director, producer and art director listed in the press releases identifies himself as a white man with the exception of one female production designer. It’s a stark contrast to the diversity of voices and illustrates a problem that’s long existed in Hollywood – one that I sincerely hope to improve soon.
One day, maybe, my child will enjoy growing up with “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” and a character who is herself without any excuse, who finds “her people” both at home and in the world and proves she can do whatever she puts her mind to. Or maybe – and better yet – the diverse portrayal in movies will become so much the norm that he’ll take it for granted.