How family films became faaaabulous

How family films became faaaabulous

The Disney secret

Text: Yeong Sassall

Why inclusiveness starts young. By David Smiedt

Two remarkable things happened in film last week. The first was brilliant. The second bizarre. Let's start with the brilliant. In a none-too-subtle dig at the Oscars SNAFU, the Rio cinema in London's east pranked viewers by playing 20 seconds of La La Land before screenings of Moonlight.

From the sublime to the ridic: the Henagar Drive In in Alabama refused to screen the new live action version of Beauty & The Beast because of the inclusion of a character, LeFou, who is majorly crushing on his mate Gaston.

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Shows like Looking, The L-Word, Will & Grace - to mention just a few - have brought increased representation (but not enough) of LGBTQI+ diversity to mainstream media for some time, but the new trend lies in film-makers who are cleverly and positively bringing a message of inclusiveness to young viewers.

In other words, Gaston and LeFou are by no means alone. In last year's Finding Dory, there is a scene where two women look into their stroller to find a dummy-sucking octopus. Presumably where their baby should be. As far back as 2012, ParaNorman featured what many believe is the first openly gay character in a mainstream animated feature. He was a blokey sportsman named Mitch, who was voiced by Casey Affleck and spoke of his boyfriend.

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There have even been digs at gay marriage laws. Director Dean DeBlois was adamant that one of his characters - Gobber The Belch - was a gay Viking in 2014's How To Train Your Dragon. Voiced by Craig Ferguson, Gobbler observes a spat between a heterosexual couple and says, "This is why I never married. This and one other reason."

Then there's television. The Simpsons is now in its 28th season, a generation grew up watching the show and primary character Waylon Smithers is a pastiche so camp he practically trails glitter. Not to mention Marge's sister Patty, who has featured on a gay pride float chanting "we're gay, we're glad, but don't tell mom and dad".

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Times they are a changing with media advocacy group GLAAD's 2015 Studio Responsibility Index finding 17.5 per cent of movie releases the previous year included characters who were gay, lesbian or bisexual. Of those, 23 per cent were family films.

That is a staggering cultural shift and one that is gaining momentum. There has been a push and of course a hashtag to give Elsa a girlfriend in the upcoming Frozen sequel. And the stars are on board: "I think it's a great idea," said star Idina Menzel, "Disney's just gotta contend with that. I'll let them figure it out."

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And figure out Disney and other studios must, as demand for inclusion and diversity now spreads beyond the LGBTQI+ community and into the mainstream mums and dads, mums and mums and dads and dads who want their children growing up with better, fairer, greater representation than they saw on their screens.

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