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In a Heartbeat: Why we need more LGBTQ animation.

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It’s Pride Month in many places, though it’s hard to say if animation is one of them. The industry has been categorically slow at including and representing LGBTQ relationships. While live-action media depicting same-sex relationships and trans individuals like “Moonlight” and “Orange is the New Black” have moved into the mainstream, queer animated characters are still often met with controversy or caution.

Many jumped on “Frozen” for its perceived pro-gay undertones and the subsequent #GiveElsaAGirlfriend campaign, while a potential lesbian couple in “Finding Dory” was brushed off by co-director Andrew Staton with, “They can be whatever you want them to be.” As recently as this past week, six animated children’s series were banned in Kenya for “normalising, glamorising or even glorifying homosexual behavior”.

However, where there is a rainbow, there must be sunshine. Rebecca Sugar’s Cartoon Network series “Steven Universe” has been praised for its representation of LGBTQ characters, and Disney had its first-ever animated same-sex kiss on “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” this past March. It’s a small response to a big shift: over 64 percent of Americans support gay marriage. When Gallup first polled on the issue in 1996, it sat at 27 percent.

disney-same-sex-kiss.jpgImage: Source: Disney Television Animation.

People’s attitudes are evolving and animation needs to follow suit, particularly as an early cultural catalyst for children. Representation matters — as the saying goes, “if we can see it, we can be it”. It leads to normalization, understanding and ultimately, (self)acceptance. If not for moral reasons, perhaps money can be a motivator.

With huge budgets to recoup, studios may be hesitant to include LGBTQ characters for the sake of mass appeal. This too is changing. Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” remake included a gay character, LeFou, and while the film was pressured to remove the same-sex allusions by authorities in Malaysia and only screened for audiences 16 and older in Russia, it went on to gross over $1.2 billion worldwide.

 

Audiences are not only willing to accept LGBTQ content, but actively support it. Case in point: “In a Heartbeat”. The short film, created by Ringling College of Art and Design computer animation students Beth David and Esteban Bravo, depicts an adolescent boy whose heart literally leaps out of his chest when he sees his crush, another male student at his school. 

As soon as social media caught wind of “In a Heartbeat”, it went viral: a single tweet about it has over 100,000 likes and nearly 47,000 retweets. The pair launched a Kickstarter to finance a composer and sound designer, with a goal of $3,000 — they raised $14,191. The trailer for “In a Heartbeat” was met with a massively positive response online as well, with coverage in “Teen Vogue”, “Mashable”, “HuffPost” and many other outlets. While the short film doesn’t have an official release date yet, it is currently making the festival circuit. (UPDATE: watch "In a Heartbeat" in its entirety above.)

In celebration of Pride Month, we spoke to the creators of “In a Heartbeat” about what inspired their short film and why there needs to be more LGBTQ animation.

beth-esteban-in-a-heartbeat.jpgSource: Beth David/Esteban Bravo.

What inspired the story of “In a Heartbeat”?
BD + EB: The notion of someone’s heart popping out of their chest to chase after their crush initially came from a friend of ours, and we were given permission to take that seed of an idea and run with it. Originally, it was between a boy and a girl, and it wasn’t until we decided to make it a story about a same-gender crush that it really started to resonate with us and turn into something special and meaningful. Ultimately, we made this film because it was something we wish we could have had when we were younger.

Did you ever expect “In a Heartbeat” to receive this much attention?
BD + EB: We had NO idea it would get so much attention so soon! We launched a Kickstarter in November and even the response to that was mind blowing. Since releasing the trailer, we’ve gotten so much kind and enthusiastic feedback – we couldn’t be more grateful.

In-a-Heartbeat.pngSource: Beth David/Esteban Bravo.

Do you think this is indicative of a hunger for LGBTQ-themed animation?
BD + EB: Absolutely. It’s so clear to us that people are interested in more inclusive media. There isn’t enough out there, especially for young people, that addresses the LGBT+ experience in a lighthearted, positive way.

Did any LGBTQ animations or animators inspire you? Have fans reached out saying you inspired them?
BD + EB: One that has inspired us is “Steven Universe” and its creator, Rebecca Sugar. We’ve found that her handling of LGBTQ characters in a kids' show has been nothing short of grace and beauty.

In-a-Heartbeat-2017.pngSource: Beth David/Esteban Bravo.

We have been approached by people telling us that the film has helped them in the process of accepting themselves and coming out, which we’re ecstatic to hear about because we know exactly what it was like to be in their shoes and helping them in that way is all we ever hoped the film would be for others.

What advice would you give to a young animator wanting to tell an LGBTQ story?
BD + EB: Do it — make it happen! If people want this community to be represented in media, then you can’t wait for other people to do it for you. Also, no one will be able to tell an LGBTQ story better than someone who is LGBTQ so, please, share your stories and empower us!

How do you think we can increase LGBTQ representation in animation? Let us know in the comments below!

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