So yesterday I did my first film review of the year for Concrete, the student newspaper that someone (for some reason) put me in charge of. I was super excited about it. A lot of what I’ve been doing since becoming editor involves answering emails and passing on the more interesting work to other people so that I can free up time to answer more emails. So when the film editors desperately needed a ParaNorman review at short notice, I jumped at the chance to go back to basics (and get a free trip to the cinema).
It was a pretty good film. There were better animations this summer (bravebravebrave) but overall it was funny and smart and cute.
Now for the angry ranting.
Before I went into the film, my housemate told me it was the first kids’ animation with an openly gay character. Awesome, I thought. I can totally write about that in my review!
In the end, I didn’t think it was really worth mentioning. The two “older sibling” characters are set up as a potential romance throughout the film (by which I mean the seemingly-shallow sister outrageously tries to get the attention of the oblivious older brother whose shoulders are four times as wide as his waist). After all the zombie shenanigans are over, she finally gets the courage to ask him to see a movie with her. He responds positively, and tells her that she’ll really like his boyfriend, who loves chick-flicks.
I thought this was pretty cool, but ultimately not really something I wanted to write about when there was so much else going on – the storytelling, the humour, the cute stop animation effect. With only 200 words to play with, Mitch’s sexuality was not really relevant to my enjoyment of the film.
And then I started reading all of the other reviews people had written. My aforementioned housemate found this terrifying collection of responses from parents who were outraged at that one line which had very little to do with the rest of the plot. Let’s illustrate this point with a randomly selected sentence: “had to try explaining it to a nine year old that we hate the sin, love the sinner, and that some boys are just confused by their gender.” Followed by more exclamation marks than could fit in a single line of text.
God dammit, mothers on the internet.
My immediate response was to completely rewrite my own review in defence of a children’s film’s choice to not only include a gay character, but to include a gay character whose sexuality is of absolutely no consequence. Sort of like, you know, everyone in real life who is defined by more than one aspect of their identity, which is in itself a fluid and ever-changing process.
But then, after the second half of my review became a thinly-veiled backlash to the film’s politicised responses, I realised exactly what I had done. Part of what annoys me most about those other reviews is that they let something which shouldn’t even be important colour their whole opinion of the film. So by giving such a disproportionate amount of space to defending the action, I was really doing the same thing.
The fact that Mitch is gay is not a big deal. He admits it freely, and clearly no one else in the film has an issue with it. His line takes up maybe four seconds of screentime, in a film which is 92 minutes long (roughly 5,520 seconds). That means that Mitch’s sexuality makes up 0.072% of the movie.
I’m so mad about this issue that I did maths, you guys.
In the end, for me, or anyone else, to spend most of my supposedly objective review talking about 0.072% of a movie actually does it a disservice. And it politicises something which shouldn’t be political in the first place.
Chris Butler, who wrote and co-directed the film, had this to say on the matter when speaking to Indiewire: “I wanted it from the start, absolutely. It seemed like the best bookend to that whole tolerance thing and to do it as a joke, a kind of throwaway thing, but something that has NEVER been done before. I think we’re telling a story about intolerance, so you have to be brave about it.”
And he’s exactly right. It’s important that gay people are included across the media, and it may be even more important that their sexuality is portrayed as only a small part of their identity. Not every gay character on TV or in movies needs to struggle with coming out and defy ignorant bullies by spreading glitter and rainbows wherever they go. A lot of people just happen to also be gay, and that should be reflected too.
In the end, I took the response to the film’s responses out of my official 200 words. For me to rise to the unfairly negative reviews and focus on that one issue would just invalidate my own argument, and ignore everything else about the film which I enjoyed.
Cue angry blog post instead.