Cartoons are queerer than ever

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While Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe gets plenty of credit for bringing queer issues to kids’ TV (rightfully so) thankfully, it’s not alone. In fact, the number of queer cartoons is rapidly increasing. And while not every show necessarily gets it right (looking at you, Voltron), at least there are many more other opportunities for young LGBTQ kids to see themselves on screen.

The past few years, there have been many queer cartoons — or at least queer cartoon characters. There was the first same-sex kiss in a kids’ cartoon in Disney’s Star vs. the Forces of Evil, gay parents have appeared in Cartoon Network‘s Clarence and Nickelodeon’s The Loud House and there was a relationship between two Adventure Time characters being build up over ten seasons.

Of course, the one doing the most for queer representation in animation is Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe. Alex Hirsch, creator of Gravity Fallssaid Sugar is “driving a race car way, way ahead of everyone else,” when it comes to representation. “Every time a creator or a network decides to try to go a little further and do something maybe other networks have been scared to do, suddenly we’ve opened up that space.”

Hirsch’s Gravity Falls has had its own issues with trying to insert representation. In a 2014 episode, “The Love God,” about Cupid making people fall in love, originally was to feature a couple of old women in love. The women were depicted as background characters in the storyboards — basically, a blink-and-you-miss it situation.

But Disney’s standards and practices department objected. Hirsch says, “The truth is they’re scared of getting emails from bigots and they’re cowards. So they’re letting the bigots control the conversation. My response was basically, ‘Let ‘em complain,’ ‘they’re wrong,’ and ‘they’re just gonna have to live with it.’ Unfortunately, it got so contentious that [the network] essentially told me that if I didn’t cut the scene they would cut the episode and they strong-armed me out of it.” Thankfully, in the season finale, Hirsch was allowed to have two other characters, Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland, come out as lovers.

Even Rebecca Sugar had problems initially; she said Cartoon Network came to her with notes, but she held her ground. Sugar said, “If this is going to cost me my show that’s fine because this is a huge injustice and I need to be able to represent myself and my team through this show and anything less would be unfair to my audience.”

On July 4, Steven Universe aired the first same-sex wedding, featuring a full on-the-mouth kiss. And as a added twist of the knife to the international markets where queer issues are censored, she put the more traditionally feminine character Sapphire in a suit, and the more masculine Ruby in a dress. (In these homophobic countries, Ruby is often dubbed with a male voice actor, to avoid having Ruby and Sapphire be a same-sex couple.)

Though we’ve come far with queer cartoons, as we’ve discovered with Voltron, there’s a long way to come. Even though Voltron engaged in the “bury your gays” trope and the queer representation was shown in only two scenes, Netflix promoted the show with lots of rainbows — trying to take advantage of the trend for LGBTQ representation while botching it just the same.

My Name is Josie Totah — And I’m ready to be free

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Yesterday Josie Totah came out as transgender in an essay for Time. Josie, who starred in the sitcom Champions and appeared in Other PeopleGlee, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, explained she felt “like I let myself be shoved into a box: ‘J.J. Totah, gay boy’” in her acting roles, and in the discussions of herself in the press.

That description did not match her actual identity and “has never been the way I think of myself,” she explained. “My pronouns are sheher and hers,” Totah writes. “I identify as female, specifically as a transgender female. And my name is Josie Totah.”

Totah says she came to terms with her identity when she was 14, watching the show I Am Jazz about a transgender girl who is transitioning. Days later, she started meeting with specialists and taking a hormone blocker.

She will start college this week, but she plans to continue acting. “I plan to play roles I haven’t had the opportunity to play. And I can only imagine how much more fun it’s going to be to play someone who shares my identity, rather than having to contort myself to play a boy,” she writes. “I’m going to gun for those roles, be it a transgender female or a cisgender female. Because it’s a clean slate — and a new world.”

You can read her powerful essay here.

High School Girl?

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Spoilers ahead, watch the video first ;) 

If you watch the ad again, you can appreciate the quiet subtlety with which it shows its hand: It’s less of a reveal than a call to be more attentive. The opening scene, for example, focuses not on the teacher but on what she is holding: An image of a piece of art depicting a woman. This image is flipped at the end to reflect how easily we can be fooled once we’ve looked at something, decided what it is, and moved on.Here’s the making-of video:

Good Job, Good Girls

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Izzy Stannard as Sadie in Good Girls

NBC‘s new comedy Good Girls (also available on Netflix) is about three women who, in the midst of financial emergencies, decide to rob a supermarket. The show has its central characters being unwittingly pulled into an even bigger criminal operation. The writing is smart and sharp, funny and a bit dark, and the chemistry between the leads is amazing.

As we are introduced to the characters, we learn that their primary incentive for the crime is supporting their family, more specifically, their children. Annie is the youngest of the trio. She is a single mother, though her ex-husband is very much in the picture, and the primary caregiver to Sadie, her 11-year-old daughter that has begun exploring their gender identity.

And, this might be the most exciting part, Sadie is portrayed by an actor that actually is non-binary himself. A refreshing decision in today’s TV business.

The FostersShamelessBillions, and Madam Secretary are among the shows currently featuring adult non-binary characters. What is unique about Good Girls‘ take, however, is that Sadie, at 11, is still figuring themselves out, and hasn’t expressed whether they identifies as female, male, or otherwise.

While a large part of the show highlights the struggles of everyday life for the main characters, that Sadie is non-binary or potentially trans is not one of Annie’s problems. The fact that Sadie is wearing boy’s clothes or has short hair is irrelevant, and Annie’s dedication to her child is such that she doesn’t miss a beat in completely shutting down her ex-husband’s suggestion to enroll Sadie in Catholic school, or that Sadie should be in therapy, as if there is anything about them that needs to be fixed.

Though Annie is portrayed as being the least responsible one of the Good Girls, it’s refreshing to see her become resourceful when it comes to her child. She enlists a dangerous criminal to go to Sadie’s school in order to scare the living daylights out of her bullies for pulling Sadie’s pants down, where he promptly breaks one of the kids’ fingers (like I said, it’s a little dark). Most of her money goes to hiring an attorney to help with maintaining full custody.

It would have been so easy for Good Girls to have taken the lazy route by making Annie’s dilemma that her kid is being difficult and won’t just put on a dress to make things easier for everyone. Instead, Annie’s distress comes from seeing Sadie navigate childhood, which is often times more cruel than adulthood. Her greatest struggle is making sure she’s doing all the right things to bring up Sadie in a safe space that will allow them to be strong and confident.

If the writers continue their approach in season 2, Sadie’s journey promises to be a satisfying one. Seeing a child who is non-binary on network television not have a completely miserable home life is the future. Let’s have more of that, more happy home life, more of Annie bringing Sadie to expensive stores and having her fitted for awesome suits. More of the Super Mom all kids deserve, when she’s not partaking in clumsy criminal activity.

 

Christians upset over Drag Cartoon

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The Christian Film and Television Commission is demanding Netflix cancel plans for an upcoming drag queen superhero cartoon called Super Drags, saying the show is “driven by a politically correct transvestite agenda.” Netflix, predictably, hasn’t deigned to acknowledge the ridiculousness.

A petition started by the group asks supporters, “Netflix offers wholesome shows like ‘Clifford, the Big Red Dog’ and even ‘VeggieTales.’ But do we really want our children to sit down to watch a fun new superhero cartoon series and instead have them lose their innocence to sexual wickedness?”

At time of publication, over 26,000 people had signed the petition. The group also strangely insinuates that the company is forcing employees to create the series against their will:

“Netflix has taken the skill sets of those who create wholesome, educational content for children and has inserted the homosexual agenda into their content,” the would-be censors claim.

Netflix hasn’t released many details on the show beyond a brief trailer and the characters’ names. The show revolves around a trio of harried department store clerks who transform into drag queens Lemon Chiffon, Cran’s Sapphire and Crimson Scarlet “ready to combat shade and rescue the world’s glitter from the evil villains.”

Backstreet Girls

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Back Street Girls, originally a Japanese manga series by Jasmine Gyuh that was released in 2015, will be turned into an anime.

There’s two sides to every story, and in the case of Back Street Girls there’s two sides to the leading men, too: yakuza and idols. After a trio of hapless yakuza make an unforgivable mistake, they have two options: Commit honourable suicide or go to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery so they can become a popular idol trio. 

Once a yakuza, always a yakuza, but these three are going to try their best to make their boss loads of money as idols. To get in the groove, two flavors of promos have been released. First up we have the hard-boiled (yet still bubbly) gokudo version (above), followed by the idol version /(below). The only real difference is the voice acting in the back half of each promo.

The series premieres on Japanese television on 3 July. It will air on BS11, Tokyo MX, and MBS. It will likely also be part of anime streaming service Crunchyroll.

Alex Strangelove

milkboys Films & Cinema, Television 8 Comments

Next month, Netflix is premiering Alex Strangelove, a new teen sex comedy with a gay lead character directed by Craig Johnson, the writer/director behind True Adolescents starring Mark Duplass and Skeleton Twins starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader.

Alex Strangelove is about Alex Truelove, a straight-laced and driven high school senior with a wonderful girlfriend and a bright future ahead of him. After his buddies discover that he and his girlfriend, Claire, haven’t had sex yet,

Alex becomes obsessed with losing his virginity. But things get complicated when he meets Elliot, a handsome and charming gay kid from the other side town, who unwittingly sends Alex into a sexual identity panic. What results is a hilarious and moving exploration of love, sex and friendship in modern high school.

Eyewitness

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It’s one thing to have a romantic moment interrupted, but it’s quite another to have it interrupted by a triple murder.

That’s exactly what happens in the first episode of the new series Eyewitness. The show follows teen boys Lukas and Philip (played by James Paxton and Tyler Young) as they deal with not only having witnessed a murder and survived, but also being unable to go to the police because one of them doesn’t want to come out as gay.

“[Lukas] doesn’t even acknowledge that being gay is a possibility. It’s his first time kissing and being intimate with a boy at all. It scares him a lot,” Paxton says. “He doesn’t realize that secrets of this magnitude can have some dangerous repercussions that affect everybody else in town.”

Star Trek’s first Gay Kiss

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Star Trek: Discovery is boldly going where no other Star Trek series has gone before. Last month the space drama introduced Anthony Rapp’s character, Lt. Stamets, as the first openly gay character in the television history of the franchise. But the show took things a step further this week by featuring a same-sex kiss between Stamets and his partner, Dr Hugh Culber, played by fellow out actor Wilson Cruz.

The franchise has been known for pushing boundaries since it first aired in 1966, and came under fire in the late ’60s for featuring an interracial kiss between the characters Kirk and Uhura.

Despite being known as groundbreaking, the episode still faced homophobic criticism from fans who don’t like seeing a happy gay couple on their TVs. But Cruz had a response for anyone who had a problem with Discovery’s queer representation.

“I’m not here for your comfort,” he wrote in a poignant Facebook post. “That’s not why we are here. We’re here to grow.”

Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu was portrayed as a married gay man by actor John Cho in the film Star Trek: Beyond, but a scene rumored to show a kiss between Sulu and his husband was ultimately cut from the film.

The OA’s Trans Character is great

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Stranger Things might be the big pop culture hit when it comes to mystery shows but it’s not the only Netflix series worth a (binge) watch. The OA follows Prairie Johnson, a young woman who’s returned to her family after disappearing seven years prior.

Looking to reconnect with those she left behind in captivity, Prairie gathers a group of misfits to hatch a plan. One of her compatriots is Buck Vu, a transgender teen who’s been turning to the local drug dealer—another of the cadre—for his testosterone.

 The show doesn’t shy away from positive and negative reactions to Buck’s identity, especially from his family. But he’s a nuanced character, not a token representation for the sake of diversity. He might also be the first Asian-American trans character in a mainstream television series.

Ian Alexander, who plays Buck, is transgender in real life, too—a nice change of pace from Hollywood’s usual approach of casting cis people in trans roles. Raised in a conservative Mormon family, he faced rejection by his parents, who tried to force him into conversion therapy.

“I remember particularly being obsessed with FtM transition videos,” Alexander told Affinity of his earliest inklings about his identity. “I didn’t connect with it personally yet, but I still remember tucking my long hair into a hat and taking a few ’boy’ pictures.”

If he looks familiar, that’s because the high schooler became something of a viral sensation last year, when he clapped back at transphobic UCLA students.

“I was frustrated, but decided to use humor rather than waste my energy on people who clearly don’t understand what they’re against,” he told Buzzfeed at the time.

He answered an open call for a young Asian trans actor that circulated on Tumblr, and the scored the part. Ironically, showrunner Brit Marling says they were told the role was impossible to cast. She told Vulture:

“We’d always written the character as a 14-year-old transgender FTM Asian-American, and when we gave our casting director Avy Kaufman that description, she said, “We might not be able to find this person, so what are you flexible on?” We told her we weren’t flexible, so she finally took to the internet and posted some casting notices on various trans chat rooms and groups, and audition tapes came flooding in.

Ian was among them, he had shot his with his iPhone in his bathroom and uploaded it all without his parents knowing. Out of nowhere, his parents get a phone call that Netflix wants to cast their son! They’re like, “What?”

His tape was brilliant.

He told us, “I’m having a really hard time in school, because I wanted to act but it’s not like the plays that are done in high school have roles that describe a person like me. You can’t imagine what it was like to go online and see a posting for a Netflix show that describes me.”

We got really lucky.

Comparisons to Stranger Things are easy: They’re both Netflix shows about mysterious abductees who fall in with a group of young men. But while Stranger Things’ queer factor is pretty much subtext, The OA puts it out front and centre.