John Lasseter and Disney’s “Women in Animation” Issue

(photo courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter)

Don’t you hate it when the guy who revitalized and, arguably, saved Walt Disney Animation Studios from complete and utter ruin is also a super gross sexual harasser? Ugh, the worst. Yet, that is what Disney has had to deal with John Lasseter and his creepy ways.

In November of last year, The Hollywood Reporter unveiled an expose on John’s behavior at Walt Disney Animation (WDAS) and Pixar, where he was the head of both. The article mentioned how he was known for “grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes.” The sources used for the piece, all wanting to stay anonymous as to not hurt their careers, stated he was known for heavy drinking and these actions at company functions, but the were never isolated incidents. Women at WDAS and Pixar were known to have created moves, coined “The Lasseter,” to avoid unwarranted kisses or his hand placed on their thighs.

In a later article posted by Deadline, details emerged about Lasseter’s obsession with the character performers who were “friends with” Tinkerbell and her fairy friends. The characters were sent to a media event in New York City where Lasseter was also attending. A Pixar employee was sent as a “designated chaperone,” according to the article, to make sure Lasseter wasn’t getting too creepy with the Fairies. He took all the fairies out for drinks one night and continued his obsession, leading to long and extended hugs and other inappropriate behavior.

Lasseter apologized, was placed on a 6-month sabbatical, but has since been fired from the Walt Disney Company, leaving at the end of the year. As far as his apology goes, one co-worker stated that they were disappointed, as it trivialized his own actions. Lasseter said in his memo to staff that “I have always wanted our animation studios to be places where creators can explore their vision with the support and collaboration of other gifted animators and storytellers. This kind of creative culture takes constant vigilance to maintain. It’s built on trust and respect, and it becomes fragile if any members of the team don’t feel valued. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen; and I now believe I have been falling short in this regard.”

He continues, “I’ve recently had a number of difficult conversations that have been very painful for me. It’s never easy to face your missteps, but it’s the only way to learn from them. As a result, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the leader I am today compared to the mentor, advocate and champion I want to be. It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent. Collectively, you mean the world to me, and I deeply apologize if I have let you down. I especially want to apologize to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form. No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected.”

Now, part of the expose included the claim that Rashida Jones, originally working on the script for Toy Story 4, had received an unwanted advance from Lasseter, making her leave the project in its early stages. However, in a later statement, Jones denies the unwanted advance, but brings up the problems within Pixar.

Jones said “We parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences. There is so much talent at Pixar, and we remain enormous fans of their films. However, it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice. We encourage Pixar to be leaders in bolstering, hiring and promoting more diverse and female storytellers and leaders. We hope we can encourage all those who have felt like their voices could not be heard in the past to feel empowered.”

There is a real women and race problem within WDAS and Pixar. It has been going on for years and because of the Lasseter downfall, we are finally starting to see these discussions come to the forefront. For too long, WDAS and Pixar have been a straight white male party.

For WDAS, only one movie has been co-directed by a woman, and that is Frozen. That is over 50 films and one single female director. For Pixar, Brave is the only film with a co-director credit. They are now 20 films deep with only one female director. These are awful statistics. Along with that, one female co-director, Brenda Chapman, had a tumultuous time with Pixar during her time.

Brave was released in 2012 and was a big moment for Pixar. Not only did the film have its first female director attached, but it was the first time the lead of the film was a woman. Brave was the FIRST time. Crazy, I know. On top of that, Brave was the brainchild of Chapman. The story, which at its core, was about a mother and daughter relationship and was based on Chapman’s relationship with her own daughter. Pixar removed her from the film, but still gave her a co-directing credit, allowing her to still be awarded an Oscar when Brave won for Best Animated Feature.

Chapman called the experience “devastating” in an essay she wrote for the New York Times about the experience. She also discusses how animation directors don’t get nearly the number of workplace protections and live-action film directors receive. “We are replaced on a regular basis — and that was a real issue for me. This was a story that I created, which came from a very personal place, as a woman and a mother. To have it taken away and given to someone else, and a man at that, was truly distressing on so many levels,” said Chapman. While she did say she was proud of the final outcome and mentioned how her vision was still intact, she did leave with an important message to the entertainment industry at large. “Sometimes women express an idea and are shot down, only to have a man express essentially the same idea and have it broadly embraced. Until there is a sufficient number of women executives in high places, this will continue to happen.”

This is not great. This, actually, is horrifying. The idea that has been a key part of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements is the idea that a man can do the same exact thing as a woman and get higher compensation and respect is presented through the Brenda Chapman/Pixar situation in full force. What’s even more striking from this is how since 2012 and Brave, Pixar has yet to release a movie directed by a woman, or for that matter, announce one. The closest we’ve gotten was this year’s brilliant Bao, a short film directed by Domee Shi, becoming the first woman to direct a short for Pixar. The film draws on Shi’s firsthand experiences living in a Chinese-Canadian home with an overprotective mother.

Bao shows the power of different voices being highlighted to give us different stories. When you have all straight white men in power positions in animation, you’re going to get the same stories. This was evident with Pixar’s The Blue Umbrella, directed by Saschka Unseld. The story follows a blue umbrella falling in love with a red umbrella. When I saw it, I was so struck with its familiarity, but then it hit me. It is almost identical to Johnny Fedora, a 1950s short from WDAS. Bao gave us something so new and different and culturally relevant. The Blue Umbrella…did not. Giving women voices in animation is so vital to new and fresh stories.

Let’s jump back to John Lasseter specifically for a moment to discuss the aftermath. In June of this year, Disney officially decided to force him to leave the company, effective in December of this year to allow the transition to be smoother. After the announcement, animation fans were a little nervous. John Lasseter did save WDAS from ruin, even if we don’t want to associate him with success due to his actions. Lasseter was a key presence in making Pixar the powerhouse it has become. When Disney officially purchased Pixar in 2006, Lasseter went to work on helping WDAS out of its funk.

WDAS was known for its Renaissance period from 1989-1999. During that span WDAS released (buckle up, it’s an incredible list) The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan. Yeah, I know. They were on a winning streak with no end in sight…then 2000 happened. Their critical and box office mojo immediately plummeted. Dinosaur, The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, and Meet the Robinsons all disappointed critics and brought in less-than-stellar box office receipts. That was until Lasseter came in.

He brought in the current Revival Era of WDAS, with princess films, successful musicals, risks and successes. Lasseter single-handedly brought an energy that hadn’t been in WDAS for over a decade. But now, he has tainted his revitalization. Everything must be questioned now. How many women during these new films did he make uncomfortable? How many feared for their jobs by not allowing the awkward touching or difficult comments? How many ideas by women were presented, but pushed aside for that of a man?

With Lasseter out, many also were curious to know who would take over his reigns. He was the Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar AND WDAS, so would one person head up both studios for the foreseeable future? The decision was made quickly and our TWO new Chief Creative Officers of Pixar and WDAS, respectively, are fabulous choices with a multitude of pros.

Pixar will be headed up by another straight white man, which is a big ‘ole bummer, but if it had to be any man, Pete Docter is the perfect choice. He has directed three of Pixar’s most influential films: Monster’s Inc., Up, and Inside Out. In Inside Out, he shaped Riley after his own daughter and has a strong idea for portraying love and compassion in his films. Look to the first 10 minutes of Up to see what mastery this man can bring us. He is an artist who can do great things. However, if pushing female voices into places of prominence in the studio isn’t at the top of his list, that is a problem. Docter needs to see how Lasseter left the company and see how he can swiftly change that. Support women and let their ideas flourish into big-budget films from Pixar.

Over at WDAS, their only female director, the incomparable Jennifer Lee, has become the chief creative officer at the studio. I heard this news and audibly screamed. Loudly. In public. Jennifer Lee is an exceptional choice and is going to bring such a unique and supportive voice to WDAS. Not only is she the first WDAS film director (*snaps*), but she is the first female director in history to have a film reach over $1 billion in global box office receipts (*double snaps*), and she is the first woman in to be heading the WDAS (*triple snaps, cartwheels, and shoots off a 15-minute firework spectacular*).

Jennifer Lee is best known for co-directing Frozen. Yes, that Frozen. She also wrote the script, ‘cause Jennifer is a boss. I realize that I’ve turned into a stan Twitter account, but that is okay, but that is how much I love Jennifer Lee. She also wrote the book for Frozen’s Broadway incarnation, the script for A Wrinkle In Time, has a story credit for Zootopia, and will be writing and directing Frozen 2.

What I love most about Jennifer Lee is that the stories that she has, so far, brought to the big screen and the Broadway stage have been about female empowerment and the power of love. Now, this hasn’t been in a cheesy Lifetime movie way, but in a genuine and heart-wrenching way. Her films are powerful, even if they are family Disney films. I’m excited to see what she does for WDAS, who she supports and lifts, and what she will do for Disney Animation as an art-form.

Famously, Lasseter released the last hand-drawn animated film from WDAS, Winnie the Pooh, the same day as the final Harry Potter film. The timing of the release was rumored to allow the film to fail at the box office and become a reason for hand-drawn animation to be removed from production at WDAS. Will Jennifer Lee allow the art form to receive a resurgence? Who knows, but, like previously mentioned, every decision Lasseter made now has a layer of disgust and questionability on top.

Lasseter being pushed out of the Walt Disney Company is an unequivocal victory for those fighting to prove the staying power of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. It is also a victory for all those women who felt disgusted, betrayed, and taken advantage of whilst working under Lasseter’s leadership. However, their shame and regret over how they felt in the moments he harassed them can never leave their heads.

Feeling harassed is not a fleeting feeling. One immediately gets in their head: Did I do something wrong? Am I the problem? Did I ask for it? These women who were demeaned by Lasseter have to deal with the aftershock of the events for the rest of their lives. Confidence issues, being nervous to go to work, etc. These follow you everywhere and never have a clear end in sight, because harassment attacks your psyche for the rest of your life. No amount of therapy can undo what predators and harassers do.

Harassment is a problem facing people across the globe in every aspect of life, not just in entertainment or animation. However, having such a high-profile presence removed from a company because of his disgusting ways is a huge poster child for the movement and for others to have the confidence to speak out. Personally, seeing women come forward to oust Lasseter helped me come to terms with the harassment I was receiving at my place of work.  Seeing these women come forward at WDAS and Pixar helped me have the courage to speak up.

So, a thanks to every woman at Pixar and WDAS who has come forward to say their problems with leadership. What you all have done is change the course of Disney history for the better. You have lifted each other up to force out the bad and let the light shine again. You’ve changed the narrative and showed that at Pixar and WDAS #TimesUp. Let us all look towards the future, embrace female fronted animated films, and celebrate feminism in animation. In the words of Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, “Trials and tribulations, I’ve had my share, but there ain’t nothin’ gonna stop me now ‘cause I’m almost there.”

Disney + Gay = Conflicted

(photo courtesy of shopDisney)

Disney is hella gay. You’re laughing but think about it. The LGBTQ+ community and Disney fans have a large amount of overlap. That hypothetical Venn diagram would be close to just one giant circle. (That circle would, of course, be made out of glitter, glow-in-the-dark paint, and recycled Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again posters, because duh.) From personal experience, the world of Disney has been an accepting one. Its stories are ones that I can escape into, away from oppression or the woes of the world. Worried my rights will be taken away by new Supreme Court justices? Might as well take a trip under the sea with my favorite mermaid. Called a ‘faggot’ on social media by cyberbullies? Let me step away from it all and attend the coronation of Genovia’s new queen.

These films, these stories, these characters all let me enter new and fantastical worlds. On top of that, the Disney company has been a welcome one for members of the community for decades. In 2014, Glassdoor.com, a workplace insight website, compiled the Top 25 Companies to work for if a member of the LGBTQ+ community, where Disney ranked at Number 15. The company is welcoming, supportive, and embraces the members of the community.

Recently the Walt Disney World resort held remembrance events for the Pulse nightclub shooting, had panels featuring important LGBTQ+ figures within the company, and always have a large presence in California and Florida pride events. They are great allies to have, especially since theyare consistently vocal about their support of the community with words and their money. . They were the biggest donor to the OneOrlando fund set in place after the Pulse shooting and just donated $50,000 to GLSEN, an organization promoting inclusivity in schools relating to sexuality.

For me, Disney has always been the ultimate safe space. I may see a “Make America Great Again” hat, but I know they aren’t the norm at Happiest Place on Earth. They have their arms open wide and ready to welcome anyone and everyone into their kingdom.

Now, when you look at Disney’s television properties, they’ve done a decent enough job portraying individuals who identify as part of the community. ABC has been a great example of this, thanks to their progressive and openminded mindset for their programming. In 2007, Dirty Sexy Money featured the first transgender actress in recurring role on broadcast television, played by Candis Cayne. Shonda Rhimes’ trio of “Thank God It’s Thursday” shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder) have all had major LGBTQ+ characters from their inception. Grey’s Anatomy also holds the distinction of having the longest running LGBTQ+ character in television history, with Callie Torres (played by out bisexual actress, Sara Ramirez) starring in over 200 episodes.

Even more recently (and more problematically), Roseanne featured a genderqueer child as part of the Conner family. While the discussions about him on the show weren’t ideal, as they saw their genderqueer family member as “the only good one.” Their views that were mentioned numerous times on the show contradicted their progressive attitude toward their genderqueer family member. While the representation was there, I’m hopeful that with Roseanne’s removal, The Conners can tackle the child’s experience more as a genderqueer character on television, such as the bullying, the idea that other parents have to tell your kid how to act, the idea of toxic masculinity, etc.

Disney Channel also recently broke ground by having their first out LGBTQ+ character on Andi Mack. Played by Joshua Rush, Cyrus revealed that he was attracted to Asher on the show, breaking major ground for a children’s network. No other tween-centric show on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon has ever discussed sexuality in such a frank way, especially when considering a major tween character. The moment was such an emotional one for me (which I discussed here). Seeing someone discussing their confusion with their own sexuality was something I experienced firsthand, and seeing how big its impact could be moved me profoundly. As Cyrus sat next to his friend Buffy and silently nod his head that he was jealous of Andi, since she was with Asher and not him, I felt all those suppressed feelings I had in middle school, crushing on guys but knowing I couldn’t say anything. It was beautifully done and so important.

While all the good we’ve received from the parks and television branches of the company, the film branch has left something less than desired. To be completely frank, they screw up. A lot. It has started to become offensive their lack of awareness on their ignorance of the LGBTQ+ community. There are a few major instances of their ignorance, so let’s break them down individually:

The Beauty and the Beast Lefou Debacle of 2K17: This ordeal was making the definition of over exaggeration from all parties involved. In an interview with director Bill Condon, he stated that LeFou (Gaston’s humorous sidekick) would have an “exclusively gay moment.” Expectations immediately went through the roof from those excited for seeing representation, finally, from a Disney film. Would there be a kiss? A sentence saying that he was dating another man? What would it be?!

The backlash was fast and from large entities, and no one had even seen “the moment.” China, Russia, and Malaysia all upped their movie ratings to the equivalent of PG-13 so children weren’t exposed to this “exclusively gay moment.” A drive-in theater in Alabama banned the movie from being shown for fear of tainting the residents of the state, I guess? It was all much ado about nothing.

Well, it was next to nothing. In the final dance number, LeFou ends up in the arms of a male French village person. That’s it. That was the moment. This moment led to backlash from countries across the world, boycotts, and gay hysteria. It was underwhelming, boring, and insulting.

What made it worse was Bill’s declaration that it was in honor of Beauty and the Beast musical genius, Howard Ashman. He wrote the lyrics for the show back during the film’s inception but passed away from AIDS in the 1990s. As an out gay man, I can guarantee you that he would’ve been stunned at how stupid and small this “exclusively gay moment” ended up being.

So, not only was the moment not a moment at all, but it was in honor of a pioneer of the LGBTQ+ community. That’s a big ‘ole double whammy.

Mulan and its Anti-Shang Live-Action Remake: The Disney animated film about the titular character dressing as a man and going into war to save her father from possible death has become a favorite amongst the LGBTQ+ community for many reasons. The power that Mulan feels by cross-dressing/the power she had all along has become an allegory of sorts for the coming out process. (On a smaller note, the vaguely homoerotic song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” has been celebrated as such for years.)

However, the biggest takeaway and internet movement to come from the film is Shang as an accidental bisexual icon. His role in the movie as Mulan’s love interest is more prevalent once Mulan reveals she is actually a woman and not “Ping,” her male persona. However, he is seen as being confused and attracted to Ping throughout the film, before her reveal. He is attracted no matter the gender. The internet took this and ran with it and he has been called Disney’s first bi character, even though it is never said in the film.

Mulan is one of the next films on the docket for a live-action remake, and the controversy around the film has been prevalent since the jump. Many worried that Disney wouldn’t cast actual Chinese actors in key roles (which is a whole other can of worms to open at a different time). Some were concerned that female voices wouldn’t be represented behind the scenes, and even after a female director was hired to helm the film, many were disappointed it wasn’t a woman of Asian descent.

Yet, the biggest controversy was the exclusion of Shang as the love interest in the remake. That’s right, the character who fell into being a bisexual icon has been removed from the film’s newest incarnation.  Shang will be replaced with Chen Honghui, described as “a confident and ambitious recruit who joins Commander Tung’s unit. He becomes Mulan’s most important ally and eventual love interest.” The worry is these bisexual ideas and tendencies will be erased completely.

That is how badly the audience wants an LGBTQ+ in Disney films. That the one that only kind of fits that box being removed is a 5-alarm controversy. Here’s hoping Chen can fill the void of no Shang for the community.

#GiveElsaAGirlfriend: Like mentioned above, the LGBTQ+ community is so hungry for representation, that they will call something gay when it hasn’t been discussed at all. Frozen brought another wave of those discussions with Elsa’s 11 o’clock number, “Let It Go.” The song became, just like “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” a gay anthem. The song is an accidental allegory for the coming out experience. “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see…Let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.” The lyrics really held true to a lot of individuals coming to terms with their sexuality.

So, from that, came the Twitter campaign. People on the internet decided that Elsa should have a girlfriend in the sequel. It was that simple. #GiveElsaAGirlfriend began and the klout of the hashtag spread like wildfires.

The conversation grew from the LGBTQ+ community on Twitter, to the Twitter audience at large, to news organizations, and eventually, the people involved with the film. Jennifer Lee, the sequel’s writer and director responded to the hashtag movement when asked about it by The Huffington Post by saying “I love everything people are saying [and] people are thinking about with our film―that it’s creating dialogue, that Elsa is this wonderful character that speaks to so many people. It means the world to us that we’re part of these conversations. Where we’re going with it, we have tons of conversations about it, and we’re really conscientious about these things.”

That response showed that Jennifer was at least considering the idea of Elsa having a girlfriend, but it wasn’t a confirmation. In other words, no one should be holding their breath about the possibility of Elsa turning up in the sequel with a new girlfriend in Arendelle.

Idina Menzel was asked about it by Entertainment Tonight, to which she responded with “I think it’s great. Disney’s just gotta contend with that. I’ll let them figure that out.” So, Idina’s on board. Jennifer is on board. Let’s see if Disney follows through with the idea and actually makes it a reality.

Marvel Comics vs. Films: Marvel, now owned by Disney, has had a fraught reputation with LGBTQ+ representation since at least the 1980s. It all stems back to the comics division, aka the root of Marvel’s success. A 1980 issue of Rampaging Hulk featured the first two out-gay characters in a Marvel comic. Yet, they were rapists, luring in Bruce Banner with highly inappropriate and offensive language. Jim Shooter wrote the issue and then became the editor-in-chief of Marvel comics for a large majority of the decade and he was rumored to have instituted a “no gays” policy in all Marvel comics.

The next character to finally make an appearance as gay was Northstar, who was apparently intended to be gay since his premiere in 1979. Shooter had a major role in rejecting an AIDS storyline for Northstar in 1986, further diluting any representation for the LGBTQ+ community. The new editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada, the representation count has been numerous. X-Men have had same sex marriages, Iceman and America have placed identifying members at the forefront of their own stories, etc. It has been great in the comics branch of the company.

And yet, now that the comics have a plentiful array of characters to choose from and highlight in their films, they continue to pass them over. Even more worrisome, they have brought to the screen many characters who are out and proud in the comics, but completely skip over their sexualities when it comes time to feature them on screen.

Black Panther, released this February to great acclaim and box office receipts, cut a scene with two members of the Dora Milaje flirting with each other. One of them, Ayo, has had a queer storyline for her in two various Black Panther based comics, the titular series and World of Wakanda. Writer for the latter, Roxanne Gay, found the cut scene very disappointing, saying “Even when great progress is made, some marginalized groups are told to wait, are told, not yet, are told, let’s do this first and then we will get to you. And we are also told we’re asking too much, that we should be grateful for what progress is being made. But I don’t buy into that. It would have been incredible and so gratifying to see a queer black woman in what will likely be the biggest movie of the year. Alas, not yet.”

Valkryie in Thor: Ragnarok, released last November, has been queer in the comics for years, becoming a key part of her constant storylines in the comics. However, in the blockbuster film, there was no mention or insinuation of her sexuality. In fact, Tessa Thompson, the actress who portrays her, has recently come out as bisexual herself, but her character remains silent.

Jeff Feige was asked, point blank, if future Marvel films would feature an out queer character. He responded by saying multiple ones would be featured, “both ones you’ve seen and ones you haven’t seen.” Many believe that Valkryie is one of the characters that will get an out queer storyline in the future, but we have yet to see or hear and traction.

Feige’s response is the perfect example of the LGBTQ+ representation in films. They say it’s coming. They hint at it being present in upcoming films. Sometimes, they skirt around the question, so people can create these elaborate answers in their head, even though they confirmed absolutely nothing in reality. Disney has been doing this for years and even more so in recent memory. Looking forward into the upcoming slate of films, I’m personally not sure if it will even come to fruition.

Just like mentioned Roxanne Gay’s quote above, the LGBTQ+ community has been told to wait, be patient, and look towards the future for decades now. The community isn’t asking for a lot from Disney, either. They just want an out and proud character to be on screen after that iconic Disney title card plays at the beginning of the film.

My worry is that we’ll be waiting for a while. With the current administration in office and the “political aura” surrounding this country, representation has become a weapon. Will saying someone’s gay, or highlighting a narrative from a person of color, or having a woman lead a major storyline cause half of our Trump voting public to boycott the film?

These worries should not be present. Disney should know their own strengths and pursue highlighting these marginalized voices of the LGBTQ+ community in films, especially considering that they are one of the largest media conglomerates on earth and, simultaneously, one of the strongest LGBTQ+ allies in the world. Disney is “hella gay,” yes, but embracing that feeling of compassion, representation, and lifting up one another through LGBTQ+ storylines in their films would make Disney even gayer and would make me, as a queer Disney fan, even prouder. Here’s to the future of multiple sexualities in Disney films and multiple individuals around the world feeling safer knowing that Disney supports their truth.

The Downfall of Roseanne

Roseanne might be laughing at the end of her theme song every episode, but she doesn’t seem to be laughing now. Her quick downfall, especially in the eyes of ABC, has sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry and has left ABC empty-handed, yet again, for a successful reboot on their network. As the current television climate has allowed for many a reboot to be ordered and thrive, ABC was slow to greenlight one for their network. Will & Grace’s announcement (and later success) gave ABC the drive to go ahead and announce they’d picked-up a new season of Roseanne, the hit 1990s sitcom that was the number one show on television (according to Nielsen ratings) from 1989-1990 and remained in the top 5 for Nielsen ratings for its first 6 seasons. The pick-up was a no-brainer. Bringing back one of the most beloved sitcoms of all-time would translate to immediate ratings glory, right? Well, as the news has showed us, that decision back fired.

Roseanne was picked up for a 9 episode “return season” that began airing this past March. Before and after the show premiered, the internet was filled with many a think piece (like Ira Madison III’s covering the show’s depiction of “Middle America”) recapping the show’s past, highlighting what made it so good, reposting infamous clips (like Laurie Metcalf’s “Dad’s DEAD!” scene), all in preparation for the return of the show. However, whilst the joyous nature of the show’s return was going on, things took a political turn from the jump. Roseanne has been an active Trump supporter since he announced his campaign back in 2015, tweeting out multiple conspiracy theories presented by Trump himself and his vocal supporters. When the show was announced, some were trepidatious and insulted that someone had been spewing such hatred could be allowed to star in a primetime sitcom. Some of her prior hatred had included calling President Obama racist things and insulting democrats based on looks, sex, and race.

The lead-up to the show revealed that in the reboot, the character of Roseanne would be a known Trump supporter on the show. The backlash seemed to grow, as internet users (and many journalists, like the aforementioned Ira Madison III) couldn’t believe that someone who has already gotten in trouble from her “Trumpist” ways would be allowed to spread them through the means of a weekly sitcom on a broadcast network. However, in a way, this was always the plan.

ABC’s ratings have been hurting for the last few years. The fall of the network into 4th place was due to many factors, including their lack of football or the Olympics airing on their network, along with declining ratings on returning and new programming (Scandal, once the crown jewel of the ABC line-up, fell sharply after season 5 in the Nielsen ratings, while Tuesday nights at 10 have been a revolving door of shows like Killer Women, Mind Games, Lucky 7, and Forever). They’ve had a rough go at finding new programming that stick with large ratings their entire run. Channing Dungey, the current President of ABC Entertainment, and Ben Sherwood, the President of Disney/ABC Television Group, both realized that they had been overlooking America’s heartland in their most recent TV seasons. Sherwood, according to a piece by The New York Times, was quoted as saying “There’s a lot about this country we need to learn a lot more about, here on the coasts,” which started their push to highlight those voices. Both have said that picking up Roseanne for a reboot was directly based on Trump winning the election.

The idea that middle America isn’t represented on television in the current “Golden Age of TV” is a welcome one. The biggest shows on TV are set in large metropolitan areas on the coasts. D.C. is home to NCIS and Scandal, Pasadena is home to The Big Bang Theory, and the Seattle is where Grey’s Anatomy resides. There is no major show on network TV that is set in the middle of the country and featuring those viewpoints. Young Sheldon is a recent addition, set in Texas, but that’s a recent entry. ABC doesn’t have a big hit show set somewhere that isn’t directly near the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.

The term Middle America also brings up a multitude of “stereotypes,” for lack of a better word. The term is associated with Republican views, red states, less progressive views, etc. In ABC’s eyes, the best way to get the best of both worlds was to bring back Roseanne, as it could directly cater to red states, while also bringing back a beloved property with instant brand recognition.

The build-up to the premiere was plagued with the aforementioned controversy regarding Roseanne’s views. She had a large build-up of offensive posts and views under her belt before the show was greenlit, so the go ahead to bring the show back had an underlying feeling of confusion and awkwardness. The interview circuit, however, seemed to ignore these ideas directly to her face. Many individuals she interacted with along the media tour prior to the premiere ignored the flagrant racism and talk more about her in general terms. The View brought up questions of her decision to make her character a Trump supporter, avoiding calling her out specifically.

The show premiered in March to incredible ratings and led to it becoming the Number 1 broadcast show for the 2017-2018 television season. And then, the tweet hit.

She tweeted a highly offensive racist comparison to Valerie Jarrett, former Senior Advisor to the Obama administration, and the bubbling bomb underneath Roseanne that had been present since the reboot was announced finally exploded. Within minutes, Twitter lit up with messages to Channing Dungey, ABC, and Disney CEO Bob Iger stating that this needs to be the last straw. They agreed, as within a few hours of the tweet, Roseanne was effectively cancelled.

This was unexplored territory for ABC or broadcast television, for that matter. Never in the history of the major 4 networks has the Number 1 show on television cancelled, especially after being picked up for a second season. It was bold, but the right move to many. ABC was praised for finally making the call to get someone with vile views off their television, but others complained that it should have happened sooner, or the show shouldn’t have been greenlit at all.

The craziness surrounding the cancellation did nothing but grow, as the day of the cancellation was the 1st day of the writer’s room being open for season 2. That, of course, didn’t happen. Her actions and decision to tweet that incredibly racist sentiment led to the lack of jobs for over 200 cast and crew.

Now, even though Roseanne has been cancelled and she will no longer be featured on the network, the repercussions of her presence will be felt for years to come on ABC.

ABC has been known as “the progressive network” for years. This is, in part, due to Shonda Rhimes’ presence. Grey’s Anatomy premiered in 2005 was groundbreaking for bringing television a female lead, something the broadcast networks hadn’t seen a lot of at that point. The cast was also incredibly diverse, before that word became “thee buzzword” of media. The cast featured people of all races, genders, and sexualities. It holds the record for the longest running queer character in television history (Dr. Callie Torres), who was a Bi Latina woman. This led to create a stream of ABC being the network that features people from all diverse backgrounds (Modern Family’s married gay couple, Desperate Housewives featuring 5 female leads, Scandal giving us the first black leading woman on broadcast TV in over 40 years, etc.) And yet, the underlying hope and need to pull in Trump-voting viewers has led to the 2018-2019 being a “qwhite” interesting one.

At the time of the upfronts, where ABC presents their new season to the advertisers, Roseanne was still their crowning jewel. The ratings success of that morphed into their decision making for next season. Out of the 8 shows picked up by ABC for the new television season, 6 have white leads and white producers. One has POC (people of color) leads and white producers, while one has POC leads and POC producers. ABC was frequently seen as “The Diverse Network,” but the success of Roseanne showed them that getting as white as you can possibly get brings in the viewers from those red states, in their eyes.

While all other networks increased their POC in front and behind the camera (especially CBS, often maligned as “The White Network”), ABC went in the opposite, and frankly discouraging, position.

It is imperative that they showcase various types of people from various backgrounds as it allows people to see themselves on screen, which is essential for self-esteem and appreciation for one’s self. The success of shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal is due to their ability to show so many different types of people and, not only that, but have those different voices behind the camera as well. Diverse writers, directors, and actors all add up to create a beautiful portrait of our world.

The worry, now, is that ABC will stick to their “white ways” for the foreseeable future. They’ve been taking so many “risks,” even thought that word has a negative connotation in this case, to bring new voices and faces to television screens across the country. However, now that they have seen in one singular example of whiteness and homogeneity doing well on their network, I’m worried that this will become the new normal for an extended period of time.

Once ABC officially booted Roseanne from the line-up, they had to fill that space in their fall schedule, as it was the cornerstone of their Tuesday plan (a day that has been a major struggle for them for years). Campaigns began on twitter to pick-up passed on comedies with various POC involved. Comedies included an Alyson Hannigan-led sitcom executive produced by Kerry Washington and an Yvette Nicole Brown and Lesli Margherita-led single camera sitcom.  However, ABC decided to go with the safest and scariest option with a Roseanne spin-off.

The Conners will premiere this fall in the same time slot as Roseanne. The think pieces have already made their way into various entertainment publications. Will the spin-off kill off Roseanne? Is it worth it to stick with everything from the original show, except your star? Has Roseanne tainted it enough for viewers to not give it a second chance? These are all valid questions that will be interesting to see once the show premieres this September.

The entire original cast is coming back, sans Roseanne. However, many critics found that the reboot’s first season didn’t have the same “umpf,” for lack of a better term, as the original carnation of the show had. It tackled the Middle America, lower-middle class experience with humor and gusto that may other show tried to emulate but could never accomplish. The show discussed racism, classism, sexuality, etc. This go around, the Trumpism seemed to taint the jokes and comedy surrounding the show, according to critics. Darlene’s genderfluid son was a plot point in one of the introductory episodes, but the slant was problematic. A Trump voter is fine with this genderfluid kid because it’s there’s, but their political views would suggest otherwise for the mass population (a big problem members of the LGBTQ+ community have to face).

The new reboot also featured an episode about Islamophobia, where Roseanne thinks her Muslim neighbors are building a bomb. Of course, they are not, and then she becomes high-and-mighty in a grocery store and says they are just “normal people,” even though her visible political support on the show suggests she wants a Muslim ban.

These key plot points have taken the former Number 1 show on television in the 90s, known for its powerful messages mixed with pitch perfect comedy, and turned into a MAGA Sympathy program. The worry is that, not only will these ideals and stories continue into the reboot, but that it will affect ABC’s programming for some time to come.

This season on ABC will be the big tipping point. Will the homogeneity of ABC’s programming be successful? Will taking the “Super White Crown” from CBS be successful or detrimental to viewership and ratings? We’ll have to wait and see, but as a hardcore Disney fan, my hope is that ABC fails drastically.

ABC has been my saving grace amongst the sameness of broadcast TV since high school. Strong female leads led my favorite shows on the network since I became an avid television viewer. I started with Revenge, starring Emily VanCamp, but quickly moved onto the Shonda Rhimes #TGIT trifecta, with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder. Those three shows alone gave women lead roles with complicated, messy, sexual personalities that actresses could sink their teeth into. On top of that, all four of the aforementioned shows gave us major queer storylines, something still relatively new to broadcast programming. As a queer individual myself, growing up and coming to terms with my sexuality, seeing characters who shared that experience, but who were still allowed to be themselves (whether that be complicated White House workers, doctors who just wanted a simple and happy life, or flat-out murderers who were still trying to study for finals).

ABC has been the queen of sharing all types of people and all types of experiences on their network. Just look at their line-up of successful sitcoms. Fresh Off the Boat gives us the Asian-American experience in the 1990s. The Goldbergs gives us an 80s slant on a Jewish family, with a heavy dose of popular culture for good measure. Modern Family gives us three distinct households, including a gay couple and a major Latina lead character. Blackish gives us an upper middle-class view on a Black family and trying to come to terms with their “blackness” on a daily basis. All of these shows are cornerstones of the ABC brand. They are going to show America. All sides. All experiences. All people.

So, when I look at how Roseanne has, arguably, tainted the next season of ABC, I am disappointed. I expect more from the company that has given us Meredith Grey, Jessica Huang, and Annalise Keating.

All we can do from this point is show ABC through numbers and words. Be vocal. In this age of social media, live-tweeting and TV-based hashtags have become the new water cooler. If you believe we should be receiving more diverse entertainment on ABC, make it known! Eyeballs on these TV shows is what drives cancellations or season renewals. Make sure to watch the shows with POC and LGBTQ+ characters in front of and/or behind the camera live. Whether or not they begin this upcoming season, still show your support through your views.

What we can hope is that ABC sees that diverse voices are marketable and profitable. Whether it be a writer, director, creator, or actor, getting these voices to mass audiences is not only essential to creating a more accepting society, but can actually be profitable for the company (and why are we kidding ourselves, it’s always about the money). People seeing themselves on screen creates confidence and pride in oneself. On the flip side, people seeing “others” on screen helps to make them realize we are all one. Everyone is unique, but we are all human and connect, and making people the heroes of their own stories is essential to getting that message across.

So, Roseanne blew up in ABC’s face and seems like the aftershock is still hitting the network. However, let’s look to the future. The future of the network as a diverse and hopeful network, like it was previously. One that shows the human experience, no matter the person’s background. Now, THAT is a reboot I’d like to see.

“Love, Simon” and My Ferris Wheel of Emotions

Before anything, with the Disney-Fox merger purchase becoming closer to official everyday, I am including this post about the Fox 2000 film, Love, Simon, on the BOP. Some spoilers for the film are below. Proceed with caution.

There is a moment in Love, Simon where the titular character writes to Blue (as his alter ego, Jacques) and discusses his feelings about coming out so late in his public school career. I’m paraphrasing, but he wonders if it’s even worth the trouble. He’s held in his biggest secret, arguably the biggest a person can have, for so long, what is another school year?

I’m not a crier in movies, so this idea didn’t affect me in the moment. I did fully tear up when Simon’s dad confronted his son with his own realizations and apologies, but that was the extent. However, I left the film with a lot of emotions. I’d never felt like this before, weighed down by what a film had said during its runtime. I had this odd sensation for the 2 hours after viewing that I could breakdown and cry at any point.

Trying to figure out why exactly I felt this way led me back to that specific email Simon sends to the elusive Blue. I resonated. I knew I was gay. The entire world knew I was gay. It was as obvious as the color of the White House. And yet, something held me back my senior year. I felt, deep down, like the time was arising. All these emotions had bubbled up inside me. Many late-night thinking sessions when I was trying to sleep kept telling me to just say those two words: I’m gay. Then, Simon’s thoughts (before I knew they were his) seeped in. Why ruin senior year? The word brings so much hatred your way, do you want to ruin the normalcy of your high school career? Why would you do this.

What Simon had to deal with once his emails were leaked was my worry, and probably remains the worry of every other closeted high school student in the world. Will the bickering get worse? Will the “faggot” comments ever stop? It’s a stressful time.

When his core group of friends get mad at him for creating tension in their friend group, I didn’t understand it. He messed things up, and that was horrible, but do they have no sympathy for his experience, too? Leah, his best friend, says he could have handled him being gay, but not a liar. Imagine being blackmailed about something you can’t explain to your friends without breaking down. They couldn’t even kind of understand where Simon is coming from?

That seems to be a large issue involved in the coming out process, and this movie brings up a lot of interesting points. The Coming Out process of an individual is not one for others to decide upon. No one should be “outed,” no matter the reasoning. On top of that, individuals should realize that when someone is ready to come out, they will. So blaming someone on the grounds of “you should have just told me” is weird and a bit uncalled for.

I, like many other gay teens, felt the same way. Anytime someone even mentioned the word in regards to my sexuality, I went on the defensive. I got angry at friends for bringing it up. People made fun of me on social media and in person and all I could do was “uh huh” and walk away. Someone once handed me a picture of a penis in the hallway at school and said “I know you like those,” and I couldn’t react without a fear of being seen as a faggot for issuing a rebuttal. So, the idea of being outed is a devastating one, especially in this case.

Blue’s first entry to announce his sexuality to the world, anonymously of course, really spoke to this experience. “Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck on a ferris wheel. One minute I’m on top of the world, then the next I’m rock bottom.”

It’s an idea that stays consistent throughout the entire film and really hits home about the high school experience of being in the closet. You forget in the craziness of senior year what you’re hiding, but then you get a moment alone and it all seeps back in.

The movie ends on a glorious note. We see Simon finally unite with Blue. We see a beautiful kiss at the top of the ferris wheel. My audience cheered loudly. I smiled and ruminated. Simon got what he deserved. A boyfriend, a group of friends that love him, and a kiss that he can cherish for the rest of his life.

I came out in college, as I couldn’t stand the thought of what would happen if I officially said something in high school. I didn’t get the high school boyfriend. I didn’t get the driving around the suburbs late at night with iced coffee talking and jamming. I didn’t get the ferris wheel moment, and yet, I still left the movie feeling hopeful.

After coming out, I felt trapped between being stereotyped and my need to stay in hiding, even though I was finally being true to myself. However, like Jennifer Garner says, you leave with the ability to exhale. You’ve dealt with sadness and secrets for your whole life, and now, you can finally enjoy and be present.

I left Love, Simon ready to head to the top of the ferris wheel,  and to search for my own iced coffee person, my own Blue.

So, thanks to everyone involved with Love, Simon for making the movie that I wish I had when I was younger, but also the movie I am glad I have now.

Time’s Up for Disney’s Lack of Women in Film

I sit here after watching this year’s Golden Globes telecast. This will go up a week later, but the sentiments shared through the show can still be heard and felt. From Oprah’s stunning 9-minute oratory to Reese & Laura’s beautiful words after winning their respective awards for Big Little Lies, the #MeToo and #TIMESUP movements are here to stay.

We are living in a fabulous time for women. No longer must they feel the need to stay silent about pay disparity, sexual harassment and assault, or any lack of equality in any medium. However, this movement has grown out of Hollywood. The back-to-back Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey draggings have kick-started the process of weeding out the men who do not deserve any accolade of any kind, but are someone still allowed to flourish in the entertainment industry. (See here and here and here)

With this movement to weed out the bad also allows for a push to bring forward the good. Women deserve starring roles in films. Women deserve directing jobs. Women deserve to write screenplays and edit films and sound mix and costume design and score. They deserve every role any male has ever had, period end-of-story.

If we look through a Disney lens, we can see that the movement has started creating small waves. A Wrinkle in Time is being written by Jennifer Lee and directed by Ava DuVernay (the first woman of color to every be given the reigns to direct a film with a budget over $100 million). Mulan is being directed by Niki Caro. Now, there are a few screenplays co-written by women (Wreck-It Ralph 2, Nutcracker and the 4 Realms, Christopher Robin, Aladdin), but the only women directors lined-up are Ava, Niki, and Jennifer Lee (co-directing Frozen 2).

If we bring Marvel and Lucasfilm into the fray, we find that Captain Marvel is the only one with a woman attached and, once again, it’s co-directing with a man.

Disney has found it very easy to pat themselves on the back for hiring women directors, but three out of a double-digit slate is humorous.

Two big budget franchises are being discussed for Disney right now, with Artemis Fowl and Sword in the Stone adaptations on the way. These can end up being multi-film franchises with big bucks and big opportunities paired with them. Yet, Artemis is going to Kenneth Branagh (white man) and the Sword is going to, reportedly, Ridley Scott (white man). Now, there is nothing wrong with these men. They are great directors. However, if we are championing ourselves for allowing women to join the conversation and be a part of these films, going right back to their old white men tricks leaves something big to be desired.

I don’t want to hear any excuses from them, either. It’s not like women directors are hard to find, they just aren’t getting the work because no one will allow them to have it. Queen Sugar and this upcoming season of Jessica Jones have female directors for every single episode. Hire some female directors. It’s not hard, you’re just lazy.

Look, here’s a nifty database that compiles over 1000 female directors that would love to be able to put their spin on a live-action fairytale or an original story! Now there’s even less of an excuse!

Same goes for screenwriters (I’m all for a collaborative effort, but why not MULTIPLE women?!), editors, songwriters, composers, etc. Every role can be a woman and every role should be a woman.

On top of all this, we still have to deal with John Lasseter being the worst. When statements come out against someone saying that they needed chaperones for an adult male to make sure he wasn’t creepy and gross to character performers, he needs to go. No 6-month sabbatical. He needs to go.

Since the onslaught of men being outed as awful people is coming at such a rapid pace, some still want to look to their artistic achievements as  reason enough for them to remain in the public eye, but that can’t happen. It continues to perpetuate the cycle and fineness with harassment and assault occurring. Even if John Lasseter is the person who saved Disney Animation, it doesn’t matter. Nothing is worth keeping around someone who has ruined many women’s lives.

The best thing for Disney to do would be replace him with a woman to show solidarity and to help get more women into roles that are lacking their presence, within animation especially, but within the company as a whole. I hear Jennifer Lee is free…

Time’s Up. Movies aren’t a man’s game any longer.

(To donate to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, providing subsidized legal support to those affected by workplace sexual harassment and assault, head here)

“All the Stars” are Aligned for the Black Panther Soundtrack

I would argue that the last time a non-musical soundtrack became a bonafide sensation was Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and that was in 2000. The soundtrack went 8 times platinum, won Album of the Year at the 2002 Grammys, and has become more popular than the film itself.

Soundtracks used to be an integral part of the movie experience, adding to the anticipation or the post-viewing coma. You’d buy the album the moment it was released to get you excited for the movie, go see the movie opening weekend, then obsess over the album some more after you watched.

For some reason, that experience has vanished, mostly because we consume music in new and innovative ways. We are in a single-based music industry now, and because of this studios don’t find that creating a perfect soundtrack is as beneficial to create “buzz” around their film as much as one song can. Look at the Hunger Games franchise: We received soundtracks, but they were never as buzzy as one song from each (“Safe and Sound” for the OG film and “The Hanging Tree” from Mockingjay Part 1, which became an accidental smash.)

Luckily, Disney is helping revitalize the dying soundtrack genre by bringing Kendrick Lamar, the biggest male rapper in the world right now, to produce and personally curate the Black Panther soundtrack. I was stunned when I read the headline, ’cause that is a HUGE get.

It shows the power of the representation. When you have a black superhero, in addition to some strong kicka** black women, the community you are representing is going to lift you up and deliver the results you want to see. Kendrick, one of the biggest and most sought after stars today, will create a soundtrack because he wants to support the representation and his community. It’s common sense, and for some reason, entertainment companies still don’t get it. I mean, just look at this video Ava DuVernay tweeted out the other day:

THAT is the power of representation. THAT is the power of creating heros that represent all people, not just straight white men. THAT is the power of visibility. Ugh, the video makes me so happy. ANYWHO, back to music…

With the announcement came the release of the first single off the album, “All the Stars” sung by Kendrick Lamar and SZA (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists right now). This song is…how do I put this eloquently? Everything. It is everything. It is serving up an ethereal trip to another dimension by way of Wakanda purity realness. SZA’s voice on the track gives me chills. CHILLS, I SAY!

If this is the tone and mood we have to look forward to on this soundtrack, it’s going to become the Album of the Year, I can guarantee it. I was already stoked for Black Panther, even as a non-superhero fan, because of how crazy good it looks (and my queen, Lupita Nyong’o), but this soundtrack is getting me even more excited.

Be sure to check out “All the Stars” on Apple Music or wherever you listen and to go see Black Panther when it heads to theaters on February 16th.

 

Grown-ish, Yara Shahidi, and the Allure of Nostalgia

College sucks. I mean, at least for me, it has been the worst experience of my life. I’ve jumped from school-to-school, on-campus to online, trying to find something that makes school tolerable for me and nothing has worked. I’ve tried two universities and two separate majors across my four years in higher education and all of it has, to put it plainly, sucked. I’ve been angry at the ways these institutions take my money for no reason, how they price gouge for textbooks, how they don’t care about students (I’ve had one actually helpful advisor out of five. OUT OF FIVE.), etc. My on campus experiences have been secluded (partly due to my own decisions, I’ll take the blame for that.) that’s led to depression and loneliness. And yet, after watching the first two episodes of Grown-ish, the Black-ish spin-off that premiered January 3rd on Freeform, I want the college experience.

I want to have a crew of 6 best friends who go out partying and pregame in my dorm and who have 2am study sessions in the on-campus library/Starbucks and tailgate at football games and sneak into frat parties and WHAT?! WHO AM I BECOMING?!

This isn’t the first time I’ve been nostalgic about the “college experience,” but it’s the most profound. I currently go to the University of Florida through their online program, but I’ve been an on-campus student during two separate semesters, both being awful experiences. Not because of the people I’ve met (Shout out to my Acting 1 and Beginning Costume classes! Hope y’all are well!), but because that environment is just toxic for me. I was nostalgic for the classic brick campus and bell tower before, leading me to move back for the Spring semester last year and go “Oh right, this sucks…why am I here?”

Grown-ish gave me the same effect.  The camaraderie the cast shares right out of the gate is infectious and it makes me want to have that same experience.

It brings up an interesting point about how powerful the drug of nostalgia can be. Look at the current political climate: We are all nostalgic for the Bush years because our current administration is led by a human circus peanut and his gaggle of buffoons. Yet, those years included horrible words against the LGBTQ+ community and, oh that’s right, A WAR. That’s where we are now. Nostalgic for a war.

Grown-ish gave me that personal nostalgia drug of wanting to relive an awful experience, which shows how perfectly it understands the college experience today. The 2nd episode revolved around adderall and was pitch perfect in its ability to show how it has become synonymous with the millennial college experience. It was laugh-out-loud funny, while also bringing up some great points. Why has adderall become some common? Is it causing better grades for students across the board? Would students be able to thrive without it?

My favorite part about the show just two episodes in is the lack of condescension towards young people and their ideas. This is a show from the viewpoint of students, not from the viewpoint of adults about students. It makes everything feel more truthful and more lived in.

Yara Shahidi, activism goddess walking among us peasants, was recently on The View. Her talking points were all eloquent and thorough and helped me understand certain buzzy topics, like the current protests in Iran (for those unaware, she is Iranian with family members currently in the thick of the protests.) However, everytime she made a great point that deserved applause from the audience (commonplace on The View), the co-hosts had to point out her age. Meghan McCain said, after Yara’s thoughts on the recent Tr*mp “Bigger Button” tweets, “By the way, that is a very good take for a 17-year-old.” After Yara’s informative thoughts on the Iranian protests, Whoopi Goldberg gave a congratulatory “go ahead!” I don’t think either of these women meant to come across this way, but both comments came across as condescending. A 17-year-old? With an opinion? THAT’S SMART?! Say it isn’t so!!!

Grown-ish is proud about the commentary it has on the millennial experience, the college experience, the black experience, etc. It should be proud, it’s speaking with voices we haven’t heard from yet on television and it’s so refreshing.

Grown-ish airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on Freeform and I really suggest you tune in. It’s a fantastic comedy about what our generation deals with in college. Appreciate all it has to say, but if you’re getting nostalgic for the college experience, be sure to really consider it before you jump back into the real-life environment. Take it from one who has been there and back. Woof.

Andi Mack’s LGBTQ Storyline Is Revealed

Thursday the news broke that Andi Mack would be receiving the first coming-out storyline in the history of Disney Channel (or any live-action American kids show, for that matter). I saw the headline and knew that it had to be Cyrus.

If you’ve watched the show at all (which you really must, as it’s fantastic), you probably guessed Cyrus would be receiving the storyline as well. I was hoping it would happen as I watched Season 1, as all signs pointed to it. Joshua Rush, the actor who plays Cyrus, was adding quirks here and there that I absolutely related to every time I caught them. The excitement of having a girlfriend, even when you knew it wasn’t in a attraction way. Feeling super awkward around the cute popular guys. Never understand “bro” stuff. Feeling super self-conscious being called girly. He played every one of those situations with great finesse, but also with an underlying understanding that there was more to Cyrus than what was being said aloud.

Friday night Andi Mack returned for a 2nd season with an hour-long premiere. The moment occurred about 20 minutes in and once Buffy sat across from Cyrus at The Spoon, I knew it was coming. The music stopped. The emotions were high. Take a look:

I didn’t expect to cry, but I did. A lot. I don’t think a tear has rolled down my cheek in at least 3 years. It was a combination of so many things. It was knowing that so many kids will watch this and it will help them realize something about themselves. It was being proud that Disney was the one to break this ground for a children’s program. It was relating to that moment. It was seeing that strong support system from Buffy (the fab Sofia Wylie) was in place. It was hearing “You’re No Different.”

The cast of the show has been using social media to express support for the storyline and understand the weight of this monumental scene. They’ve been using #YoureNoDifferent and that is such a strong message within this context for the network.

I was stunned at how much weight the moment had within the episode and how it was handled. Joshua’s answer to “Do you like Andi?” was so powerful that it hit me like a brick wall. It had so much behind it. That feeling of knowing that the truth is about to come out, and the reaction from the person could go very wrong very fast, but not being able to say anything in response. It was fantastic. He couldn’t even get the word “no” out of his mouth, as he didn’t want to say anything that could insinuate anything to Buffy.

Buffy’s comforting, yet forceful “You’ll be okay. I promise,” made the tears flow even faster. He has a strong support system in place which will make this personal journey for him so much easier.

Later in the episode, they touched on some topics that excite me for the rest of the season. They touched on competing for the same boy (in a light hearted way). Cyrus brought up having a “cover-up” girlfriend, or rather, just getting a girlfriend when he’s coming to terms with his own sexuality. Buffy realized, very quickly, that the coming out process isn’t a one-and-done situation and he’ll have to be patient with Cyrus as he comes to terms with himself more and more. It was all superbly done.

I know that if I saw this as a tween, I don’t think I would’ve been as combative. I wouldn’t have felt the need to suppress the word for years, even though I knew, deep down, it was true. I would’ve found my own Buffy, gone to her, and helped be my true self.

I didn’t expect to feel so proud of a character or so emotional. I am not one to cry over things, but I’ve cried three times over the scene. THREE.

I hate saying the word proud in these cases, as I have no relation to these cast members or “ownership” of the show, however I can’t find a better word to describe my feelings. I am so proud of the cast and crew of Andi Mack for tackling this storyline. I’m proud of Terri Minsky for making sure this aired on Disney Channel. I’m proud of Disney for airing it and bringing in GLAAD and other LGBTQ representation groups to work on getting the plot just right. I’m proud of Joshua Rush and Sofia Wylie for being at the forefront of this storyline and being incredible at revealing all the emotions surrounding it time and time again. I’m just proud.

I’m looking forward to the conversations this will bring up. I’m looking forward to see how this plotline continues. I’m looking forward to crying more.

 

 

 

 

Preserving the Heart of the Tahitian Language with “Moana”

I am so grateful and thrilled to introduce this fantastic post by Dr. Natalie Keefer, my former AP Human Geography teacher! She got really got me into linguistics, so I had to ask her to write about this. Enjoy! 

Thousands of years ago, small groups of humans sailed towards far away lands in the Pacific with a keen sense of how to navigate through the Pacific Sea on small sailboats. Over time, the language spoken by these peoples would morph into what is known as the Polynesian language family – a cluster of languages widely spoken on the Pacific Islands. From these languages were born the cultures that inspired the creation of Disney’s movie Moana. Since language is the heartbeat of culture, transmitting its myths, beliefs, and customs, the upcoming Tahitian language version of Moana is an important decision on the part of Disney to honor and preserve the Polynesian cultures that are represented in the film.

Disney wisely assembled a group of experts in Polynesian culture, known as the Oceanic Trust, to serve as culture, language, music, and dance advisors during the creation of the movie. The Oceanic Trust was comprised of a team of anthropologists, historians, linguists, and cultural experts on Polynesian culture who lent their expertise in assuring as much cultural authenticity as possible in the creation of Disney’s Moana. However, the movie Moana was still subject to scrutiny. One of the complaints from Polynesian community concerned the depiction of the revered Polynesian God Maui who is portrayed in Polynesian folklore as a trim and powerful youth. Why was he stereotypically depicted as an obese Samoan surfer-dude? Also, the use of coconuts to portray the Kakamora, short-statured people from the Solomon Islands, as pirates appropriates from a cringe worthy cultural slur of Polynesians as “coconut people”.1 Lastly, Polynesian culture is diverse; there are numerous differences in ritual, language, and beliefs across the vast expanse of the Pacific. However, in Moana the mix of Polynesian culture and language was depicted as uniform. Despite these concerns, the Oceanic Trust’s advice was instrumental in creating a film that included many accurate representations of Polynesian dance, song, and culture. The Oceanic Trust was also influential is securing from Disney an agreement to produce the much-anticipated Tahitian version of the movie as homage to the Tahitian culture and language.

In the English version of Moana, Polynesian language is interspersed throughout the film, mostly included in the Tokelauan lyrics of the song We Know the Way. This is prehistorically accurate if Moana is Samoan, hailing from the birthplace of Polynesian culture before the reawakening of island exploration.2 Today only a few thousand speakers of the Tokelauan language remain. Most speakers of Tokelauan live on islands that belong to American Samoa where the predominant language is English. This leaves the Tokelauan language at risk of becoming extinct, and with the extinction of the language comes the extinction of the culture, including its folklore, beliefs, and the secrets of the way of life of its speakers. It is for this reason that the retelling of Moana in another Polynesian language, Tahitian, is important for the preservation of Polynesian culture and language.

Fewer than 125,000 people speak the Tahitian language in French Polynesia. Its closest relatives are languages spoken in the Pacific such as Hawaiian and Rarotongan, a Maori dialect spoken on the Cook Islands.3 In order to preserve Polynesian culture the use of Polynesian languages in schools, in the community, and in the media is essential. In the South Pacific, English and French are widely represented in the media and spoken for business purposes. The dominance of English and French in the South Pacific has led to the near extinction of thousands of local languages such as Tokelauan and Hawaiian. On the Hawaiian Islands, for example, there are fewer than 2,000 native speakers. Tahitian is not in as precarious of a situation as Tokelauan or Hawaiian because it is still used in the media. Tahitian enjoys limited use in schools, allowing children to be socialized and educated in the language, yet another example of how Tahitian has fared better than its linguistic counterparts on other Polynesian islands. This may be why Disney selected Tahitian for the Polynesian language version of Moana. There are enough Tahitian speakers today that creating a version of Moana in this language can have an impact on the preservation of Polynesian culture and language. Polynesian language use in movies such as Moana, and Disney’s pledge to produce a Tahitian language version of the film is an important step on the road to preserve and instill pride in Polynesian culture for future generations.

Casting for the Tahitian language version of Moana began in October, 2016 with the assistance of Oceanic Trust member Hinano Murphy. Ms. Murphy can select the cast of Moana from a relatively large population of Tahitian speakers. Tahitian is the most widely spoken of the indigenous languages in French Polynesia, with 24% of all inhabitants speaking Tahitian at home. Hinano Murphy hopes that the Tahitian version of Moana will serve as an educational tool that will inspire the Tahitian community to maintain their pride and use of the Tahitian language. Ms. Murphy’s sentiment is key because children’s films such as Moana target the youth population that is vital for language revitalization projects. Teachers and parents will be able to use Moana as an educational resource for teaching children the Tahitian language in its spoken form. Successful language revitalization programs target youth, especially when indigenous languages, like Tahitian, were replaced by European languages for communication and business. In these cases, generational language loss often occurred because parents and members of the community believed that the indigenous language was not valuable for their children in the job market. However, a Tahitian language version of Disney’s Moana may inspire hope for many people who are interested in the revival of indigenous Polynesian languages.4 Disney’s popularity among children and parents has the capacity to reinforce pride in Polynesian culture, and the Tahitian version of the Moana will serve as an effective educational resource for Polynesian culture and the Tahitian language.

 

References

1.      Herman, Doug. “How the Story of “Moana” and Maui Holds Up Against Cultural Truths”. The Smithsonian. December 2, 2016. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-story-moana-and-maui-holds-against-cultural-truths-180961258/

2.      de Ferrière, Jacques Franc. “The True Origins of Disney Princess Moana”. Tahiti Infos. July 9, 2017. http://www.tahiti-infos.com/The-true-origins-of-Disney-princess-Moana_a142314.html#

3.      “Tahitian”. Omniglot. July 9, 2017. http://www.omniglot.com/writing/tahitian.htm

4.      “Disney Offers Tahitian Translation of Moana”. ABC News: Pacific Beat. November 11, 2016. http://www.abc.net.au/news/programs/pacific-beat/2016-11-11/disney-offers-tahitian-translation-of-moana/8019132

 

 

Natalie Keefer is an Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education with a background in educational anthropology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

 

Ariel: Underrated Feminist?

Ariel is our favorite red-headed mermaid, and yet she never gets the credit she deserves. She kickstarted the resurgence of Disney Princesses in animated films, but she is pushed to the side for not being as progressive as the other women around her. Belle is a book lover and a caring soul. Jasmine is tired of the patriarchy, with Merida agreeing wholeheartedly. Pocahontas is an eco-warrior and Mulan is a legit warrior. We consistently hear “Not your average Disney Princess” as a descriptor for new films, and yet, the average Disney Princess now is strong, independent, and a proud feminist.

Yet, Ariel always get shoved into the grouping with Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (Sorry, ladies). I firmly believe our favorite friend under the sea doesn’t deserve the shade being thrown her way. Ariel is just as feminist as the others and that should be celebrated.

People associate Ariel with “But Daddy, I LOVE HIM!” and “I’m 16, I’m not a child,” which is relatively damming evidence for adhering to gender roles, but we forget how independent she is from the get-go. She is very interested in humans from the start, but the force of her father won’t allow her to educate herself. She is placed in a box, that being a singer with her family band (very “Partridge Family”). Her father wants her to just sing, and in the words of Belle, can anyone be happy if they aren’t free? She doesn’t enjoy singing, she enjoys learning. Ariel is risking her life to acquire more human artifacts just to comprehend the world above her. She just wants to learn. Honestly, it’s a very Fahrenheit 451 situation, especially after her father destroys her grotto. Even with “Part of Your World” being her I-want-song, it is just a list of things she wants to learn about the human world. Ariel needs information, gosh darn it!

When Eric is introduced, it isn’t a strictly love situation. “But she says she does, like, blatantly!” Yes, I realize annoyed reader. However, the love is also towards the idea of humans. She wants to know what’s above her and that just happens to include Eric. Then she saves his life, y’all. Did Cinderella save anyone’s life? Um, no. Getting close to Eric during the rescue on the beach piques her interest even more as she’s never been that close to a completely new species before, especially one she’s been enamored with since birth. It was, in her mind, as if all these years spent interested and compiling information and looking on from a far were finally rewarded. I liken it to you finally meeting your favorite celebrity. You’ve followed their social media, you’ve watched their films/listened to their music/watched their every move, and now you are seeing them in person. You’d have some pretty strong feelings in that moment, too, and for Ariel, they occurred in her mind as love.

Ursula’s contract states that to become a human for good, she must receive Eric’s true love’s kiss. Now, the love is nice incentive and there is clearly a reason for its existence, but she wants to kiss him more to remain a human and not strictly for the relationship. Really, Eric is the one who is more in it for love. He is in search of the girl who saved him in the hopes to fall in love with her, strictly based on her voice. Eric is solely on this hunt for a wife with no concept of the repercussions or weirdness of the whole thing, easily making him the worst character in the film, even if his ship captaining does kill Ursula in the finale. As the film draws to a close, Ariel gets to remain human for the rest of her days as her father (FINALLY) sees what she’s been fight for her whole life. She was a human born in a mermaid’s body and she can finally live her truth. She can finally be where the people are!

Ariel is a feminist. She revolts against the patriarchy and gender roles her stern father has assigned to her and eventually gains freedom and the chance to be her true self. I love Ariel and will never be ashamed to say that.