Recently, a new animated Netflix movie called The Mitchells vs. The Machines came out. Despite being animated, this movie is catered to people of all ages, as it focuses on a typical family struggling to get along and deal with their eldest daughter moving off to college while simultaneously fighting off robots during the robot apocalypse. Pretty normal, right? However, there was another strong creative decision the writers and producers of this film chose to make: the main character of the film is openly queer.
What I found most exciting about this was that it was just an added-in fact to the rest of the movie; it wasn’t the central part of the plot. While Katie Mitchell (the oldest child of the Mitchell family) made it pretty clear she was queer, it didn’t become the focus of the movie and take away from the actual story. Additionally, Katie’s sexuality wasn’t put in the spotlight to demonstrate to the audience that she was different. Her sexuality wasn’t compared to any of the sexualities of other characters in the movie, and thus her character was treated normally.
Although hearing news about this movie on social media excited me, I can’t say the same for everyone else. While trying to pick a movie to watch with my parents one night, The Mitchells vs. The Machines came up while we were scrolling through Netflix, and my dad made a joke about how it would be perfect for my mom to watch because she just loves animated movies (she doesn’t actually). When I realized what movie he was talking about, I excitedly told him, “This movie has an openly queer character as one of the leads!” After a few more comments, he said something along the lines of “Why would they want little kids to see that?” and I immediately counter-acted with “But what about the other animated films I watched growing up where the happy straight couple gets together with a true love’s kiss at the end?”
You see, my dad isn’t homophobic. He has just adapted to the stereotypes of heteronormativity. He sees an issue with showing young kids queer relationships, but not with showing them straight relationships. He thinks they’re too young to see two girls or two guys kiss, but not a girl and a guy. My dad is not unique in this way because many adults often share this opinion. I strongly believe this stems from how normalized being straight is, so much to the point that you’re assumed to be straight unless you “come out” as something else. But why is that? Why is one sexuality more “normal” than another? Who decides what is normal and what isn’t?
As I was talking to a friend, she disclosed to me that while growing up, she wasn’t even aware that same-sex relationships were a thing that existed. It wasn’t until she was in a hotel room with friends, watching Perks of Being a Wallflower, when she got quite a shock to find out romantic relationships could exist beyond the scope of a strictly male-female relationship. This conversation led me to realize how truly important it is that the media is representative of sexuality and identity, especially in shows intended for kids of a young age. If we can show straight and cisgender people, why can’t we show queer, transgender, or nonbinary people? What makes straight okay, and everything else inappropriate?
In a generation where our parents came from stricter ideologies and more conservative opinions, there is a strong reliance on media and the internet to teach and show us different perspectives of the world. While the media can be harmful and inaccurately portray LGBTQ+ culture, when used correctly, it can be a great resource for helping kids discover themselves instead of being forced into a heteronormative lifestyle. Showing kids there is more to life than just being straight or cisgender from a young age can encourage them to be more inclusive and understanding as they grow older, as well as lead them to embrace their true selves. Using subtle implications in children’s television and movies without making a big deal of it is a great start to that encouragement.