story by: Caroline Bowers and Jamie Cummings
As the LGBT community has argued for greater representation among various sources of American media, gradually, some media sources have delivered. Increasingly progressive advertisements, television shows and movies with openly gay characters have grown in frequency in recent years. However, as many medias make this shift, the debate has also arisen over what is considered excessive, what representation is needed, and what, if anything, would be a compromise.
One of the most recent events to spark debate came with Disney’s release of the live-action adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast.” Before the release of the film, director Bill Condon promoted the film to have Disney’s first ever “exclusively gay moment.” LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick in the movie, is considered by many to be Disney’s first openly gay character. Although Disney has not made a statement denying or supporting this claim, Condon was adamant that this was the way the character was meant to be portrayed.
As a result, a wide range of reaction has ensued, including the film’s canceled debut in Malaysia and Kuwait, a rating in Russia of 16 years and older unless accompanied by an adult, and a ban of the movie at an Alabama drive-in theatre.
The film has also caused multiple organizations to promote boycotts and petitions against Disney. Life Petitions is among one of those promoting supporters to sign their petition protesting Disney’s “harmful sexual political agenda.”
“We believed it was not the part of Disney or anyone else to force an agenda down people’s throats. [Beauty and the Beast] is a beloved film, one that of course, attracted the hearts of many Americans. People want to be able to go to a movie that isn’t about pushing an agenda. Obviously, with this film, Disney was doing exactly that,” said John Henry Westen, co-founder and editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews.com.
Sophomore Lauren Turner believes that the moment in the newest Disney film was not “shoved in people’s faces.” She believes if the representation is part of a movie then it should just be a normalized part of the film and not the entirety of what the character represents.
According to the Life Petitions online campaign, those who sign the petition on their website are pledging to “boycott both the Beauty and the Beast movie, and other Disney films and products, until such a time as Disney commits itself to protecting, not harming, the innocence of […] children.”
Roberson Media Coordinator Mary Lyda believes boycotting the Disney film because of its inclusion of LGBT representation leads to less acknowledgement of the issues.
“I think the petitions are just silly. That would be just ignoring what exists in the world. They’re trying to boycott what doesn’t fit into their little narrow view of what life should be, so they want to make a big fuss about it,” Lyda said.
According to a 2015 survey by Gallup, the American public estimated that approximately 23 percent of Americans were gay or lesbian. However, in a more recent 2016 survey done by Gallup, in actuality, only approximately 4.1 percent of adults and 7.3 percent of millennials identified as LGBT. This skew in the public’s overestimation and the studies’ findings could potentially be a result of the increased representation of the LGBT community in the media.
The University of Southern California created the Critical Media Project in 2013 to analyze and promote cultural diversity in the media, whether that be differences in gender, race, class, or sexuality. One of the key concepts stated on the project’s website is that there has been “an increase in LGBT representation in the media since the late 1990s in film and television, but there are still very few prominent LGBT characters in mainstream media.”
Additionally, media aimed at the LGBT population has been pushed in advertising by several large corporations including Axe, Apple Inc. and Ikea.
Lyda believes that seeing the LGBT community represented in every day advertising, movies, and TV shows provides figures for youth to look up to.
“I think that if [the media] ignores the LGBTQ community in general and acts as if they don’t exist in the world, then LGBT kids will feel all alone and question if there’s adults like them out there who have normal lives,” Lyda said.
Turner believes that youth in the LGBT community need further representation in the media.
“If kids don’t have the representation or role models that most people do, it can be confusing. It’s such a growing community and people have realized that there is need and want [for representation,” Turner said.