Disney and Pixar recently released “Lightyear,” which is an animated movie about the superhero that influenced the toy Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story series. However, it is not the plot line that is stirring up the galaxy. Originally, Disney had chosen to remove a scene with two women sharing a brief kiss from the movie. After the backlash from Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the decision of the LGBTQIA+ employees at Pixar to write an open letter to Disney criticizing the cut, the scene was restored to the movie. This has caused the movie to be banned in at least 14 countries, and critics are saying that this “adult material” should not be in a children’s movie.
The arguments against keeping this scene highlight heterosexism (discrimination based on sexuality/sexual orientation), showing us that LGBTQIA+ individuals are still not supported in the United States as much as non-LGBTQIA+ individuals. It also shows us that the stereotypical “family” means a mom, dad, two kids, a dog, and a picket fence. The idea that a family could look like the couple in the movie is being silenced, specifically because there are opponents who do not want children “exposed” to different ways of being a family.
This type of response to a same-sex kiss reinforces the idea that family needs to look a certain way and be taught as the only “right” way to be a family. For children of same-sex couples, this scene is one of the only instances in a mainstream, animated film to represent their families. Representation of same-sex couples, single parents, children living with grandparents or other family members, or adopted children occurs significantly less than the “nuclear” family.
The issue of erasing same sex couples from children’s media is nothing new. In 2002, Nickelodeon aired a special show called, “My Family is Different,” and featured children of same-sex parents talking with other children whose parents oppose same-sex relationships. This show received significant criticism and opposition, going so far as to call it a “pro-homosexual agenda.” In 2005, we saw this happen again on PBS, when Buster Baxter visited children of two lesbian mothers on the “Arthur” spin-off show, “Postcards from Buster.” This episode was pulled for “misuse of government funding,” according to the Secretary of Education at that time. However, in 2019, PBS redeemed the narrative when Mr. Ratburn married his partner, Patrick. Some Alabama PBS stations still banned the episode. Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Amazon Video have been actively working to involve more representation of all sorts of family dynamics, especially throughout the 2010s until today, but “Lightyear” is here to break the wall that has been built around animation on the big screen.
The LGBTQIA+ employees at Pixar have made it possible for more visibility of these identities in children’s movies, demonstrating diversity of family dynamics. Whether you go to the theater to see “Lightyear,” or if you decide this movie is not your thing, you can inspire change. Think about what you can do to bring more visibility of family structures that break out of the expected narrative. Take some time this week to journal about your experiences with familialism. Write about what comes to mind when you hear the word, “family,” thinking about who you consider to be your family. What family dynamics did you see or learn about growing up? Is your picture of what family means reflective of your own experience?