The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Senior Issue 2024
June 5, 2024

Hollywood’s next mountain

By Theo Miller and Max Strongman
News Editor and Opinions Editor

Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite thing to complain about on movie forums across the internet: representation. So often, this discussion comes down to complaining about forced representation, or the sort of representation that you can tell came from a group of boardroom executives saying to themselves, ‘this ought to buy us some social credit points.’ You know the ones. That all-female splash screen in Avengers: Endgame. A White main character with a Black supporting best friend. The token gay.

This sort of forced representation alienates not only the most vocal members of online movie forums, but also, in many cases, the very groups of people they are supposed to speak for. This is perhaps most prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community, whose primary representation seems to consist of background characters who are gay, seemingly to fill a checkbox; or, characters who’s entire onscreen arcs focus on one of two stereotyped depictions of gayness: discrimination or coming out. 

Rare as they may be, even the movies and shows who manage to portray this well seem to miss the point. Healthy representation means characters who are well written and central to the story, independent of their queerness.

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We all know that bad representation is rampant, so in this article, we wanted to highlight a few pieces of media who not only feature healthy LGBTQ+ representation, but also tell stories worth watching. 

Schitts Creek
Known for its clever jokes, ridiculously accurate acting, and compelling story, Schitts Creek is a brilliant tale of riches to rags. The Rose family went from multimillon-dollar mansion, to run-down motel in a rural, Podunk town ironically known as Schitts Creek. Daniel Levy, the show’s co-creator, writer and lead actor, plays a pansexual character. 

The six-season long series depicts queerness in a way that is normal, not some atypical fact which must be shouted from the rooftops and worn on one’s sleeve (unless, of course, that is something you choose to do). The reduction of gayness to some generalized queer character, the token gay in media, is to alienate and conjure up a narrative that is not our own. Instead, the way in which Daniel Levy’s character, David Rose, comes out is representative of what should be a differentiated queer experience in film and media: normalized, not ostracized—non-chalant, not all-encompassing.

That is not to say we should not tell the coming out stories at all, but that coming out should not be all gay narratives. I had MAST English teacher, Dr. Bañal—who received her doctorate in literature, authoring a dissertation surrounding queer aesthetics convening during the Victorian era—opine on this same disparity, the gravity of distinguishing alternate types of queer experiences. 

“I think it’s still relevant to a lot of young people [seeing the coming out process in media], to see the different kinds of ways to do that. And in different settings, not just within traditionally White, American families, but—let’s say—in Latinx families, or Black families, or minority cultures. While those [coming out] stories are important, especially to young people, there’s lots of different topics, plot lines, and characters who are queer and are attached to queerness that are worthy of feature-length films and TV shows. The closet shouldn’t be central to every character’s arc. For some queer people, the closet is important and was a formidable part of their development as a person; for others, it isn’t so much,” MAST’s Dr. Bañal said on the topic of generalization of queer characters.

While at the convenient store looking for wine, David and close friend Stevie Budd share David’s coming out moment with the audience. Using a wine analogy, the Schitts Creek’s writers were able to gloss over the idea of coming out, a serious moment made lighthearted and hilarious. Keeping in mind that red wine and white wine are equated to men and women, respectively, the exchange went as follows:

Stevie: “So, just to be clear, I’m a red wine drinker.”

David (blankly): “That’s fine.”

Stevie: “Okay, cool. But uh, I only drink red wine.”

David (pleasantly confused): “Okay?”

Stevie: “And up until last night I was under the impression that you too only drank red wine. But I guess I was wrong?”

David: “I see where you’re going with this. Um… I do drink red wine. But I also drink white wine.”

Stevie: “Oh.”

David: “And I’ve been known to sample the occasional rose. And a couple summers back I tried a Merlot that used to be a Chardonnay.”

Stevie: “Yeah, so, you’re just really open to all wines.”

David: “I like the wine, and not the label.”

David Rose and Stevie Budd shopping for wines, discussing which grapes they prefer. (Photo by Max Strongman).

This clever coming out happens in the tenth episode, and is essentially forgotten throughout the rest of the show. What is remembered is not the coming out, by the witty writing and acting. David Rose is not remembered for his queerness, but for his snarky replies and stand-offish, comical commentary. Schitts Creek demonstrates queer representation done right, not forced or generalized, but lifelike and real—a reminder of the prevalence and validity of queer people on the whole.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
This one might come as a bit out-of-left-field for anyone with a memory for franchises in the 1980s to see this name dredged from the depths, but it is true. She Ra, once known for being a female (read: sexist?) spin-off of the He-Man cartoons and toys. It was promptly forgotten, thrown into the wastebasket of history after 2 seasons in 1986. 

However, in the great upcycling of franchises that defines modern media, She Ra reemerged in 2018 in an almost unrecognizable form as a Netflix original series, produced by Dreamworks. Captained by Noelle Stevenson, a celebrated cartoonist, the reboot tells the story of Adora, a defector from the Evil Horde, who receives the aid of a magical sword that transforms her into the aforementioned She Ra. The story focuses on her journey and found family, and her experiences with her former mates on the other side of a war for their planet. 

Major themes include abusive relationships, guilt, and neglect, but also the power of friendship and the importance of giving people second chances. The show features some incredibly well written and diverse characters, including countless POC (pastel or otherwise) and characters mental conditions like autism and learning disabilities. This is on top of more queer characters that I can fit on my hands, and even a nonbinary mercenary, who ends up carrying one of the most important scenes in the show. 

“[She Ra] is really the first actual explicit [relationship] I’ve seen in shows that I love.” said senior Grace Penza, who identifies as lesbian. “We don’t get enough queer fluff and happy endings. Our lives aren’t just tragedy.”

While ostensibly a kids show, She Ra transcends its target audience in every way and tells a mature tale that everyone with an appreciation for good storytelling can appreciate. All five seasons of She Ra and the Princesses of Power are streaming on Netflix.

The diverse cast of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power in action, preparing to combat forces of evil. (Photo courtesy of Netflix).

The Owl House
The newest entry on this list, The Owl House is important not only on it’s own merits, but also what it signals in the entertainment industry. The Owl House features Disney’s first bisexual lead, and also continues the legacy of excellence that was left from the conclusion of Gravity Falls in 2016. Actually, The Owl House is largely the same team from Gravity Falls, with Alex Hirch’s partner, Dana Terrace, serving as creator and showrunner, and Alex himself serving as a lead creative and voice actor. 

The show follows Luz, a human, as she is transported to the Boiling Isles, essentially a magic dimension, and taken under the wing of the public enemy number one: Eda the Owl Lady. Luz enrolls in Hexside, a school for witches where she makes waves as the only human to practice magic. 

“Disney is finally allowing LGBT protagonists with actual visibility. They’re notorious for leaving the community out of their movies for the sake of money,” Penza said over text. “They’re a huge company actually taking steps to put people over profit, which sets a great example for other companies.”

The show falls into that same category as Phineas and Ferb and the previously mentioned Gravity Falls: a kids show that can be enjoyed by all. The animation is gorgeous, the world is incredibly atmospheric, and Luz’s crew is a joy to watch. The show debuted last year, and season two is due sometime this year. The Owl House is available live on Disney XD or streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.

Luz and her date, Amity, dancing together at prom. (Photo courtesy of Disney+).
Beautiful animation featured in The Owl House. (Photo courtesy of Disney+).

Why is all of this important? As She-Ra actor Jacob Tobia put in an interview with NPR, it is the ability to have characters that “aren’t there to be the moral of the story, but are there to advance the story, to escalate conflict, and cause trouble.” Just as how Lt. Nyota Uhura and others were crucial in bringing Black characters out of token roles in the 1960s and into full roles alongside their White colleagues, LGBTQ+ representation is currently undergoing that same transformation. Penza reflected on this as well. 

“I wish my kids shows had me in them. It would have saved me a lot of questioning and given me security and self confidence.”

Like it or not, pop culture and entertainment shape the public consciousness. Bringing queer characters out of ‘gay stories’ and into larger, more general roles drives forth a more inclusive future for the entertainment industry, one fit for every character, every nuance of gayness. And we, for what it is worth, cannot wait to see where that future leads.

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Hollywood’s next mountain