Sep 17, 2012


In the U.S., movies and tv programs aimed at a juvenile audience are strictly censored.  Kids never hear or see anything that suggests the existence of boys who like boys or girls who like girls.  Period. Ever.  And if a writer, actor, or director manages to squeeze in a subtle hint, the howls of outrage begin.

Even if there are no hints.  In 2006, fans of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody discovered that actor Patrick Bristow, who played restaurant maitre d' Patrick, was gay in real life.  About 50% of the posts on the Suite Life fansite screamed that he should be immediately fired, lest the world come to an end.  The other 50% were more "tolerant," stating that it was ok to hire a gay actor as long as his character was absolutely, emphatically straight.  Not one post said it would be ok to have a gay character on the program.

American movies are censored even more.  I can only remember one juvenile movie -- and I've seen lotd -- with gay characters.  In Good Boy! (2003), alien explorers masquerade as dogs and take up residence with human families.  One of the "dogs" lives with a gay male couple, who appear briefly, twice.

And that's it.

So it came as a pleasant surprise when I saw Paranorman (2012), a stop-action animated film about a boy with paranormal powers who encounters a 300-year old witch's curse and zombie Puritans.  He gathers a ragtag band of allies -- his teenage sister (Courtney), his best friend (Neil), Neil's teenage brother (Mitch), and the school bully (Alvin).

Wait -- a teenage boy and a teenage girl?  We see where this is headed! The heterosexism of the American cinema demands that every movie end with a man and a woman in love.  And Courtney begins throwing herself at the studly Mitch the moment she meets him.

But something is different about Courtney's attentions -- they are portrayed as ludicrous, desperate, at her expense, while Mitch rather pointedly ignores them.

It is not unprecedented for teenage boys in kids' movies to be oblivious to girls' advances -- they usually are too dim-witted or naive to notice, and they come around at the denouement.  But Mitch does not.  At the conclusion, in a last-ditch effort, Courtney asks him to a movie.  He consents -- as long as his boyfriend can come -- since he's a fan of chick flicks, too.  Finally defeated, Courtney gives up.

Another joke at Courtney's expense, and it comes and goes so fast, with such utter nonchalance,  that some viewers could have missed it.  But there it was -- Mitch. Boyfriend.  30,000,000 kids just learned that same-sex romance exist.

There have been screams, but fewer, and less shrill, than one would expect.  Maybe the screamers are getting tired.

By the way, there's a gay subtext, too, as Neil aggressively courts Norman, and whispers to his brother "Don't spoil this for me!  I really like him!"

Can you have a gay subtext and a gay character in the same movie?

Paranorman is #6 on the list of 10 Gay Movies I Loved

Read an interview with writer/director Chris Butler in Instinct magazine.