August 28, 2017

GOULDTHORPE | What “In A Heartbeat” Means for LGBT Media

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This past summer has been lukewarm for the box office, even for the animation industry. Critical receptions have capped at mildly positive, and the only animated movie to exceed $500 million worldwide has been Despicable Me 3. Contrast that with 2016 where, by September, two animated films had already neared or surpassed billion-dollar grosses. So I don’t want to talk about movies for now.

Instead, I want to talk about a little short called “In a Heartbeat”.

Since its release at the end of July, the short has garnered over 27 million views on YouTube. Created by Beth David and Esteban Bravo at the Ringling College of Art and Design, “In a Heartbeat” has won over online audiences. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend taking four minutes to watch it right here.

If you’re looking for a general synopsis though, the short follows a simple and familiar plot: a young schoolboy has feelings for one of his classmates, which he keeps on the downlow. However, one day the sight of his crush causes his heart to literally leap out of his chest. The heart only wants to be with the young boy’s crush, while the boy himself desperately tries to get it back under control before he’s discovered. The twist to the whole thing? His crush… is another boy.

Comments have predictably ranged from adoring to… well, less than adoring. As a gay man myself, I find it particularly endearing, but for a very particular reason. I don’t like it simply because there’s a same-sex relationship depicted. Rather, I love how it’s depicted, and it’s the “how” that makes me feel like it’s a step in the right direction for the LGBT community.

If you haven’t watched the short already, I strongly urge you to do so. As you watch it, I want you to replace one of two main characters with a girl. What do we get? A short that’s still endearing and charming that shows what it’s like to be in love. “In a Heartbeat” doesn’t simply use gay characters as a gimmick to reel in viewers.

As a contrast, let’s take the latest Beauty and the Beast remake. Disney raised all kinds of fuss over how the new LeFou was going to be gay, and worked it up into a big deal. And what did we get? Approximately two seconds of screentime shoehorned into the finale where he dances with another guy.  In other words, Disney relied on the “shockingness” of an LGBT character to draw audiences without actually making him that much of a character.

That’s why “In a Heartbeat” is so refreshing. The characters’ orientation certainly draws a lot of audiences, but that novelty takes a backseat to the story unfolding. And that’s exactly how it should be.

The LGBT community has come a long, long way, and society has for the most part accepted us (certain fundamentalist folks notwithstanding). Events like Pride have done a lot to raise the visibility of the community. However, if the community wants to fully integrate into society as equals, we need to normalize our presence. And, to be frank, Pride parades don’t really accomplish that.

I’m not saying Pride events have not been useful and important, and they may yet be useful and important well into the future, but some day they will have to cease if we want to be accepted as normal. On that day, LGBT media that relied on “HEY LOOK GAY PEOPLE! That’s novel, give us money!” is going to look horribly dated, possibly even outright offensive. “In a Heartbeat”, meanwhile, will hold up.

Another aspect of the short I like is how the characters are just schoolchildren. There’s an innocence to it, a chastity you would see in a Disney short. Again, another shortcoming of Pride is that it’s not always G-rated. “In a Heartbeat” can be shown to children, a demographic that needs this media more than adults. Esteban Bravo spoke to NBC about this very issue, saying “…we wanted to challenge the preconceived notion that LGBT content is not appropriate or suitable for younger audiences” by making “an innocent and lighthearted story about a boy and his crush that we hope will resonate with younger people.” Their goal is more important than you may realize.

Childhood romances can be confusing, and are a time where kids begin to grapple with emotions they have not experienced before. Condemning their emotions as wrong only confuses the process, and leads to more problems in the future. Media is part of how we socialize our children into the world, and it’s important that we show them all kinds of experiences that people may have. It won’t give them a step-by-step how-to, but it may at least give them some idea on how people may react.

“In a Heartbeat” also benefits from being a flat-out well-made short. The visual storytelling is masterful, with not a single word of dialogue showing up anywhere. The character animation brims with energy, switching between comic and emotional very well. A delicate and stirring musical score helps to accent the mood. Overall, it’s just so well done!

Many comments have demanded “Why isn’t this a movie yet?!” and honestly I feel their desires. I would love to see Beth David and Esteban Bravo move on to big-budget projects with even wider releases. With this short film, made only as students, they’ve mastered what representation should be about: it’s not about holding different races/genders/orientations as trophies, but rather as different people who can experience regular storylines as much as anyone else. A wonderful short, and I look forward to seeing more from this duo.

David Gouldthorpe is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected] Animation Analysis will appear alternate Tuesdays this semester.