For this week’s column I’m getting a little personal because I think a lot of you will relate, post Thanksgiving and heading into the rest of the holidays. It was just 11 years ago my family was debating the merits of Proposition 8 as we stuffed ourselves with turkey and cranberry sauce. As we all know, the Prop ended up passing, making “only marriage between a man and a woman valid or recognized in California,” and thus overturning the previous California Supreme Court decision. This was actually about a month before I came out, and I remember some hesitation from my family around supporting the LGBTQ community as well as confusion on how separate but equal civil unions weren’t enough. My 85-year old Grandfather -who was born in Poland and fled Europe during the Holocaust- exclaimed at the time that he voted no on Prop 8 (supporting same-sex marriage) “because it was wrong” to discriminate. It’s a shame that he passed a year later and was unable to see just how much progress the LGBTQ community made in the decade since, including his own family.
This past Thanksgiving, I was lucky enough to wake up to a text from my cousin that read, “[My son] just asked for a husband in The Game of Life. He was very assertive. He said I have a family member who is gay and I want a husband. I was very proud of him.” The child in question is about to turn 9 years old, and boy have we come a long way. His family moved out of state when he was a toddler, so it’s not even the California liberal bubble informing his choice of words. I responded, “He may be too young to really know what that means (or maybe not), but either way I appreciate the support and it shows you did a great job raising him that he thinks it’s normal enough for him to say that, which it is and should be.” Whether he was simply advocating for his cousin or in fact, he ends up coming out later in life, I could never have imagined saying this when I was his age, let alone with such assertiveness.
Aside from being touched by this turn of events, it also made me thankful for future generations. Millennials and Gen Z-ers may get a bad rep sometimes, but they may be the group that overturns the social injustices that have existed in our country since its inception. As Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family progressed, I became even more sure of this. As often happens at the dinner table, a debate ensued, this one around Disney’s animated classics. I’m a huge Disney fan, as is my entire family. There’s a sense of nostalgia attached to them for everyone, and for my generation ’80s and ’90s features like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, in particular. Nevertheless, it was recently reported that many classic Disney films on Disney+’s streaming service have a disclaimer before they begin which reads, “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.” And as much as I love these films, I support this disclaimer being there 100%.
So how does this relate to the next generation? My cousins’ 5-year old daughter for example, has not connected with classic Disney films like Cinderella or Beauty and The Beast. Her dad said he wasn’t surprised, as he believes Beauty and The Beast has pretty much the same story as Phantom of the Opera, except Beauty and The Beast gives a romantic, “happy” ending to the abusive monster kidnapping the young woman when they end up together, as opposed to Phantom where she escapes. He has also not let his kids see The Little Mermaid yet, due to the story’s message of a young woman giving up her life and her voice to be with a man.
These interpretations of such classic films unsurprisingly made a lot of the older adults at Thanksgiving dinner uncomfortable, including my conservative parents. It must be shocking to them to hear that what they thought were wholesome children’s films are now being reinterpreted as nefarious. That is definitely a bit of hyperbole, and I’ll always still love these films. It doesn’t make the older generation bad people for loving them, either. But I can take a step back and look at these films with a critical, progressive eye as well and point out the areas where they fall short. More progressive Disney films like Frozen, Brave and Moana, only highlight the older princess-driven movies’ shortcomings, as the latter focus on strong, independent female representation and diversity. Still, they could go further- the ambiguous LGBTQ references in Frozen and more so Frozen 2, could have been more explicit. Some day.
It’s an unsettling time for our country, and PC and cancel culture are starting to see a backlash, but the sensitivity and rejection of stereotypes by today’s children is, I think, ultimately a good thing. To make a purposeful Frozen reference, the whole “conceal, don’t feel” mantra that’s pervaded our culture stemming from its puritanical roots seems to be slowly evaporating.
People are finally talking about their feelings and relating to each other or least trying to open their minds, be it about #MeToo, LGBTQ issues or Disney movies. Despite tensions that might arise when families gather, putting perspectives out there do help the stigmas to be lifted and make those who were once considered “other” feel included. The Stonewall Riots weren’t that long ago in the grand scheme of history, and the fact that a 9 year-old boy feels comfortable enough to ask for a husband in The Game of Life (an outdated board game in itself), is remarkable. We may not be anywhere close to where we need to be in terms of progress, equality and acceptance, but this Thanksgiving, I learned that, despite what’s on the news, we certainly are on the way there.