Let me just warn you, beforehand. The new Disney short-film, ‘In a heartbeat’ is the most adorable thing you will watch on the internet right now. These four minutes of animation actually tell real stories of lifetimes embedded in distress, confusion, anxiety, depression, and inferiority complex, when what should have been questioned was the judgmental attitude and conception of the society, but what was questioned and tried negotiation with, was selves and aspirations.
Beth David and Esteban Bravo started making this film, when they were in college, and are overwhelmed by the positive reaction their effort has received. It has taken the internet by a storm. But what grabbed my attention was that one of them said that a large part of the messages they were getting was that people, from the queer community, actually telling them, that how sure of themselves, this film would have made them feel and all those fears and uncertainties would have gone far beyond, if they would have watched it, when they were growing up. Truly so, half the adolescence in a queer life is spent trying to figure out what label does its life belong to, and whatever is left, is spent trying to make peace with it, which obviously is not a deliberate action, but a consequence, because contrary to popular belief, one does not choose to be stuck in identity crisis.
So, the movie is certainly the cutest and the most adorable thing you will watch on the internet, but it surely raises some serious questions. First and foremost, the representation of queer characters in children cinema and literature. There’s been a huge hue and cry about the stereotypical representation of queer characters, mostly homosexual men, in visual media. However, queer representation in children’s cinema and a popularity at the same time, is definitely a rarity. I remember reading once, a few years back, that an American teacher was fired from his job for telling a fairy tale to students, that involved two princes in love with each other. The argument that the parents gave was obviously based on their ‘moral’ indignation, and religious views, that they don’t want values like this to be imparted to their children, and in no way, shall they think that homosexuality is accepted and tolerated in Christianity and that they did not want their children to be turned gay.
Now, it is not possible to voluntarily turn someone homosexual or straight for that matter, neither by electric shocks and Yoga, nor by watching queer characters in movies or plays or cartoons, or reading or listening about them. A child may be a born homosexual, but a child is never born homophobic. What happens in India, like I always say, is that the moment a child is born, it has to play or become a part of this vicious cycle of identity politics, where based on what reproductive organ they are born with, it is decided what will be its favourite hobby, what will it play or study or learn or eat, who will it marry. When you technically think about it, the identification of a sexual organ transcends into other markers of the child’s identity based on it, and in which the child, even when it grows, has no say. All this happens to take forward the patriarchal and heteronormative legacies of the forefathers. If ‘In a heartbeat’ has got positive views, the negativity has come in the form of moral accusations, based on the general arguments of the so-called preachers of morality and humanity. ‘Save humanity by deeming people as un-natural is the motto’.
In contemporary times of hate and instability, the representation of characters of non-normative gender or sexual preferences is needed more than ever, to teach them the values of tolerance and acceptance, and the values of diversity and love beyond all reason, so that they do not grow into hate mongering bullies. To belittle somebody, and make them feel small and worthless due to differences, is what that is immoral. Homosexuality or heterosexuality are not choices in identity, but tolerance or homophobia is.
Like I said earlier, more than half of the adolescence in a queer person’s life is spent trying to figure out what label does he and his body embodies, and whatever part is left, is spent trying to figure out how to make peace with it. Homophobia, out of the many brutal things that it does, is that it takes away the element of normalcy out of one’s life. The transition from a child to an adolescent, experiencing a sexual awakening, to an adult, understanding how to control it, is already a delicate and complicated process. I mean, in real life, it is not as romantic as they show it in movies to be, where a young girl sits down alone and screamingly asks what’s happening to her body, but it surely is complicated than it appears, especially in the Indian context, where lack of conversation regarding sex and sexuality, and a fear of unacceptance, sends thousands of teenagers down into depression. The thought process of a person struggling with his sexuality or gender identity, on the verge of turning into adult, is not how to control one’s sexuality or feelings and desires, but how to curb them, due to constantly being deemed as a misfit, a black spot in the name of society and masculinity and what not.
‘How good and most importantly, ‘normal’, it would have made me feel if I had watched it in my growing years!’ , is mostly the appreciation, the makers of the movie are getting, apart from of-course, appreciation regarding the animation and story and the treatment of the characters and the symbolism and metaphors used, to highlight, it is as normal for a boy to fall in love with boy, as it is to fall in love with a girl, or anyone, for that matter. My mind keeps drifting to the word ‘normal’ all the time. As Terry Eagleton suggests, language is unstable. The relationship between the signifier (Word) and the signified (meaning), is very often, influenced, or at times, tampered, by cultural settings and majoritarian beliefs. The contemporary cultural setting is patriarchal and heteronormative, the definition of the word ‘normal’, would thus be patriarchal and heteronormative. Like I said, one does not choose one’s sexual orientation, but what prejudices one wants to corrupt one’s mind with, is a conscious and deliberate choice.
The link to the short film is given on the top. Decide for yourself. What does it make you, gay or tolerant?
#Staytuned for more from Aman Sinha!