It may seem to many people that 2004 was not that long ago. But dramatic changes have occurred for members of the LGBTQ community.
Since 2004, adoptions have become much easier, marriage between same-sex couples is not only legal but becoming more accepted, and the openness of the world to queer people is noticeably better.
Even though things aren’t perfect for the LGBTQ community, when it comes to media coverage, with a recent example being Hallmark’s decision to remove an ad featuring a lesbian wedding — a decision that was later rescinded — drastic improvement has happened in the past decade and a half.
Movies like “Love Simon,” “Carol” and “Moonlight” have captivated audiences without drawing much controversy, and a debatably-gay character has even appeared in a Disney film. TV shows such as The CW’s “Batwoman” would have nearly impossible 10 years ago, and here are two movies that prove it.
Openly gay director Sam Irwin pitched an idea to filmmakers that seemed simple enough. In this Christmas movie, Lindsay, a stereotypical teenage girl, wants to go on a ski trip instead of spending the holiday with her family, only to be persuaded otherwise by Santa Claus himself.
The executives at Lifetime loved it but objected to one small part of the story: the girl had two fathers. When Irwin insisted that he wanted Lindsay to have two dads, he was told that he could change it, or that two versions of the movie could be made, one for Lifetime and the other for any buyer Irwin could find. When HereTV, a small channel with exclusively LGBTQ content, agreed to buy the queer version, Irwin set about making his two identical movies.
“We would shoot a scene with the mom and the dad, and when we’d get a good take I would say, ‘OK, let’s have the mom set aside and bring in the alternate dad’ and we’d shoot another take,” Irwin said in an interview with Buzzfeed.
As he states, the two movies are nearly identical to each other, except that one has gay parents and one has straight parents. Even the names, “Too Cool for Christmas” for the queer version and “A Very Cool Christmas” for the straight version, are incredibly similar.
The movies have all the same cast, excluding one parent, and the dialogue is identical. Even when Irwin was asked by executives to make the script “gayer” for Too Cool, he declined.
“I said, ‘Absolutely not. The whole point would be that there is no difference at all, and it shouldn’t matter.’ I wouldn’t do it,” Irwin said.
Since 2004, the movies have been largely forgotten and it wasn’t until a tweet about the similarities between the two movies that went viral attention was drawn to it 15 years later.
Today, a movie such as “Too Cool for Christmas” wouldn’t have gained nearly as much attention as it did in 2004. Even a Christmas movie, a genre which severely lacks LGBTQ representation in part because of its “family-friendly content,” would not have turned heads in today’s world where even cartoons like “Clarence or Adventure Time,” treat LGBTQ relationships quite casually.
As Irwin reminded readers in the Buzzfeed article, he point of the movie, was to help normalize relationships that most people watching wouldn’t regularly be exposed to. The world was a different place in 2004 for gay people. Representation at the time was primarily from television shows like Buffy or Friends, where queer characters had plot lines revolving around queer relationships.
That’s why shows like “Clarence” and “The Loud House,” are important today.
“Clarence,” an animated children’s show, features a secondary character who has two mothers. The show never makes any attempt to draw specific attention to the fact that they are a lesbian couple and they are portrayed as your average concerned parents looking after their son.
“The Loud House” is the same way. A secondary character has two fathers, and no characters ever give them a second glance because of it. Representation like that helps normalize queer relationships in a subtle way.
Children who see two men walking and holding hands are less likely to think of that as “strange” if they have seen it before in their favorite shows.
It’s good to see stories of hard coming-outs or daily struggles of being LGBTQ in the movies because daily struggles do exist, and that helps queer people feel less alone in their hardship. But oftentimes it can be even more polarizing since most straight people can’t relate to uniquely LGBTQ issues.
It can lead, even unconsciously, to unhelpful thoughts that gay people are different. When it comes to relatability and normalization, movies like “Too Cool for Christmas” are the way to go. It’s unfortunate that it isn’t being used that way.
When I searched for “Too Cool for Christmas,” most of the links I found were to the straight version, “A Very Cool Christmas,” which was available on three streaming networks and several websites.
The only place I could find “Too Cool for Christmas” was on HereTV’s website, and that was only watchable after I purchased an eight-dollar monthly subscription. It was a shame to see a movie that could help normalize queer relationships only available in a place were only queer people and dedicated allies would be able to find it.
So, things have changed, absolutely. “Love Simon,” a cheesy teenage rom-com about a boy searching for his male secret admirer, was a popular hit with mainstream audiences in a way that Oscar contenders like “Carol” and “Moonlight” weren’t before it.
Simon, the titular character, struggles not only with his coming out but also with whether his admirer will actually like him if they ever met, a struggle that teens of every orientation can relate to.
“Booksmart” follows in that vein, featuring a lesbian’s romantic crush on the last day of high school.
Compared to the drama that Irwin faced 15 years ago when making his movie, with 10 minutes of screen time for gay parents, progress has definitely been made.
We’re getting better, but more needs to be done to help make the next generation even more tolerant than this one. Glass half full or empty? That’s up to you.