In a year where the despicable aren't despised and emojis lack emotion, it's inspiring to see a children's movie address matters of the heart in the most literal way possible. In A Heartbeat is a four minute short that follows the story of an awkward young teenager whose heart pops out of his chest when his crush walks by. Cue a rare mix of hilarity and genuine emotion that few 90-minute features can muster with as much sincerity.
Watch In A Heartbeat below and prepare to lose control of your tear ducts in... well, in a heartbeat:
Unfortunately, In A Heartbeat won't reach the wide audience it deserves for two crucial reasons. First of all, creators Beth David and Esteban Bravo developed the film independently at Ringling College of Art, using $14,000 from a Kickstarter campaign to bring their vision to life. As such, this labor of love won't be distributed as a wide release, although the freedom to watch In A Heartbeat for free online certainly improves its chances.
While this is understandable, In A Heartbeat will also never be seen by the wider audience that it deserves simply because the teenage love that the film explores is between two boys instead of a boy and a girl. The premiere of In A Heartbeat online may not have brought about the apocalypse or turned the whole world gay in a day, but the negative responses to Lefou's role as LGBT in Beauty & The Beast suggest that not everyone is ready to celebrate love in all of its forms (although bestiality is totally fine, it seems).
LGBT Representation In Family Movies Has A Controversial History
The story of Sherwin and his love for classmate Jonathan is one that's been told a thousand times before, yet animation has mostly steered away from gay representation in the past, preferring to "code" characters with stereotypically homosexual attributes. Even the shows and movies that have included LGBT characters often do so rather subtly, relegating gays to the sidelines and excluding them from the central narrative.
To develop a love story between two teenage boys that's aimed at children shouldn't be this revolutionary in 2017, yet In A Heartbeat is exactly the kind of representation that's needed right now. Unfortunately, following the controversy that surrounded Lefou's outing in Beauty & The Beast and the #GiveElseAGirlfriend campaign for Frozen 2, it's clear that many people still aren't comfortable with seeing LGBT characters in their children's films.
When Disney XD cartoon Star vs. the Forces of Evil recently depicted same-sex couples sharing a brief kiss, the puritanical organisation One Million Moms hit out at the show a few days later, threatening to boycott the channel unless they stopped "pushing an LGBT agenda on families and children." Derision towards LGBT representation unfortunately spans back far further than this.
Why LGBT Representation In Family Movies Remains Rare In 2017
In 2005, NBC News reported that Christian groups asked the all-important question, "Will Spongebob make you gay?" and Snopes recounts that Rev. Joseph Chambers tried to ban Bert & Ernie from Sesame Street back in 1994 on the grounds that the puppets are gay and therefore morally objectionable.
While those bizarre allegations are in the past, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis recently told The Hollywood Reporter that Disney and similar studios continue to remain apprehensive about including queer characters in their animated movies for financial reasons sparked by bigotry:
"When you look at the global market, so many of the big studios look to the international box office and there are a number of LGBT issues abroad, so they want to be careful not to be cut out of countries."
Conversely, the best way to improve queer perception abroad is through positive representation in films exactly like In A Heartbeat, convincing people that love is love, no matter which form it takes. Ellis reinforced this notion to Hollywood Reporter, explaining that:
"Films are so important because, not only do they reach small towns in America, but they do reach globally and what comes out of Hollywood is our biggest cultural export. We have been pushing them for years at GLAAD but now social media and the community is pushing them on it. It's going to get harder and harder to ignore this drumbeat."
Why We Still Need More LGBT Representation In Family Movies
In A Heartbeat is a huge step forward for gay representation, but the positive response that the film has enjoyed so far proves that people are still craving more progressive depictions of #LGBT love in mainstream cinema too.
Aside from that surprise reveal at the end of Paranorman and throwaway moments in Frozen and How To Train Your Dragon 2, PG-13 fare has been mostly devoid of rainbow love. Just one brief shot of two women pushing a stroller together in the Finding Dory trailer provoked a huge response, although it turns out that even this minuscule form of representation wasn't what fans hoped it would be.
Why Everyone Should Watch In A Heartbeat
In A Heartbeat offers a beacon of hope to queer movie fans hoping to see their stories reflecting on-screen, and promotes a universal message of love that should hopefully resonate with young people who are experiencing something similar in their own lives. Not once does In A Heartbeat preach a "gay agenda" of any kind, something which David and Bravo actively tried to avoid. Speaking to HuffPost, the two filmmakers revealed that:
"... we never have the characters speak to persuade the audience of anything. We simply wanted to show the audience what growing up was like for us through this story about a sweet, red-headed boy who feels just as confused and scared about his feelings as we did."
Those who lambast queer representation for potentially indoctrinating kids or sexualizing children's programming don't have a leg to stand on in the case of In A Heartbeat, which actively avoids depicting same-sex interaction beyond a hug — although showing age-appropriate physical contact wouldn't have been a bad thing either, as heterosexual kissing is regularly seen in children's animation.
Creators Beth David and Esteban Bravo initially asked for just $3,000 on Kickstarter to develop In A Heartbeat but ended up receiving over $14,000, proving that there is a desire to see more films like this, even if said desire threatens to be silenced by ignorance and intolerance at times.
No matter who you are or what your thoughts are on religion or sexuality, the feelings depicted in this film are something we can all relate to. Watching In A Heartbeat won't "turn" people #gay or send them to hell, but if young viewers do struggle with their sexual identity, then perhaps this short will help them feel less alone. After all, The Trevor Project reports that suicide rates are 4 times higher for LGBT youths, and anything we can do to prevent this is vital.
It's taken anything but a heartbeat for meaningful gay representation to finally appear onscreen, but In A Heartbeat is a huge step in the right direction. Now we just look forward to the day when stories like this finally appear in cinemas as full-length features and not just short movies online, celebrating love in all its forms on a mainstream scale.
Would you like to see In A Heartbeat extended into a feature-length release? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!