Does ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ deserve defending?
“Raya and the Last Dragon” came out recently to ....theaters. Are those still a thing?
It's also on Disney+. I know that.
Anyway, Kelly Marie Tran, the actress who plays the title role of Raya, said somewhere that she felt that Raya was gay.
And there was much controversy.
There is an argument, apparently, that perhaps kids should not be seeing movies that include gay characters or relationships. Certain people want kids to have a good understanding of reality. Maybe kids shouldn't see limbs being cut off in “Star Wars” movies, either, or rich people using their money for good in “Iron Man.”
These things will just confuse children.
There are probably people who want to just let their child watch “kids movies” without needing to worry about such things. But what about that other content commonly found in kids movies? They can often be violent, or scary, or have crude humor, but an animated character thought to be gay by the actor who voices her isn't okay? That’s really the line for you? I think you should stop wasting your time asking if a character is gay and start asking yourself why you care so much.
The film ratings system doesn't even help any more.
“The Kings Speech” is an R-rated movie. So they didn't advertise at Burger King like the Harley Quinn movie, “Birds of Prey,” did. It was also rated R. There are a few F-bombs in “The King’s Speech,” but there is a lot of violence and drug use in the Harley Quinn movie.
Also, it features a downplayed same-sex relationship — for those of you nervous about those kinds of things.
But “The Kings Speech” has a minor, but very dramatic and effective use of the F word, which if I had it my way, this column would contain later as well. So kids can’t see "The King’s Speech“ and they can’t see the Harley Quinn movie, but they can eat a burger inspired by her breakup with the Joker.
Speaking of comic book movies, let’s talk about “The New Mutants” (it’s part of the X-men franchise), which has a female lead with a female love interest. Oh, and (spoilers!) these two women kiss, firmly, establishing that neither of these characters are squarely heterosexual.
20th Century Fox shuffled this movie all over the place, delaying it for months. Eventually its release ended up happening under Disney, who bought Fox and also seemed to want to hide the film.
To me, it was obvious they were scared of it.
None of the DC or Marvel films have had a gay lead. If people actually saw this movie, which not many did, there might have been a backlash, like there is now over “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Though clearly, there is more attention being given to the controversy than to the film itself.
And now, some folks who are allies of under-represented people, or are themselves part of the lesser represented, are applauding and praising Raya for highlighting diversity. Personally, I think no one should be bothered by a gay character, even in a kids film. But that's not what “Raya and the Last Dragon” is. It was the actor who said, essentially, "BTW that character is gay," when nothing in the actual movie solidifies this. “Raya and the Last Dragon” does not contain a gay relationship or anything other than a possible loose idea suggesting it. Kelly Marie Tran may have made the claim, but the film does no such thing. If you watch it, with or without your kids, and if you wanted to conclude the character was straight, nothing contradicts that ... which means that nothing actually confirms what the actor said about the movie at all.
That’s not highlighting diversity. That's invisible representation. It’s the safe way to do it, because it can be plausibly denied. Invisibility for underrepresented groups is exactly what the offended anti-gay folks want, to not have to see it. It’s why I never participate in a Day of Silence on social issues. It's a nice gesture of solidarity, but being silent on such issues is actually a blessing to those who refuse to listen.
Disney knows that gay representation offends people, so they don't actually do it for real. They may have a lesbian kiss in the background of a “Star Wars” movie, though no main characters of course, and then they cut it from international release anyway. But they still want people to praise them for hiding diversity in the background so deeply it could just have easily not been there at all.
Disney is hoping people will be their personal army and rally to their side to defend “Raya and the Last Dragon,” helping promote the film in the process, celebrating it for things the company was actually too afraid to put in it.
Both sides of this argument need to wake the f*** up.
If you're on the side that feels there should not be gay characters in movies and TV show — whether it's a film for the whole family or not — know you're entitled to your feelings, but you're on the losing side. Pride parades exist because of people like you. They're not going away.
If you're on the side wanting to defend stories that feature gay representation, then defend stories that actually feature it. Pick your battles and call out B.S. when you see it. And with films like “Raya,” I'm seeing more B.S. than I'm seeing diversity.
“Oliver’s World“ runs every other week in the Argus-Courier. Oliver Graves is a standup comic and writer, and you can find out more about all of that at OliverGraves.com.