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Why does The Emoji Movie have an intentional gay metaphor with a needless heterosexual romantic plot?

Why does The Emoji Movie have an intentional gay metaphor with a needless heterosexual romantic plot?

Maybe we shouldn't treat a movie with a talking poo emoji in it so seriously

You’re likely not going to go see The Emoji Movie.

It’s a universally-panned animated movie manipulating kids into downloading Spotify, Candy Crush and Instagram on their phones.

Gene, played by TJ Miller, is an emoji born without a filter and is capable of expressing multiple emotions. His ‘job’ is to be the ‘meh’ symbol in a teenage boy’s smart phone. However, after expressing something else in a text he is sent to be ‘reprogrammed’ so he can be what the world wants him to be. It’s trying to be Inside Out or Wreck-It Ralph with a (secretly) gay storyline.

He longs to be ‘just like his parents’ and be ‘normal’. Gene struggles with being ‘closeted’ as an emotionally free emoji. After journeying through a phone (and making sure the sponsor brand names are featured heavily), he learns the all important lesson: he learns his uniqueness is what makes him special.

Making friends with the high five emoji (James Corden), he meets hacker Jailbreak (Anna Faris). Born to be a ‘princess’, but sick of the stereotypical role, she gave it up to be a codebreaker. This is a feminist metaphor, the way Jailbreak acts and feels could very easily be coded as lesbian or bi.

If the director had nerve, we could have had two out LGBTI characters.

But instead, two characters which could easily be read as queer are instead made de-facto love interests for each other.

It’s off-putting. It’s there to placate a homophobic audience. Once again, it is mainstream media co-opting a LGBTI story to make it suitable for the broadest possible crowd.

Emoji Movie director is gay and was drawing from his own experiences

Tony Leondis, the director, is gay and was raised in a homophobic religious household.

‘Growing up a gay kid, I always felt kind of other than everyone else and excluded in a way,’ he told Screenrant.

‘So the idea of being different in a world that expects you to be one thing…. And I realized soon after that, everyone feels different, everyone feels other. We all feel like there’s maybe something wrong with us or we’re different. That’s what we try to find in animated movies, those concepts that everyone can connect to.’

Quite frankly, I’m tired of LGBTI stories being made as broad as possible for a mainstream audience. This isn’t to mean straight cis people can’t feel ‘othered’, or there aren’t a million different reasons for a person to feel like they need to ‘come out’ as different.

But if the metaphor is intentionally gay, and then a straight romantic plot is forced on it to appease a homophobic audience, it feels like any social commentary point is silenced. It doesn’t achieve its goal, as the heavily-handed metaphor is stifled out of shame.

It’s no wonder The Emoji Movie is turning out to be the lowest rated film of the year so far, and is likely going to flop.

We need LGBTI representation in family films

I watched a lot of Disney growing up. Trying to cling onto possible hints and subtext, I saw a camp sensibility in villains like Scar (The Lion King) and Hades (Hercules). I saw ‘coming out’ themes in The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. And it has continued with characters like Elsa in Frozen, with songs like Let It Go all about shaking off the shackles of confinement, the closet, and being free to be empowered.

Imagine what it would be like if The Emoji Movie had a gay, a bi, a lesbian, or a trans protagonist. If a LGBTI child, struggling in the closet, saw an appropriately characterized LGBTI character on screen, it would make that point strongly.

LGBTI teens wouldn’t need to feed off scraps of metaphors from mainstream media. We’d finally have some representation in the broadest of films – ones aimed at family. And maybe that is when we might finally feel we’ve reached that happy ending.

You can follow Joe Morgan, editor-at-large at Gay Star News, on Twitter.