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Inclusion in TV & Film Characters

Janine Jones, Copy Editor

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2017 seems to be the year of milestones in television and film. This year four characters have been introduced to the world to help normalize people like them and to add more diversity to characters, two of those characters are LGBT+ and the other two are on the autism spectrum.

The first of the four characters is LeFou, played by Josh Gad, from Disney’s live-action rendition of Beauty and the Beast, who is Disney’s first openly gay character. Gad has expressed how he is “beyond proud” to bring this character to life. While the definition of “openly gay” is up for discussion because the character only has one or two scenes that would indicate his sexuality, it’s still a step in the right direction for Disney.

“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” director Bill Condon told Attitude magazine. “It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

Two characters in the new Power Rangers movie are used to “reinforce core brand messages of inclusivity, diversity, and empowerment,” according to the movie’s creator, Haim Saban. It’s also important to mention that four of the five rangers are people of color. The yellow and blue rangers, Trini and Billy (respectively), played by Becky G and RJ Cyler, are symbols for this message.

Trini Kwan is coming to terms with her sexuality in the film and has a small moment that the director, Dean Israelite, considers “pivotal” for the entire film. Billy Cranston, on the other hand, shows subtle signs of autism like expressing anxiety in new situations or shouting when his friends are trying to stay quiet. For both portrayals, writers were careful to stay away from caricatures.

“We wanted to take a character like Billy and celebrate those abilities and manifest in a movie the idea that without Billy and without the qualities he has, this team would never be victorious,” Israelite told Teen Vogue.

It was also announced that Sesame Street will be adding a new friend to the neighborhood this month when it debuts their first muppet with autism, Julia. The children’s television show first created Julia as an online character in 2015 as part of an initiative to provide parents with educational resources on autism, but she was so well-received that the show decided to bring her to life. Her first episode will air April 10 on PBS and HBO.

“Our goal was to try and help destigmatize autism and increase awareness, understanding, and empathy,” said Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s Executive Vice President of Global Social Impact and Philanthropy.

While these characters are important, they are just small steps to furthering the need for more inclusion in television and film. It’s important that people, especially children, be able to see that all kinds of people exist in the world and they’re no more or no less than someone who looks, acts or loves differently than they do.

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