In a Heartbeat is a four minute long animated film about queer love that is currently going viral on social networking platforms. Made by students of animation at Ringling College of Art & Animation, Beth David and Esteban Bravo, it shows a little boy and his (perhaps first?) crush.
Like a lot of other boys, this one too doesn’t know how to approach his crush, talk to them, and figure out life and love. Unlike a lot of other boys, his crush is another boy in the same school.
What happens next will blow your mind. If you were born in 1945.
Our protagonist runs the risk of ridicule, shame, and worst of all, rejection. Should he go after the boy?
It jumps out, and leads the boy to his crush.
As a short piece of animation, In a Heartbeat is supremely cute. Even to the untrained eye, the character design, the modelling, the backgrounds, the lighting, and everything else in the film is on par with a Disney or Pixar animation. That it is made by college students is even more remarkable. Clearly, if this were their CVs, Beth David and Esteban Bravo, and their crew, would never need to look far for a job in the future.
In fact, it would be astonishing if they haven’t yet been recruited by the big animation studios.
Animated films invariably make us root for the main character. Or at least put us in an amenable mood to listen to what they have to say. We are naturally predisposed to listen to people we think look cute/beautiful, and animation hits every “cute” box in our brains. Even if you went out of the way to make your main character an evil, fat, uncaring person, and the rest of your characters mindless, unquestioning people, animated art/cartoons make us think of them as cute. Example: Fallen Art.
Perhaps knowingly then, Beth David and Esteban Bravo use animation to tell us – the viewers – that gay romance, queer love, homosexual crushes can all be cute (if you didn’t already think it is, or if you still lived in 1960 and these things were not okay).
And perhaps intentionally therefore, Beth David and Esteban Bravo create their characters to look largely like people we automatically think of as beautiful.
Queer people are persecuted around the world. This is true.
Gay boys & men, lesbian girls & women, bisexual persons, and trans persons irrespective of their orientation, are among those most prone to being targets of hate crime and violence, and to suffer from mental health conditions such as depression, or commit suicide. Trans persons especially.
But oppression and persecution is not a uniform thing. Even within oppressed communities, there are gradations and hierarchies. Men tend to benefit from patriarchal systems more than women or trans persons, and gay men can be as misogynistic and sexist as straight men.
And even among gay men, race and skin colour matters, and White Gay Men have considerable privilege, power, and networks, to escape the worst of hate.
As an animated film, In A Heartbeat could have easily shown us two queer girls. Perhaps one of them is a closeted trans boy? Or a trans woman and her boy crush? A brown or black trans girl and her white girl friend?
And we would have still cheered and rooted for this first love to find fruition.
Perhaps because of conditioning, socially acceptable standards of beauty and “appropriateness,” of the effects of a colonial world that is only just beginning to question race, what we get to see are two cute white boys.
Yes, they are still queer, and queer desire and love is still a huge thing. Young white boys can be shamed and ridiculed for being gay.
But nowhere will the ridicule they experience be close to that experienced by a black, brown, or fat person, or a queer woman or trans person.
And a film such as In a Heartbeat could have easily shown us that.
Instead, it goes for cute. And we all clap and cheer and nod our heads knowingly and whisper about gay rights to each other.
Or perhaps, if it did indeed show a fat, black, trans person or fat, ugly brown person, this video wouldn’t have gone this viral?