This week’s two big national releases are both sequels featuring Jonah Hill. But they have something more important in common: Both reflect a wiser, kinder, more just treatment of GLBT characters. It was only a few years ago that I wrote an article about the disturbing prevalence of gender and sexual orientation “jokes” in movies for families that ranged from insensitive to insulting to downright offensive.
The very R-rated “22 Jump Street” has some fun with the idea that the two main characters have the dynamics of a romantic couple, and are seen that way by at least one other character. The current cover of Entertainment Weekly reflects that theme as well. This is a core element in many other comedy teams, from Laurel and Hardy (who even played each other’s wives in one film) to Martin and Lewis and Hope and Crosby. As in their last film, “22 Jump Street” has explicit portrayals of characters being schooled about use of anti-gay epithets. In real life, Jonah Hill has recently made a sincere and heartfelt apology for his own comment along those lines when he was provoked by an intrusive photographer. There is still more progress to be made, but this film shows significant and meaningful improvement.
The family film “How to Train Your Dragon 2” has a brief, understated comment by a character that the difficulty of dealing with women is just one reason he isn’t married, reportedly an ad lib by the actor who plays him. Given that nearly half of today’s children live in states where marriage equality is the law, it may be that most of those who pay attention to this line will not recognize that as an indication that the character is gay. It is unlikely to be noticed at all by most children. Even The Catholic Register’s Steven D. Greydanus says it is not intrusive enough to recommend skipping the film in a piece showing admirable respect, though he can’t resist saying that he questions his earlier description of the character in question as “an old-school man’s man.” Movies like this one will help the next generation understand that what makes a man a man is not who he loves but who he is.