February 3, 2015

Queer Issue: The Box Trolls, Same Sex Parents, and the Never Ending Parade of Gender Transgressive Villains.

In the grand scheme of things, there are plenty of little details that can escape my attention. I didn't know until last night, for example, that the original teaser trailer for The Boxtrolls featured same sex parenting.

The trailer opens with an anonymous narrator intoning, "Sometimes there's a mother, sometimes a mother and a father, sometimes there's a father and a father, sometimes both fathers are mothers."

It appears then that the makers of ParaNorman (the first children's movie to feature an openly gay character) are still willing to continue pushing against homophobic boundaries.

This is a good thing.

Here is the trailer for those who are curious:

My partner and I watched The Boxtrolls the other night and while it at times evokes some of the better elements of ParaNorman, there were some other elements I want to comment on. I don't plan on writing a review, as I was watching it while playing on my laptop and thus was not fully paying attention to the film

The basic story revolves around Eggs, a human boy being raised by Boxtrolls, a sentient group of trolls who are vilified and hunted by the citizens of Cheesebridge. Thus it would appear that the references to same sex parenting in the teaser trailer are rather apt.

This too is good.

However, in a plot twist, it turns out that the head Snatcher (the group tasked with hunting down the Boxtrolls) is also a cross-dressing cabaret singer, who uses his secondary identity to help vilify the Boxtrolls via over the top theatrical performances.

This is not a good thing.

On one hand we are fortunately spared any over the top transphobic Ace Ventura-esque reactions. Eggs doesn't react much of all to the revelation, nor does any one else. And in what I think is a first, this is a first cross-dresser baddie who is shown stealing anything from any female characters. The closest he comes is trying to steal a truly feminine white hat from the mayor.

As it is, the White Hats (which represent the upper crust of Cheesebridge and are presented in the most fay terms possible) are what provide motivation to the Snatchers. As it is, the Snatchers work assiduously to join the ranks of the White Hats, and thus the Snatchers are the ones who spend the most time fanning the flames of hatred against the Boxtrolls.

There are definitely a few interesting subtexts regarding class roles going on here.

On the other hand, I am not sure what the point of the whole The-Head-Snatcher-Sometimes-Dresses-Up-Like-A-Woman sub-plot was. It does, however, do a pretty good job of reinforcing the idea that trans people are deceptive. In fact, deceptiveness is pretty much the character's defining character trait. When Eggs first shows up on the surface of Cheesebridge, and sees the Snatchers putting on his anti-Boxtroll propaganda piece, his immediate reaction to the drag performance is to label it as fraudulent.

In fact, Eggs attempting to reveal the head snatcher as a "fraud" pretty much sums up the rest of the movie. The final scene of the movie has Eggs exhorting the head Snatcher to "stay true to his own nature" and that it doesn't matter what the Snatcher wears or eats.

This is *not* a good subtext.

In fact, it's a pretty shitty subtext, precisely given the constant stream of transphobic rhetoric that transgender people should "stay true to their nature" and not try to live as the gender they identify as and instead live as the gender they were assigned by society.

Honestly, I don't know what more to say about all of this. ParaNorman was groundbreaking, and the same can be said about the trailer for The Boxtrolls. Too bad the actual movie The Boxtrolls delivers such a problematic message.