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Fresh Off Another Oscar Win, Pixar Looking to Cast its First Openly Transgender Character: How Should We Respond?


Pixar Animation Studios has become perhaps the most preeminent name in children’s entertainment. They have been a mainstay at the Oscars for more than two decades and, this year, developed two of the five movies nominated for Best Animated Feature Film. Soul took home the award, becoming the eleventh such Pixar property to do so.

The success of their recent offerings is not the only reason they are in the news today, however.

Last week, word began to circulate that they were looking to cast someone to voice the character Jess in an upcoming project. Jess is described as someone who is “compassionate, funny, and always has your back.” They are looking for a 12–17-year-old who is “enthusiastic, outgoing, funny, and energetic” who also feels “comfortable acting in front of a microphone” and can “authentically portray a 14-year-old transgender girl.”

If that last part caught you by surprise, that’s kind of the point.

As of this writing, we don’t know much about the character’s role, the size of the part, or even if the project will be a feature-length or short film. But when it airs, Jess will become the first openly transgender character in a Pixar project. And while the company started heading this direction by including the first openly homosexual character in Onward last year—a cyclops cop named Officer Specter—it’s still a big step that caught many by surprise.

So how should we respond to this news?

To answer that question well requires looking at the issue on a couple of different levels.

Know what you don't know

To start, it’s important to acknowledge what we don’t know.

As referenced above, Pixar has not given details on the size and prominence of the transgender character’s role, but history would seem to indicate it will be minor. The homosexual cop in Onward had one scene in the movie, and the only reason her sexual orientation was revealed is that a quick line mentioned her “girlfriend.”

When news broke that the live-action Beauty and the Beast would include a “gay moment,” many quickly denounced the film and called for its boycott. To this day, it’s not completely clear when that moment occurred, and the most likely scene is when two men bump into each other on the dance floor at the conclusion of the film.

My point in referencing both of those examples is this: if word had not leaked prior to the screening of each movie that they would contain a homosexual character, most people—and almost every child—who watched it would have never noticed.

It’s unclear if Jess’ transgender identity will be clearly noticeable, but it seems likely that at least part of the reason the story is making the rounds now is so that when it actually occurs, people will be looking for it.

The inclusion of characters in children’s programs who overtly embrace a lifestyle that runs counter to God’s truth as revealed in the Bible should not be taken lightly. The first such instances are often a test to see how far companies can push the limits before it begins to hurt their bottom line.

At the same time, the reaction—and overreaction—from Christians to announcements of LGBTQ characters in the past has often done more to publicize and advance that agenda than if a more measured approach had been taken. Blanket outrage usually does little more than temporarily rile up those who already agree with you, only to then make it seem like that anger was misplaced if the reality ends up being relatively minor and otherwise difficult to notice.

Let’s not make the same mistake this time.

There’s no harm in waiting for more information before deciding how you will react. In fact, far greater harm is likely to come if you don’t.

Should you see the film?

But while we wait for more information, many of us will already begin struggling with whether or not we will see the film when it’s released.

As the parent of two kids who are most likely going to want to see this movie, this discussion hits pretty close to home. And while there’s a lot that goes into that decision, ultimately there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Just be sure to include God in the discussion as, if you are open to his guidance and committed to following it, he will let you know what to do.

What we should not do, however, is pretend that shielding kids from a single film will shield them from the broader issue.

The days when it was safe to simply hand your child the TV remote and walk away ended a long time ago. While Pixar may be the biggest name in the children’s entertainment business to recently go down this path, they are far from the first. Fortunately, a quick Google search is usually enough to learn everything you need to know to make an informed decision.

While researching parental reviews for children’s programming may seem strange, it’s becoming an essential part of the parenting—and grandparenting—experience. After all, it’s worth taking an extra two minutes before telling your kids yes to help protect them from material they may not be old enough to process well.

And if they are old enough to have those conversations, perhaps viewing a film as a family could offer a better introduction than waiting for school or friends to have the first word on the subject.

Reacting with wisdom

Tony Evans once said that “wisdom may be defined as the ability to take spiritual truth and consistently apply it to life’s realities.”

As we prayerfully search for ways to respond well to the increasing attempts to render spiritual truth secondary to cultural norms, it will be of even greater importance to seek wisdom to apply God’s word to life’s realities in a way that is both relevant and faithful to Scripture.

Pixar’s latest project could be a great opportunity to practice that wisdom in your family, with your friends, and on your social media. But as you do, remember that wisdom and outrage seldom coexist well. One usually ends up dominating the other.

Which will you choose today?

Publication date: April 26, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Elizabeth Lara

Ryan Denison, PhD, is the Senior Editor for Theology at Denison Forum. Ryan writes The Daily Article every Friday and contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions. He holds a PhD in church history from BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. He’s authored The Path to Purpose, What Are My Spiritual Gifts?, How to Bless God by Blessing Others, 7 Deadly Sinsand has contributed writing or research to every Denison Forum book.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

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