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Daily Helping for August 21st, 2021 – Luca

A promotional image from the animated film Luca. The two main characters, Luca and Alberto, are standing on rocks in the middle of a harbour, with an Italian seaside town behind them. They are both looking straight into the camera.

Yes, I’m breaking my rules again. Pixar’s latest animated film Luca was written and directed by a trio of white men, so it shouldn’t count. But I decided to bend the rules because all throughout watching this film, I kept thinking to myself, “Did Disney finally make an unapologetic queer film?” In my eyes, yes, they very much did. But then I had to ruin it by going online and reading interviews with the director that not only denied that they did, but bristled at the mere idea. Interviews that made my blood boil, which is how we got here. Me bending the rules of the Daily Hart once again, because I have a lot of feelings on this topic.

But before we get to those, I want to be clear up front that however I may or may not feel towards the artists behind Luca, I have nothing but warm fuzzies for the film itself. This movie is a wonderful, heartwarming, and hilarious story about two sea monsters, Luca and Alberto, who dare to venture out of the water and into a seaside Italian town. From there, they meet all manner of eclectic characters, go on many adventures, and learn a lot about themselves along the way. Is it the best movie Pixar has ever made? No. But it is a classic coming of age story with a supernatural twist, and it is delightful.

It is also absolutely a queer narrative. To me, there is no denying the queer coming of age beats that this story takes. Luca and Alberto are 12 and 14, so their relationship is very much one of friendship. But a story doesn’t need its characters to be in a romantic relationship to count as queer. LGBTQ people aren’t validated as such through their relationships. It’s simply who they are. And yet, queer narratives often overwhelmingly focus on relationships. That’s why I found Luca to be such a refreshing change. There is a virtual treasure trove of stories just waiting to be told about queer identities that have nothing to do with being in a relationship, and it felt like I was finally watching a movie that understood that. An animated family movie by Disney no less. What an incredible step forward for representation in the media. And then the director ruined it.

Look, I get it. Art is often a deeply personal process. Artists usually create their works with great intention, and I understand why they would want to express those intentions. And they should. The artist’s intention should always be a part of an artwork’s history. But I also wish artists would stop trying to tell people that certain interpretations of their work are wrong. Because they’re not wrong. Every single person on this earth has a unique lived experience, meaning everyone’s filter through which they interpret art will be different. If artists choose to put their work into the world, they have to understand that people are going to interpret their work in ways they never imagined or intended. And as much as artists might not agree with me on this, those interpretations are valid.

Note that I didn’t say correct. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Because maybe I interpreted Luca in a way that was different from what the filmmakers had intended. And they are well within their rights as artists to talk about their intentions behind the story and what they hoped to convey. But they can’t tell me that my interpretation is wrong. It may be different from theirs, but it is not wrong. If we allow artists to dictate which interpretations of their work are right and wrong, we remove their accountability, and that never ends well. Especially when it comes to creators of privilege being called out by marginalized audiences for aspects of their work that are problematic and/or harmful.

So there you have it. I was hoping that today’s helping would be a fun animated film for a Saturday afternoon. Which Luca absolutely is. But I’ve also thought long and hard about this issue for weeks now, and I guess I just needed to rant. That being said, I hope I haven’t dissuaded you from watching this film. Luca is a delight, and it will make you want to travel to Italy and gorge yourself on pasta as soon as possible. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s a wonderfully thoughtful queer narrative that will mean a lot to all the queer kids out there who just want to see themselves on screen. No matter what the director says.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!