‘Power Rangers,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ prove LGBT people will pay to see ourselves on-screen

Sabans Power Rangers was go-go at the box office this weekend. The reboot of the long-running childrens show, which first received the big-screen treatment in 1995, took in a better-than-expected $40 million. Thats $2 million more than its predecessor earned during its entire run in theaters.

Power Rangers generated major buzz on the internet when the films trailer dropped in October, showcasing a more thoughtful take on the cheesy cult program about a Saved by the Bell-like troupe fighting off evil just in time for gym. Elizabeth Banks keeps its camp underpinnings alive as Rita Repulsa, an extraterrestrialwitch hunting for gold, but the 2017 edition attempts to ground itself in the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. These kids arent all right.

Kimberly (Naomi Scott) is a recovering high-school bully, while Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is on house arrest. Zack (Ludi Lin) lives in a trailer park with his sick mother, and Billy (RJ Cyler, a standout) has Aspergers, which has made him an outcast at Angel Grove High.

Focusing on its characters shared traumas often makes Power Rangers feel like an extended session of group therapy, but one moment stands out as small but groundbreaking. Trini (Becky G) confesses to her fellow Rangers that she doesnt like her parents involved in her relationships. Boyfriend problems? Zack asks, pausing before he cautiously adds: Girlfriend problems? Trini, not the chatty type, claims she doesnt like labeling.

Whats notable is that the reveal has generated almost no backlash, despite news that Russian distributors would be slapping an 18+ rating on the film for violating its gay propaganda laws. (One executive even called Power Rangers fascist ideology.) Arguably the films overtures to queer audiences are a big reason behind its surprise success. LGBT audiences are hungry for greater inclusion, and news that Power Rangers would feature the first queer superhero helped get butts in seats. Wireds Angela Watercutter claimed that headlines about the films gay moment got her to line up on Thursday for a movie she would have otherwise had no interest in. (Full disclosure: This writer bought an opening-night ticket right along with her.)

Power Rangers blockbuster opening is a testament to something that should have already been obvious by now: Movies with LGBT characters make money. In recent years, Hollywood has largely shut out queer viewers in a quest to make as many superhero movies as possible starring white, straight men named Chris, but the recent success of inclusive cinema shows that major revenue is being left on the table. LGBT audiences are here, were queer, and were willing to pay to see ourselves on-screen.

Beauty and the Beast broke box-office records this month following reports that the film would feature Disneys first exclusively gay moment. In the 1991 cartoon on which the movie is based, Le Fou—a dim-witted villager in desperate need of dental care—is Gastons sidekick. Hes a buffoon, someone youre supposed to laugh at. The remake, though, gives the character a makeover: Le Fou, as played by Frozens Josh Gad, is hopelessly in love with his pectorally gifted best friend (Luke Evans) but doesnt realize it. He goes on a journey of awakening when he realizes that his BFF is a violent narcissist who literally sucks eggs.

Le Fou doesnt quite have his big coming out, but in the films final moments, he gets his man. During a grand ball, Le Fou is paired up with a male dancing partner. The viewer is left to fill in the rest.

Russia, true to form, threatened to ban Beauty and the Beast in protest of Le Fous sexuality, and a drive-in theater in Alabama declined to screen it. Christian leaders further have urged a boycott of Disney. Evangelical pastor Franklin Graham (son to Billy) posted on Facebook that the Mouse House is attempting to normalize and push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of… children. An online petition has called for the studio to stop promoting a harmful sexual political agenda. A mommy blogger even cancelled her trip to Disney World over two seconds of dancing.

The conservative protest, which amounted to free publicity, had the opposite intended effect.

Beauty and the Beast outperformed even its most optimistic expectations to gross $228 million during its first seven days in theaters. The films record-smashing run ranks as the sixth-best opening week of all time, ahead of cultural phenomenons like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Dark Knight Rises. Beauty and the Beast doesnt appear to be slowing down anytime soon. The film earned an estimated $88 million during its second weekend, down just 49percent from the previous frame. Thats a better sophomore weekend than The Dark Knight.

Even more impressively, Beauty and the Beast has already raked in $690 million worldwide, performing well in countries that are less than friendly to LGBT people. Lithuania has an anti-LGBT propaganda law similar to Russias, and homosexual acts remain illegal in India decades after British colonists introduced them. The film opened at No. 1 both nations anyway.

Despite the restricted rating, Beauty and the Beast also topped the charts in Russia.

These numbers are a reminder that the public has come a long way when it comes to the acceptance of LGBT people. Pew Research polls from 2016 showed that just 28percent of Americans felt that homosexuality was immoral and should be openly discouraged—with even conservatives showing high numbers of LGBT support. Fifty-five percent of moderate Republicans claimed to support marriage equality, while 71percent said that LGBT people should be accepted in society. Support of same-sex unions among all U.S. citizens ticked up 20 percentage points from 2006, when just 35 percentof the public opposed equal marriage.

Many countries are still catching up when it comes to LGBT tolerance, but that didnt keep them from screening the film. Pew polls from 2013 showed that 86 percent of Malaysians felt society shouldnt support homosexuality, but Beauty and the Beast will debut there later this month. The countrys censorship board initially asked for cuts, but Disney refused.

A Variety report from Brent Lang argued that studios have hesitated about putting LGBT characters in major tentpoles because of fear about alienating foreign audiences, and this has shown in recent years. A 2016 report from GLAAD found that the number of queer and transgender characters in studio films had flatlined in recent years—with 17.5percent percent of major releases featuring LGBT characters. A majority of these appearances were relatively minor, with queer people receiving just seconds of screentime. Even worse, movies like Exodus: Gods and Kings and Horrible Bosses 2 depicted the LGBT community in a mocking or defamatory manner.

Hashtag campaigns like #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend have lobbied to amend this erasure by portraying same-sex relationships in a positive light, and studios should listen. If executives arent moved by Disneys victory over censorship in Malaysia and Russia, the bottom line speaks for itself.

The most recent survey from Gallup showed that there are 10 million LGBT people living in the United States, a population which boasts a massive buying power. In 2017, the average movie ticket price is $8.65. A single admission to Power Rangers in New York, Los Angeles, or Chicagocities with larger-than-average LGBT populationswill likely set you back more than 15 bucks. If every queer or transgender person in America purchased a ticket to see Trini question her sexuality, thats at least $86 million in additional revenue. A movie that might have grossed $100 million domestically without an LGBT character could make almost twice that.

That measure might appear optimistic, but its not. A 2016 report found that the LGBT community boasts a yearly disposable income of nearly $1 trillion, and thats just in the U.S.

Two decades ago, popular comedies like The Birdcage and In & Out proved that queer audiences would turn out in droves to see their lives and stories represented on-screen. Mike Nichols 1997 comedy starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a gay couple pretending to be straight to impress their soon-to-be daughter-in-laws conservative parents (Dianne Wiest and Gene Hackman) grossed $124 million domestically. The Birdcage even took in more than $60 million abroad.

LGBT movies have struggled at the box office in the decades since, but a major reason for that is because studios have largely stopped making them. In the past decade, just two movies with a queer lead have played in more than 2,000 locations: Brno and The Imitation Game. Despite massive acclaim for indies like Moonlight, Carol, and The Kids Are All Right, most of America didnt have the chance to see them during their theatrical runs.

Queer viewers are unlikely to see a mid-budget renaissance of the kind that produced studio hits like Philadelphia, The Crying Game, and To Wong Foo, but executives should take greater chances on LGBT inclusivity in the kinds of movies they are making. The demand is certainly there. Last year, Ryan Reynolds voiced his support for giving Wade Wilson, who is portrayed as pansexual in the original comics, a male love interest in Deadpool 2. The response wasnt reactionary pearl-clutching—it was applause.

Its perhaps a sign of the times that after Power Rangers debuted, audiences werent outraged that Trini was reimagined as a queer Latina. They were disappointed that the movie didnt do more. BuzzFeeds Alison Wilmore argued that the seconds of screentime devoted to the Trinis sexuality wereincredibly unsatisfactory. Referring to Disneys history of villains who are coded as queer, Wilmore writes that the token visibility offered to audiences in Power Rangers and Beauty and the Beastdoesn’tdo right by them.

LGBT audiences are hungry for more. Is Hollywood ready to give it to them?

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