Film

Mitchells vs the Machines creators swayed bosses to ‘have a backbone’ and make LGBT+ lead

Josh Milton March 13, 2022
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Abbi Jacobson voiced Katie Mitchell in The Mitchells vs the Machines

Abbi Jacobson voiced Katie Mitchell in The Mitchells vs the Machines. (Netflix/SPAI)

The creators of The Mitchells vs the Machines managed to sway Sony bosses to make the lead character queer by asking them to “have a backbone”.

Animator Lizzie Nichols always knew that Katie Mitchell, the rambunctious movie buff hero of the 2021 film about an everyday family battling the robot apocalypse, was queer.

So much so, she recalled to Insider in an interview published Saturday (12 March), that she penned an emotional letter to studio executives urging them to give them the green light to let Katie be who she is.

When animating the Netflix film, then known as “Connected” and owned by Sony Pictures Released before being sold off to the streaming giant, Nichols said she felt she couldn’t tell anyone in the team or above that she felt this way.

“But I don’t think I ever said it out loud to anyone,” Nichols said. “In a way, sadly, I internalized like, Well that can’t happen so I’ll just keep that quiet in my mind that I think Katie’s queer.”

(Netflix/SPAI)

Writers and co-directors Rianda and Jeff Rowe agreed, though both felt a similar hesitancy to actually go through with the idea. “I was like, ‘are we allowed to do that?'” questioned Rianda, who also worked on the beloved and seriously queer cartoon series Gravity Falls.

“When people were like, ‘Well, they will never let us do it,’ it was like we are they. We are the decision-makers in the room. We can either choose to do this or not.”

Emboldened by their support, Nichols wrote a letter to Sony stressing how life-changing – and life-saving – it would be for countless queer youth to see a character like them on the big screen in a family-oriented film. Something that media watchdog GLAAD has long called for more of.

“We do not want to silence ourselves for fear of a bigoted few,” she wrote.

“We don’t want to cave to their worldview. We have to be on the side of what is right and just. We just need the backbone to do it. Be that backbone.”

Rianda was left “sobbing”, he recalled, when he read Nichols’ letter. Meeting with Sony executives, some expressed unease at the thought of a movie lead being LGBT+.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Rianda said. “Some people who were very nervous were going, ‘We don’t know about returns in other countries.'”

Indeed, only recently did Pixar staffers claim that Disney bosses snipped out “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection” from their films.

“We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were,” their joint letter read.

It continued: “Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.”

Thankfully, the Sony team embraced The Mitchells vs the Machines creative team’s idea.

“Sony really pulled through and didn’t chicken out,” said Rianda, “because the truth is, you can’t do this at every studio.”

More: The Mitchells vs the Machines

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