Machines

The creators of ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ convinced executives to make the film’s main character queer with a heartbreaking letter

Katie Mitchell in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”.Sony Animation/Netflix

  • Director Michael Rianda told Insider how they convinced Sony to make Katie Mitchell queer.

  • Rianda praised one of the film’s hosts, Lizzie Nichols, for writing a letter to the executives.

  • “I sobbed when I read it,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Well, they’re not going to say no to that!'”

LGBTQ+ host Lizzie Nichols just wanted to work on a movie she believed in. But she ended up being the catalyst to make “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” an anomaly in mainstream animation storytelling.

Before the acclaimed film was released on Netflix last November and became a Best Animated Feature Oscar nominee, it was called “Connected” in the halls of Sony. Before Sony sold the film to Netflix amid the pandemic, it was known to most as the next project helmed by “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

But for Nichols, the animated film was much more than a story about a dysfunctional family becoming the world’s only hope against a robotic apocalypse.

After seeing a storyboard screening of the film and convincing director Michael Rianda to let her work on the film, Nichols realized something.

“Katie seems a little strange to me,” she told Insider on a Zoom call earlier this week.

Mitchell Netflix

“The Mitchells versus the Machines.”netflix

The creators asked, “Are we allowed to do this?” »

Beneath this hilarious flick, its main character, Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), appeared to be gay.

“But I don’t think I’ve ever said it out loud to anyone,” Nichols said. “Somehow, unfortunately, I internalized like, Well that can’t happen so I’m just going to silence my mind that I think Katie is queer.”

However, that’s exactly what Rianda, co-director Jeff Rowe, and the other creatives were doing: making their lead character look weird. Just nobody knew yet.

Both Rianda and Rowe are straight, but Rianda said that in creating Katie, he not only based the character on his and his sister’s complex relationship with their father growing up, but also on the people he had bonded with. befriended when he went to art school.

“I noticed that everyone I was basing Katie on was gay to the point that people in the movie started asking, ‘Is Katie gay?’ And I thought to myself, “Are we allowed to do this?” Rianda told Insider in the same conversation.

Mike Rianda behind the storyboards

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” director Michael Rianda.sony

In the world of studio animation, having a gay character is rare – let alone making the main character gay. But Rianda said it fit the character, so without asking permission, he just made her gay.

In the film, Katie sports a rainbow pin on her hoodie and has a crush on Jade, a girl who attends the same art school (before robots took over the world). Then at the end of the movie, Katie’s mom asks if she and Jade are “official” and if she’s going to take her home for Thanksgiving.

“When people said, ‘Well, they or they will never let us do it’, it was as if we were they or they. We are the decision makers in the room. We can choose to do it or not,” Rianda said.

Yet when it was finally time to let Sony executives know what was going on, Rianda turned to Nichols, who – along with a group of LGBTQ+ artists on the film – had become a major Katie supporter. part of the queer community.

Several decided to write letters to Sony explaining why it was important for Katie to be queer. Rianda said it was Nichols’ letter that stood out.

“I sobbed when I read it,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Well, they’re not going to say no to that!'”

Lizzie Nichols behind in front of a shelf

Lizzie Nichols.sony

Nichols said she wanted her letter to ‘remind people of the issues’

Nichols’ letter, which Rianda shared on Twitter in January with her permission, noted that she “wanted to be part of a film – and a studio – that is on the right side of history”.

“We don’t want to be silent for fear of some bigots,” she wrote at the end of her letter. “We don’t want to give in to their worldview. We have to be on the side of what’s right and just. We just need the backbone to do it. Be that backbone.”

With Nichols’ letter in hand, Rianda met with Sony executives. He said most were fully supportive, though a few were worried.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Rianda said of the reunion. “Some people who were very nervous were saying, ‘We don’t know anything about returns to other countries. “”

Regardless, Rianda said that at the end of the meeting, there was no backtracking. Katie was weird.

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

Hours after speaking to Rianda and Nichols for this story, Variety reported that Pixar’s LGBTQ+ staff alleged that Disney demanded cuts to their movies of “nearly every moment of openly gay affection…regardless of either when there are protests from both the creative teams and the executive management at Pixar.”

This followed Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s company-wide memo regarding recent Florida legislation known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would ban discussion. on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. In the memo, Chapek said the “greatest impact” the company can have “in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce.”

More recently, critics and fans pointed to Disney’s alleged queer coding in a Pixar movie, “Luca,” which follows two boys who are sea monsters trying to navigate a sea monster-hating town. Insider noted after the release that it was “disappointing that Disney’s Pixar wasn’t brave enough to fully commit to its first queer animated tale.”

“I just wanted to remind people of the stakes,” Nichols said, thinking back to why she wrote the letter in the first place. “We need to take the narrative a little bit further. And I said to use my name in the letter. I wanted those responsible to have a face. That we weren’t just a group of queer people in the world. We are real.”

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is currently available on Netflix.

Read the original Insider article