Crowd-funded animated short about gay love goes viral

LOS ANGELES — An animated short film about an adolescent gay couple has gone viral, roughly 8 million views on YouTube in just two days.

"In a Heartbeat" follows an elementary school boy addressing his sexuality after falling in love with a male classmate. Filmmakers Beth David and Esteban Bravo released the film Monday online.

The short quickly began trending, gaining a particular following amongst LGBT advocates including singer Adam Lambert and actor Ashton Kutcher. The Human Rights Campaign posted the video on Twitter Tuesday afternoon and praised the film for its relatability.

Hayley Miller, the organization's senior digital media manager, said the film is a testament to saying, "Love is love."

"We've all had a crush or a broken heart," Miller wrote in an email. "Using no words, it validates this young boy's experience and the way all LGBTQ youth should be embraced."

The filmmakers launched a Kickstarter campaign in November 2016 to fund the project, reaching the initial goal of $3,000 in three hours. A total of $14,000 was raised.

"In a Heartbeat" is a semi-finalist for best animated domestic film at the 2017 Student Academy Awards. The filmmakers produced the short at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida as their senior thesis. They did not respond to online messages seeking an interview.

Paul Dergarabedian, comScore senior media analyst, said it's not surprising the film found success through the crowd-funding website. Calling the short a picture-perfect scenario, he said the most successful Kickstarter campaigns go viral.

"It shows the power of utilizing social media as a way to provide resources to realize people's creative vision," he said.

Research shows young LGBT characters and storylines are way underrepresented in both short and feature length films.

In 2016, only three out of 4,544 speaking characters in the top 100 grossing films were LGBT teenagers or younger, according to a report released Monday.

There was just one out of 4,370 in 2015, according to data compiled by the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Project administrator Marc Choueiti said younger LGBT characters are also rarely seen in short films.

In a separate study, the researchers evaluated films screening at Lunafest, a national short film festival. They found that between 2002 and 2015, 115 short films had four characters who identified themselves as LGBT teenagers.

Lead researcher Stacy L. Smith said shorts often showcase different worldviews than in top grossing full-length features.

Smith said "In A Heartbeat" is an outlier along with "The Imitation Game," ''Moonlight" and the Freeform show "The Fosters" in showcasing experiences of LGBT youth.

"People aren't seeing rich, complex and compelling LGBT youth," she said. "The short should be applauded for representing the world we live in."

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Follow Joseph Longo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/josephlongo_

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