An animated political video featured in The New York Times’ opinion section has sparked outrage among a number of leaders and advocates in the LGBTQ community.
The short cartoon depicts U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin as gay paramours — a trope used numerous times by comedians and satirists seeking to mock the relationship between the two leaders.
“Donald Trump’s not-so-secret admiration for Vladimir Putin plays out in a teenager’s bedroom, where the fantasies of this forbidden romance come to life,” an article accompanying the video states.
“Trump and Putin: A Love Story” is part of a three-video series titled “Trump Bites,” which was animated by Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton and produced by Billy Shebar and David Roberts. In The New York Times article accompanying the video, which was posted on the Times website in late June, the creators said the series is a “riff on Mr. Trump’s absurd utterances to illustrate the president’s tumultuous inner life of paranoia, narcissism and xenophobia.”
Using real Trump audio clips, the video shows a cartoon depiction of the president getting ready for what appears to be a date. Donning a tuxedo, Trump opens the door to find a shirtless Putin. The U.S. president then hands his heart to the Russian leader. After flirtatious exchanges, the two share an intense, tongue-tied kiss and ride off into the sunset on a unicorn.
A number of LGBTQ leaders and advocates were quick to criticize the video as homophobic after it was posted to Twitter on Monday morning as the Trump-Putin summit was underway in Helsinki.
“This isn’t just intensely stupid it’s homophobic as all hell,” Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims, who is gay, wrote on Twitter. “What on Earth makes you think that equating the love that millions of people across the planet feel for one another to the unconscionably criminal relationship between these two is OK?!? Truly, please explain.”
Openly gay Condé Nast executive Phillip Picardi, who runs the company’s new LGBTQ website, Them, also slammed the video as “homophobic.”
“It is implying that being gay is an insult for both of these men. It implies that being gay would emasculate them,” Picardi wrote on Twitter. “It implies that calling them gay together would anger them and incite reaction. This is beneath us.”
Bisexual advocate and writer Alex Berg blasted The New York Times and the video’s creators for using resources to produce an “offensive joke.”
“I think of the resources that went into animating this tired and offensive joke — it took 11 people to make this video. That would have been so much better spent on highlighting unsung queer heroes or even some kind of satire about how dangerous Russia is for LGBTQ folks.”
In a statement sent to NBC News, a spokesperson for The New York Times said the paper's opinion section "believes it’s important to showcase a diversity of thought through a range of distinct contributor voices, such as Bill Plympton, who is known for his irreverent, unsettling and at times disturbing cartoons."
"The video is not meant to be homophobic," the spokesperson continued. "The filmmaker’s vision was one of teenage infatuation portrayed through a dream-like fantasy sequence. He would have used the same format to satirize Trump’s infatuation with another politician, regardless of sexuality or gender. Exaggerated kissing is a signature feature of his animated shorts, including 'How to Kiss.'"
This is not the first time a comedian or satirist has come under fire for implying that the relationship between Trump and Putin is sexual.
Last year, “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert was blasted after saying the only thing Trump’s “mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c–k holster.” Colbert eventually apologized (sort of) for the comments, saying he would “change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be.”
More recently, Bette Midler was criticized for making a similar joke on Twitter.