GLAAD’s annual report card is out, and three of the major film studios – Disney, Sony Pictures and Lionsgate – have been given failing grades for their underrepresentation of LGBTQ characters in the films they released last year.
Universal, with five of its 17 films featuring LGBTQ characters, was the only studio to be rated “Insufficient” – the highest mark given out this year. No studios were rated “Good” this time, and none ever has received an “Excellent” rating.
Paramount was deemed the most inclusive of the major studios – with five of its 15 films featuring gay or lesbian characters – but it still received a “Poor” rating, in part because depictions of LGBTQs in Zoolander 2 were found to be “incredibly dated” and the subject of “cheap jokes constructed without thought that use an already marginalized community as a punchline only reinforce ignorance and prejudice.” The film was the target of a boycott prior to its release.
“Major releases continue to lag behind the groundbreaking stories we see in independent films like Moonlight,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, “and even further behind the LGBTQ stories on TV and streaming series like Sense8 and Steven Universe. If film wants to remain relevant and retain an audience that has more options for entertainment than ever before, the industry must catch up in reflecting the full diversity of this country.”
Warner Bros., which featured LGBTQ characters in four of its 19 films, and 2oth Century Fox (three of 16) also were given “Poor” ratings. In Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad, GLAAD notes, Harley Quinn’s bisexual identity, which is front and center in the comic books that inspired the film, was completely missing on the big screen.
Only two of the 21 films released by Sony Pictures last year featured LGBTQ characters, and only one of them passed the Vito Russo Test, named after GLAAD’s co-founder, which analyzes how LGBTQ characters are situated in a narrative.
Only one of the 13 films released by Walt Disney Studios last year included appearances by LGBTQ people, and none passed GLAAD’s Russo Test, which gives points to films that contain characters identifiable as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender; are not solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity; and who must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.
Of the 24 films released by Lionsgate Entertainment last year, three included LGBTQ characters, but only one of the films passed the Vito Russo Test.
Of the 125 films released by major studios last year, only 23 (18.4%) contained LGBTQ characters, only one contained trans-gender characters, and only nine passed the Vito Russo Test – a slight increase from the previous report in which eight of 22 (36%) inclusive films released in 2015 passed the test, which was the lowest percentage in the study’s history. This is compared to 11 of 20 (55%) inclusive films released in 2014, seven of 17 (41%) in 2013 and six out of 14 (43%) inclusive films released in 2012.
The report also found a steady decline in the racial diversity of LGBTQ characters in recent years. In 2016, only 20% of LGBTQ characters were people of color, compared with 25.5% in 2015 and 32.1% in 2014. Of the LGBTQ characters counted, 48 were white (69%); nine were African American (13%); four were Asian/Pacific Islander (6%); one was Hispanic (1%), and eight (11%) were non-humans featured in three animated films: Disney’s Zootopia and Sony’s The Angry Birds Movie and Sausage Party.
“There is clearly much room for industry improvement,” the report states. “More films need to include substantial LGBTQ characters that pass this simple test. However, as several of the films tracked prove, passing this test in no way guarantees that a film is not problematic or offensive in its portrayal of LGBTQ people.”
The report concluded that the studios should take their cue from television and independent films, which are much more inclusive of well-rounded LGBTQ characters.
“With many of the most popular TV shows proudly including LGBTQ characters and stories,” Ellis said, “the time has come for the film industry to step up and show the full diversity of the world that movie audiences are living in today instead and end the outdated humor seen in many films. Films like Moonlight prove there is a huge opportunity to not only tell LGBTQ stories worthy of Oscar gold, but to open the hearts and minds of audiences here and around the world in places where these stories can be a lifeline to the people who need it most.”
In its recommendations to the film industry, GLAAD said:
- “The overwhelming majority of LGBTQ characters in mainstream films are still minor, in both screen time and substance. Of the 23 mainstream films that GLAAD found to be LGBTQ-inclusive, 10 (43%) included less than one minute of screen time for their LGBTQ characters. This brevity remains standard for LGBTQ inclusion. Studios should not only include more LGBTQ characters, but to construct LGBTQ roles that are directly tied to the plot.
- “The racial diversity of LGBTQ characters remains a problem in all forms of media, but mainstream film is particularly dismal after a five-percentage point drop in LGBTQ characters of color. This is the second straight year with a significant decrease of LGBTQ characters of color. Successful and critically acclaimed films that include central LGBTQ characters of color like Moonlight, Star Trek Beyond, and Pariah show there is an audience for these stories.
- “Hollywood film most notably falls behind other forms of media in its portrayal – or lack thereof – of transgender characters. For the second year, GLAAD found one trans-inclusive mainstream film and, again, the character existed solely as a punchline. Several other mainstream films, which did not have transgender characters, nevertheless included trans issues as a reason to scoff. The film studios should join their audiences, who have mostly moved passed merely laughing at the existence of transgender people.
- “Comedy films, the genre most likely to contain LGBTQ characters, like Dirty Grandpa and Central Intelligence, included characters who were primarily used as the punchline in jokes based outdated stereotypes for cheap laughs.”