It may seem like major studios are embracing inclusion as of late with LGBTQ-centric narratives and characters, but GLAAD’s annual Studio Responsibility Index (SRI) notes otherwise with a drop in the representation of LGBTQ people in films in the past year.
SRI is a report that maps the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ people in films released by the seven largest motion picture studios and their subsidiaries: 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, Paramount, Sony, Sony Pictures Classics, Universal, Focus Features, Disney, and Warner Bros. In the 2017 calendar year, GLAAD found that out of the 109 releases from major studios, only 14 (12.8%) of them included characters that are LGBTQ. That is a decrease compared to 2016 which saw 23 out of 125 films (18.4%) have LGBTQ representation. 2017 marked the lowest percentage of LGBTQ-inclusive major studio releases since GLAAD began tracking in 2012. Of the films reported, none featured a trans character (This excludes the Academy Award-winning indie A Fantastic Woman). This was a decrease from the one trans character featured in a major studio film in 2016 — which was Benedict Cumberbatch’s character in Zoolander 2. Even then, the character was a controversial punchline and not representative of the LGBTQ community. That said, 2017 wasn’t as cinematically woke as we thought.
The drop in on-screen LGBTQ representation is a speed bump in GLAAD’s call to action to have the seven major film studios to have 20% of their major releases include LGBTQ characters by 2021 and that 50% of films include LGBTQ characters by 2024.
The decrease doesn’t necessarily mean all hope is lost. There was an increase in racial diversity of LGBTQ characters. In 2017, the majority of LGBTQ characters were people of color (57%, 16 of 28). Downside: there were no Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ characters in major studio releases in 2017.
The films from major studios were also put through the Vito Russo Test, a set of criteria to analyze how LGBTQ characters are included in a film. It provides a barometer for filmmakers to create fleshed out and multidimensional LGBTQ characters. This test represents a minimum standard GLAAD expects a greater number of mainstream Hollywood films to reach in the future. 67% (9 out of 14) of LGBTQ-inclusive films in the study passed the test. This was the same number of passing films as the previous year, but there were 23 LBGTQ-inclusive films in the report from 2016.
Even though the numbers might be good, the studios still didn’t pass with flying colors when it came to LGBTQ representation. Based on the overall quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ representation, grades were given out to each studio: Excellent, Good, Insufficient, Poor, or Failing. None of them quite reached the “Excellent” rating. 20th Century Fox and Universal came out on top with “Insufficient” while Paramount, Sony, and Disney received a “Poor” rating. Lionsgate and Warner Bros. ranked lowest with a “Failing” grade.
In the report, GLAAD urged studios to do better by including LGBTQ characters directly tied to the film’s plot. They also called for LGBTQ characters to be featured not as subtext but as fully shown instead of being left up to interpretation. And with comic book movies all the rage, GLAAD insisted that they include more LGBTQ characters as there are many LGBTQ heroes in comics.