GLAAD released its 2020 Studio Responsibility Index (SRI) which examines and reports the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ characters in the highest theatrical grossing films released in 2019. This year’s report has some highs to celebrate as well as some lows that studios should address.
The study took a look at eight studios and four of their subsidiaries as reported by Box Office Mojo: Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, STX Films, United Artists Releasing, Universal Pictures, The Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros. We’ll start with the good news: of the 118 films released in 2019, 22 (18.6%) included characters that were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer (LGBTQ). The numbers climbed a smidge from last year’s report which clocked 20 out of 110 (18.2%) films as LGBTQ-inclusive. This marks the highest percentage of inclusive LGBTQ-inclusive films since the reported launched eight years ago.
The record-high doesn’t necessarily mean the studios passed with flying colors when it came to LGBTQ inclusion. The SRI did not give any of the eight studios or its subsidiaries the grade of “Good” or higher based on the quality, quantity, and diversity of LGBTQ representation. In fact, Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, United Artists Releasing, and Universal Pictures scored “Insufficient” grades while Sony Pictures Entertainment and Walt Disney Studios delivered “Poor” grades. STX Films didn’t hit the mark at all, as it was given a “Failing” grade with no LGBTQ representation.
Racial diversity of LGBTQ characters in the films examined was down for the third consecutive year. In 2019, just 34 percent of LGBTQ characters were people of color (17 of 50), down from 42% in last year’s report and a decrease of twenty-three percentage points from the 57% of LGBTQ characters of color in 2017. GLAAD is calling on the studios to ensure that within two years at least half of their LGBTQ characters are people of color.
As for transgender representation, there was none as trans characters were entirely absent in major studio releases for the third year in a row.
The downward trend continued with the representation of lesbian and bisexual people. Gay men were featured in 68% (15) of inclusive films which is an increase from last year’s 55%. Lesbian representation took a significant hit as it was down to 36% (8) of inclusive films. Meanwhile, bisexual representation dipped to 14%, with only three films featuring bi characters.
To further its study of intersectionality in film and TV, the report tallied LGBTQ characters with disabilities for the first time. There was only one character with a disability in major releases with the character of Poe (Moises Arias) in Lionsgate’s Five Feet Apart. On the art house side, there were two LGBTQ characters with disabilities, both from Sony Pictures Classics.
“Film has the power to educate, enlighten, and entertain audiences around the world and, in today’s divisive political and cultural climate, we must prioritize telling LGBTQ stories and the stories of all marginalized people,” said GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis. “Despite seeing a record-high percentage of LGBTQ-inclusive films this year, the industry still has a long way to go in terms of fairly and accurately representing the LGBTQ community. If film studios want to stay relevant to today’s audiences and compete in an industry that is emphasizing diversity and inclusion, then they must urgently reverse course on the diminishing representation of LGBTQ women and people of color, as well as the complete absence of trans characters.”
In 2018’s Studio Responsibility Index, GLAAD gave major studios some homework. They called on them to ensure that 20% of annual releases include LGBTQ characters by 2021 and 50 percent be inclusive by 2024. Out of the eight studios, four of them hit this 20% goal individually. Paramount Pictures hit 33% (up from 20% last year while United Artists Releasing scored at 29%, Lionsgate came in at 25%, and Walt Disney Studios hit 21%.
To improve the depictions of LGBTQ characters, GLAAD’s SRI included recommendations to studios on how they can avoid critical mistakes and setbacks including increasing screen time for queer characters, prioritizing intersectionality with people of color and characters with disabilities, the inclusion of authentic portrayals of bisexual people and, of course, more trans characters. Simple as that.
“Telling meaningful LGBTQ stories is not just the right thing to do, it’s also just smart business,” said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis. “LGBTQ people are a significant audience who are supporting LGBTQ-inclusive films with our dollars and digital attention. Nielsen found LGBTQ audiences are more likely to see a new theatrical release more than once compared to straight audiences, and continue to stay engaged consumers, with higher levels of purchasing a digital copy, subscription service, and spreading the word online.”
She adds, “Studios should recognize the power of LGBTQ audiences and the desire for stories that reflect our lives, by delivering and unambiguously marketing films and franchises that include nuanced and authentic LGBTQ characters.”
GLAAD’s SRI reviews films based on GLAAD’s “Vito Russo Test,” a set of criteria analyzing how LGBTQ characters are situated in a narrative. The test was named after GLAAD co-founder and film historian Vito Russo and parallels the “Bechdel Test.” The test may be a good barometer for representation, but passing the test does not guarantee that a film is free of problems when it comes to queer representation. The SRI found that 73% of LGBTQ-inclusive films (16 of 22) released in 2019 passed the Vito Russo Test, which is the highest percentage recorded in the report’s history. However, in the wider context, those 16 films represent only 14% of the 118 films released.
The SRI report comes two weeks before the first-ever virtual edition of the GLAAD Media Awards ceremony which will stream on GLAAD’s Facebook and YouTube on July 30 at 8pm ET and will air on Logo on August 3 at 8pm ET. The 31st annual GLAAD Media Awards will be hosted by comedians Fortune Feimster and Gina Yashere and will honor film, TV and media for its fair, accurate, and inclusive representations of LGBTQ people and issues — which is certainly in line with the release of this year’s report. The GLAAD Media Awards ceremonies were originally set to take place in New York on March 19 and in Los Angeles on April 16 but were canceled due to the pandemic.
For the full report, visit www.glaad.org.