GLAAD’s 2017 Hollywood Report Highlights Missed Opportunities & a Notable Drop in LGBTQ Characters of Color

GLAAD has released their 2017 Studio Responsibility Index. Read ahead to see how the big studios fared when it comes to films featuring LGBTQ+ characters.

Last year GLAAD did a big call out to Disney-owned Star Wars considering the sci-fi film franchise features “unique worlds whose advanced societies can serve as a commentary on our own.” This year Disney was at the bottom of the barrel again and Paramount and Universal Pictures tied as the most inclusive of the major studios but there was a “notable drop in LGBTQ characters of color.”

GLAAD’s SRI “maps the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ people in films released by the seven largest motion picture studios and their subsidiaries during the 2016 calendar year.” They mention this year that moving forward they will be attempting to provide more timely reports so issues get raised earlier. But here are what they gave as some of their key findings:

  • A notable drop in LGBTQ characters of color – down 5% from the 2016 report and down 12% from the 2015 report.
  • There was only on transgender character in all big Hollywood film and that character was nothing more than a punchline.
  • Universal Pictures scored the best rating with an ‘Insufficient’ – all the other studios were either ‘Poor’ or ‘Failing’

Not great. “Moonlight, from the independent studio A24, made history this year as the first film led by a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) character to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Meanwhile, nearly half of the inclusive films released by the seven major studios included less than one minute of screen time for their LGBTQ characters,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Major releases continue to lag behind the groundbreaking stories we see in independent films (like Moonlight) and even further behind the LGBTQ stories on TV and streaming series like Sense8 and Steven Universe. Millenials aged 18 to 34 are more than twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ as older generations. 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.”

Last year 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate Entertainment, Sony Columbia Pictures, and Universal Pictures all received “Adequate” ratings, while Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Brothers all received a “Failing.” However, they decided to change their grading scale this year a bit as “adequate” was really anything but. Now they grades consist of “Excellent, Good, Insufficient, Poor, or Failing.” This year, “Lionsgate Entertainment, Sony Pictures, and Walt Disney Studios given ‘Failing’ ratings and 20th Century Fox, Paramount, and Warner Brothers receive ‘Poor’ ratings.

Here’s some specific info on representation from the report:

  • Independence Day: Resurgence – In this sequel to the 1996 original, the audience learns that Dr. Brakish Okun has been in a 20-year coma after being used by the alien invaders in the first film. His partner, fellow Area 51 scientist Dr. Isaacs, has been caring for him ever since. The film fumbled its chance for a meaningful story between the two men, as when they reunite there are some jokes made, but no affectionate gestures or “I love you’s” shared.
  • Star Trek Beyond – The inclusion of a gay character as part of the core ensemble of a summer tentpole film is a huge step forward. Genre films like Star Trek, which exist in the worlds of their maker’s own creation, have the opportunity to create unique societies beyond the biases that exist in our own world. By simply including diverse characters who are treated with the same nuance as any other character; these films are able to hold up a mirror to our own society and challenge preconceived notions.
  • Ghostbusters – Given Sony’s refusal to confirm Holtzmann as a canonically lesbian or bisexual character, – even in outside press, something that still happens too often in place of clearly defined onscreen representation – GLAAD did not count the character in its tally.
  • Finding Dory – This follow up to the 2003 hit Finding Nemo made headlines after the film’s first trailer dropped, and viewers read into the edited clip that there was a lesbian couple in the film. Given that there were no real hints onscreen that the two were a couple and the director’s refusal to confirm or deny, GLAAD did not count these characters in its final tally.
  • Zootopia – The Oscar-winning animated film Zootopia actually featured a married gay couple, but the two were so minor that nearly every viewer missed the relationship completely. The couple, Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson, are the loudly argumentative neighbors of main character, Judy Hopps. The only hint on-screen to the couple’s relationship is their hyphenated name listed in the film’s credits, but co-director/writer Jared Bush confirmed the relationship on his official Twitter account. While confirmed inclusion is a step forward for children’s films, we would like to see these characters be more forthrightly defined within the film itself going forward.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – As there has not been any confirmation on whether Grindelwald himself returned Dumbledore’s feelings, GLAAD did not count this character. The franchise has announced plans for four additional films, set up to follow the rise of Grindelwald and his eventual defeat by Dumbledore. We hope to see more of their early relationship and Dumbledore’s feelings explored in those films.

Considering some of the representation is so lackluster, if not downright offensive, what kind of representation are they hoping for exactly? Well, they describe the Vito Russo Test (named for film historian and GLAAD co-founder Vito Russo) in which the following must be true:

  • The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
  • That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. they are comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight/non-transgender characters from one another).
  • The LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect, meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character must matter.

GLAAD notes, “Only nine of the 23 (39%) LGBTQ-inclusive major studio films passed the Vito Russo Test this year.”

GLAAD found that of the 125 releases from major studios in 2016, only 23 of them (18.4%) included characters identified as LGBTQ. Gay men are still by far the most represented group within the LGBTQ community with 83% of inclusive films featuring gay male characters. Lesbian portrayals rose from 23% in 2015 to 35% of inclusive films featuring lesbian characters. Bisexual representation appeared in 13% of LGBTQ-inclusive films. At the same time, Harley Quinn’s bi identity, which is front and center in the comic books that inspired the film, was completely erased in the ‘Suicide Squad’ film. Transgender representation remains abysmally low, with only one transgender character counted, the same number as the 2015 report, and once again the character was used a punchline in ‘Zoolander 2.’

GLAAD also found that racial diversity among LGBTQ characters in film again dropped drastically year over year. In 2016, only 20% of LGBTQ characters were people of color, compared to 25.5% in 2015 and 32.1% in 2014. Of the LGBTQ characters counted, 48 were White (69%), nine were Black/African American (13%), four were Asian/Pacific Islander (6%), and one was Latinx (1%). Eight characters (11%) were non-human.

Several films still require the audience to have read press coverage or have outside knowledge such as ‘Deadpool,’ where the director confirmed the lead to be pansexual but did not address this character trait in the film or the appearance of real life out news commentators including Anderson Cooper in in ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.’

GLAAD included recommendations for how the industry can improve. Among them? “Filmmakers should question what they are really communicating to audiences when they use thoughtless “humor” targeting an already marginalized community.”

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