When it comes to movies, gays and lesbians are still riding in the back of the bus.
Shows like “Glee” and “Will & Grace” have helped television audiences grow more comfortable with homosexuality in recent years, and great strides have taken place in the legal system, particularly in the area of marriage equality.
The picture on the big screen is grimmer. Of the 101 films released by the six leading studios in Hollywood last year, only 14 contained LGBT characters, a new study by media monitoring group GLAAD found.
And there’s definitely some genre bias. Comedies proved to be the most inclusive genre when it comes to LGBT representation. Nine of the 24 comedies released by the six studios featured LGBT characters, while only three of the 34 action or science-fiction films included LGBT characters and only one out of the 21 dramas that hit screens had any LGBT representation.
“This was our attempt to get the lines of communication open,” Matt Kane, associate director of entertainment media at GLAAD, told TheWrap. “We want this to be part of a longer conversation. It’s just begun and hopefully it will be as productive as the ones we’ve had with TV networks.”
In the study, Universal Pictures emerged as the clear winner, with a quarter of its 16 releases featuring some form of LGBT representation. The group doled out “adequate” ratings to Sony, which featured LGBT characters in four of its 19 releases, Paramount, which had LGBT characters in three of its 14 films; and Warner Bros., which boasted LGBT characters in two of its 24 releases.
Disney, which had a fleeting glimpse of an LGBT character in one of its 13 releases, and Fox, which had no LGBT representation in any of its 15 films, both earned failing marks.
While films like “Cloud Atlas” depicted a gay love story that was central to the plot and was co-directed by transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski, many of the gay or lesbian characters who were featured in movies were portrayed as villains or used as punch lines, according to the study.
Perhaps no gay character was more prominent in 2012 than Javier Bardem‘s bleached blonde and bisexual bad guy in “Skyfall,” but GLAAD’s brain-trust notes that his portrayal, while memorable, did not represent a huge advancement for media depictions of the LGBT community.
“While this is far and away one of the most high-profile LGBT film roles of the year, it’s unfortunate that it also plays into some old cinematic clichés of bisexual people being duplicitous or unbalanced, not to mention a bit of possible effemiphobia per Javier Bardem‘s performance,” the study’s authors write.
GLAAD said that the global nature of the movie business and film’s status as a major cultural export makes improving representations of the LGBT community a critical goal. The group claims that featuring characters who are homosexual, transgender or bisexual can help change anti-gay policies and laws in major film markets like Russia and China.
“Look at what’s happened here in the U.S.,” Wilson Cruz, GLAAD spokesperson, told TheWrap. “When people hear our stories and get to know us on a personal level through TV and media, they feel like they know somebody and that’s the key to changing people’s hearts and minds. When they know us, they side with us.”
The study is the first of its kind and serves as a report card on the various studios and their commitment to show gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender characters in the films they produce.