Hollywood films are more inclusive of LGBTQ characters than they’ve ever been, but GLAAD says there is still much to be done, slapping all eight of the major Hollywood studios with a grade of “insufficient” or worse when it comes to representation of LGBTQ characters on screen.
That’s because while GLAAD has counted a slight rise in gay, lesbian or bisexual characters in the top-grossing movies of 2019 compared to the year prior, more than half of those characters received less than three minutes of total screen time. And transgender characters – for the third year in a row – remain completely absent from major studio films.
It all comes from GLAAD’s latest Studio Responsibility Index, the eighth year in which the organization has conducted the study. It found that in 2019, a record 22 of 118 films (18.6%) released by Hollywood’s major distributors had LGBTQ characters compared to just 20 of 110 films in 2018 (18.2%).
The report also noticed that just 34% of all LGBTQ characters were people of color in 2019, down from 42% in 2018 and 57% in 2017. And only one film had a gay character who was also disabled, Lionsgate’s “Five Feet Apart.” GLAAD is calling on studios to make half of LGBTQ characters non-white within the next two years.
GLAAD tracked the releases from Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, The Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros., and for the first time also tracked releases from STX Films and United Artists Releasing. All eight studios were given at best “Insufficient” grades, while Disney, Sony and Warner Bros. received “Poor” grades, and STX received a “Failing” grade with no LGBTQ representation whatsoever.
GLAAD also called on the major film studios in the 2018 report to make sure that at least 20 percent of all their releases had LGBTQ characters by 2021 and 50 percent are inclusive by 2024. And four of the eight hit this mark individually: Paramount, United Artists, Lionsgate and Disney.
Part of the reason noted for the poor grades all around is Hollywood’s habit of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments of LGBTQ inclusion in major movies. Only nine of the 22 movies with an LGBTQ character released in 2019 had more than 10 minutes of screen time, and 21 of the 50 characters in those films were on screen for less than one minute, many so minor that they were not given names.
The report points to what’s known as the Vito Russo Test, which evaluates whether an LGBTQ character is a substantial representation. To pass, an LGBTQ character must not only be visible, but not be solely defined by their sexuality or gender identity, and they must be tied to the plot in a way that their removal would have a noticeable impact.
In 2019, a record 73% of the LGBTQ inclusive films passed the Vito Russo test, up from 65% last year. But in all, that’s just 14% of the total 118 films counted in the study.
The study points to examples like “Avengers: Endgame” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” as movies that failed the Vito Russo Test with quick cameos of unnamed LGBTQ characters, as well as family films like “Toy Story 4” and “Wonder Park” that show gay and lesbian couples in the background. GLAAD also dinged movies like “Hustlers,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and “Queen and Slim” as movies that cast transgender actors in minor roles but did not make any assertions about their characters’ identities, so those individuals were not counted among visible LGBTQ representations.
“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,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “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.”
“Telling meaningful LGBTQ stories is not just the right thing to do, it’s also just smart business. 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,” Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s director of entertainment research and analysis. “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.”
While they weren’t counted among GLAAD’s overall results, the study did highlight films from some of the studio’s subsidiaries and from indie distributors that released strong examples of LGBTQ inclusion, among them films like “Judy,” “Pain & Glory,” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” “Downton Abbey” and “Brittany Runs a Marathon.”
See the full results of GLAAD’s 2019 Studio Responsibility Index here.