As Hollywood touts great wins for diversity and inclusion with recent films like “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman” shattering box office records, a new study from GLAAD asserts that representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in 2017 films released by the major studios hit a six-year low.
As a result, the LGBTQ media advocacy group is calling on the seven major studios to make at least 20% of their annual releases LGBTQ-inclusive by 2021 and 50% by 2024.
“The past year has seen the rise of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, which have transformed the conversation in the industry and among the movie-going public, and are driving change behind the scenes and in the media,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD’s president, in the study. “It is time for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer stories to be included in this conversation and in this movement.”
GLAAD has been tracking LGBTQ representation in film since 2012 by analyzing the major releases from the seven film studios that had the highest theatrical grosses each year, as reported by Box Office Mojo: 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony, Universal, Disney and Warner Bros. In 2017, a total of 109 films fell into those parameters for the organization’s “Studio Responsibility Index.” The 40 films released by corresponding speciality divisions, such as Fox Searchlight or Sony Pictures Classics, are analyzed separately.
Each film was reviewed for inclusion of LGBTQ characters as well as each character’s race, sexual orientation and gender identity. Based on the overall quantity, quality and diversity of LGBTQ representation, a grade was then assigned to each studio: excellent, good, insufficient, poor or failing. No studio earned a “good” rating this year. None has ever received an “excellent” rating.
LGBTQ representation in film bottomed out at 12.8% (14 of 109 films) in 2017, the lowest percentage ever recorded. This is a significant decrease from 2016’s 18.4% (23 of 125 films). Among the 2017 films that include LGBTQ characters, gay men were most present (64%) followed by lesbians (36%) and bisexuals (14%). No major releases included transgender or non-binary characters.
Overall, GLAAD tallied 28 total LGBTQ characters from the mainstream films, which is down from 70 in 2016 (a number inflated by a musical number in the comedy “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”) and 47 in 2015. Male characters again outnumbered female characters by more than two to one.
Perhaps the only positive from this year’s study was the increase in racial diversity of the characters after two straight years of declines. In 2017, 16 of 28 (or 57%) LGBTQ characters were of color compared to 14 of 70 (or 20%) the year prior: 12 were white, eight were black and eight were Latinx, the non-gendered moniker for people of Hispanic or Latin origin. No characters, however, were Asian or Pacific Islander.
Studio-wise, 20th Century Fox and Universal tied for the best representations of LGBTQ characters, both receiving an “insufficient” rating. Each studio had 14 films that were evaluated, but while Fox had two that were inclusive, Universal had four.
Fox’s two inclusive films were the Ridley Scott-directed “Alien: Covenant” and action sequel “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” In “Alien,” two of the male crew members en route to help colonize a new planet are husbands. Though both men die, GLAAD marks their inclusion in the sci-fi action franchise a “positive development.” In “Kingsman,” gay singer Elton John played himself and had a role in the action.
Fox Searchlight, the studio’s speciality label, had three LGBTQ-inclusive films, the most notable being “Battle of the Sexes” about lesbian tennis icon Billie Jean King and Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical “The Shape of Water.” Both were recognized with award season honors.
As for Universal, its LGBTQ-inclusive films were “Pitch Perfect 3,” “Get Out,” “Happy Death Day” and “Fifty Shades Darker.” However, the only film that passed GLAAD’s Vito Russo Test — which, taking inspiration from the popular Bechdel Test for female characters, analyzes how queer characters are included in a film’s narrative — was the Oscar-winning “Get Out.”
Receiving “poor” ratings were Paramount, Sony and Disney. The Alexander Payne-helmed “Downsizing,” Scarlett Johansson comedy “Rough Night” and the blockbuster hit “Beauty and the Beast” are among each studio’s respective inclusive films, though not all were applauded for wholly positive representations of LGBTQ people.
Fairing the worst in ratings, with a “failing” designation, were Lionsgate and Warner Bros. Despite both studios having two inclusive films each — “Power Rangers” and the Spanish-language “Hazlo Como Hombre” and comedies “CHiPS” and “Fist Fight,” respectively — the depictions of LGBTQ were termed problematic or offensive by GLAAD.
Through the study, GLAAD provided some recommendations for studios to achieve their proposed 2021 and 2024 goals. Those suggestions include not only writing more roles that are expressly LGBTQ-identified, but constructing those roles in a way that make the characters important to the story line. This is in an effort to undo a consistent issue GLAAD has recorded in Hollywood: LGBTQ characters used solely as joke fodder.
GLAAD also suggests, in the age of many comic book characters taking a leap into major blockbuster fare, that these adaptations maintain the LGBTQ identities of characters as expressed in the source material.
A final note of the study looks at projections to 2018. It highlights “Love, Simon,” the gay coming-of-age teen romantic drama from Fox, as a positive sign, as well as the Oscar win for Chile’s “A Fantastic Woman,” which stars trans actress Daniela Vega as a trans character, released by Sony Classics.