Myth of ‘Liberal Hollywood’: TV Makes Strides in LGBT World, But What About Film?

The LGBT World and Hollywood: TV
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Major-studio comedies like “The Hangover” and “Get Hard” feature anti-gay jokes, and LGBT characters are chronically missing from summer tentpoles.

Is Hollywood homophobic?

Kelly Bush Novak, ID-PR founder and CEO, says there is a distinct split when talking about the entertainment industry. “I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen homophobia on television. But I see it in movies all the time. In an industry so well-populated by gay and lesbian filmmakers and producers, we can do better.”

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA chief operating officer and general counsel, says discrimination can happen not just in on-camera depictions, but behind the scenes as well. “The industry has made a big impact in the broader world, but hasn’t done enough to take care of LGBT people here at home, in the industry,” he says. Stars remain in the closet (see story, page 40), and Crabtree-Ireland says the mood affects working performers at all levels. “LGBT actors are discriminated against, and many of them feel uncomfortable being out professionally because of the risk to their career prospects. That needs to change, and to make that happen, we need the commitment and support of people across the industry. This is not an effort that performers should have to undertake on their own.”

That sentiment applies to members of other guilds, including below-the-line crew members.

If LGBT people feel invisible or stereotyped in films, they’re in good company. This year has seen renewed attacks on the film industry’s lack of diversity, in terms of hiring and depicting women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Native Americans, Asians, people with disabilities and others. To put it simply, the film biz isn’t necessarily homophobic; maybe it’s simply phobic.

And, as with everything in the entertainment business, much is due to economics.

Steven J. Ross, who wrote the book “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics,” stresses that Hollywood consists of two distinct parts — “and the creative side is far more liberal than the corporate side.” But it’s the latter that controls the purse strings.

With so much money at stake, movie studios are fearful of alienating even a portion of the audience. Executives too often make decisions based on a preponderance of past success; the mantra seems to be “If it isn’t what usually works, let’s not try it.” It’s a mind-set that becomes self-perpetuating, and even global hits like “Brokeback Mountain” ($178 million worldwide) are written off as flukes.

By contrast, TV covers a wide spectrum of the gay world, says GLAAD president-CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen LGBT representation on TV evolve to more accurately reflect its audience and our culture, with diverse programs like ‘Empire’ and ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ also becoming some of TV’s biggest hits,” Ellis says. “The film industry, on the other hand, lags years behind — and must improve its track record on diverse representations if it is to stay relevant to a wide audience.”

TV has gotten bolder due to channel growth and the need for more content. “TV has evolved more quickly than we expected,” says Stephen Tropiano, author of “The Prime Time Closet” and a professor at Ithaca College. Tropiano points out that “in the post-Ellen era, there are many LGBT characters in all genres — comedy, drama, reality.”

GLAAD backs that up, with studies showing a healthy cross-section in primetime scripted shows.

But film results are poor. GLAAD tracked 114 features. Of the 20 featuring LGBT characters, half of them had only 30 seconds to five minutes of screen time. Two-thirds of those characters were white men. And many were mocked — ID-PR’s Bush says: “I’d like to stop seeing movies with gratuitous jokes. It’s time to consider the teenager in the Midwest who may be the victim of violence or get kicked out of his home as a result.”

Another problem in film is the general absence of gay characters, and how that impacts global images. “Films live beyond U.S. borders,” says Matt Kane, GLAAD program director of entertainment media. “The Hollywood brand carries a lot of cachet in other countries. And when there are no representations of LGBTQ characters, or negative ones, that can affect people’s perceptions within their own country or community.”

For those who choose to see the glass as half-full, there are reasons for optimism. The studios’ specialty divisions — Focus Features, Sony Classics, Fox Searchlight — have shown wide diversity, as have indies like the Weinstein Co., IFC and Lionsgate.

And the younger generation is far more accepting of people with different attitudes. Moreover, there’s a substantial diversity in works made
for the Internet, with a wide range of artists showing less discrimination in terms of gender, race or sexual identity.

As the slogan from the 1970s said, you’ve come a long way baby — but you’ve still got a long way to go.

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  1. BillUSA says:

    I can’t believe what I just read. Are you on drugs? How much homosexuality is ever going to be enough? Don’t have an answer? I’ll tell you what you are too afraid to admit. The answer is never. Never in the sense of “not until every last character and living person is a homosexual and heterosexuals are forced to live with the shame and guilt that homosexuals have had to endure”. This nonsense about equality is as insulting to the intelligence as it is dishonest. They want complete eradication of the very natural method of procreation that enabled their conception because we can now make babies in labs. If that last sentence sounds crazy to you – welcome to the club.

    • let's be real says:

      Why so threatened? Gays and lesbians are at least 15 percent of the population, why should they be represented on TV and in films? You probably have one or two in your family, most people do.

      They’re not going to disappear tomorrow, so you might as well get used to it.

    • Joel says:

      Bill – You are dead-on accurate. Enough is never enough for this fraction of the population. Never.

  2. Jack says:

    Will & Grace was a hit for years on NBC, which shows the general audience has no problem with gay characters on TV. Since then, we’ve seen plenty of them. Film is another story.

    The studios still aren’t sold on gay characters or gay themes, and they sure aren’t sold on lesbian leading ladies in romantic leading roles. They don’t think audiences will believe an openly lesbian actress can play a hetero convincingly.

    Kristen Stewart’s own mother outed her in an interview a couple of weeks ago, talking openly about her girlfriend of the past two years, Alicia Cargile, a visual effects producer. She has already proven that she can play a romantic lead convincingly in the Twilight franchise, but it will be interesting to see if the studios think she can still sell that image now that movie goers know she’s lesbian.

    Jeremy Remer just gave an interview to respond to rumors that he’s gay and he remained as deft at dodging the question as he always has, simply saying that it was a compliment when a star is thought to be gay, it means you have arrived (if they create gay rumors about you). He’s right in a way, but he still wants to play those leading roles, so he won’t flat out confirm or deny.

  3. beck darling says:

    As a gay man, I would hate to live in a singular world of gays. Personally, nothing bores me more than an overt gay & lesbian film or television.

  4. Rihty says:

    It’s quite simple, really. Hollywood is a business. People do not pay hard-earned money for gay-themed films of any kind. Therefore, Hollywood should not be overly concerned with gay anything, as it shouldn’t be for Native-American rights, or any other “rights” that do not help the business. Anything else is just wistful thinking, but smart money is NEVER on gay, and everyone in the business knows that.

  5. Unser says:

    Why is it important for TV or film to make strides in gay/lesbian promotion?

    • timgray2013 says:

      It’s not gay/lesbian promotion, it’s inclusion. When a film has a supporting character who’s gay, this shows audiences that LGBT people are not monsters, they will not ruin your neighborhood, they’re humans and not all that different from you. That question of inclusion in films is important to many groups, whether they’re LGBT, women, blacks, Hispanics, people with disabilities, etc. In Variety’s issue, we show that LGBT people are about 3% of TV series regulars, which is consistent with the US population, and activists are happy with that. But the film business is behind the times.

      • BillUSA says:

        It is promotion – not inclusion. That’s what gets me about the whole homosexual movement. They act as if religion came to their door, kicked it down, pumped them full of shame and guilt with the intention of making them feel alienated. It’s all a perception that they try to pass off onto those of us who have a normal sexual instinct. They feel guilty on their own. They make themselves feel like outcasts because they can’t tolerate people with normal sexual desires. There is nothing normal about homosexuality. It’s an evolutionary dead end.

        There’s so much lying and subterfuge interlaced with their statements of being born that way or homosexuality being the new normal that people who are repulsed by their sexual choices are further put off by their nonsense. In turn, the homosexuals think everyone hates them when in fact it’s their obnoxiousness that turns people off and their overwhelming selfishness which makes them unreasonable.

        Go ahead I say, be homosexual all you want or think you’ve been born to be. I don’t care that you can get married and whatever else you want to do with your life (as long as it doesn’t endanger the health and welfare of another human being). Just cut the bullshit.

        What does all that have to do with the article? It speaks volumes about the heart of why there are nonsensical articles about such nonsensical topics. Yet, in the real world the fact remains that homosexuality is not normal and normal people don’t go out of their way to pay good money to see a picture about homosexuals. Studios (for all their rampant stupidity) do know what the market research yields and when it suggests a loss of revenue or no return on investment, they aren’t dumb enough to venture into money wasting projects.

        Their (the homosexual set) exclusion is a natural result of their sexual lifestyle choice to be unlike the mainstream. No manner of legislation, public relations, political correctness or posturing can change the fact that they will never be a part of the greater scheme to the point of being on equal footing with the population which practices a sexual lifestyle that ensures the future of the species. That’s why they need help to be tolerated. That’s why they need to intimidate businesses. That’s why they attack the easy religion (Christianity). They aren’t wanted – hence, the promotion.

        Sincerely sorry for a long response, but I wanted to make myself clear.

      • timgray2013 says:

        The Declaration of Independence said all men are created equal. The 14th Amendment guarantees equality. Yet LGBT people still do not have equality in the majority of states, in terms of housing and employment. Every other group has these rights. That’s the point behind the issue. It’s a matter of legal equality.
        Tim Gray

    • Anonymous says:

      Because it directly benefits so many of those who work there. Must be nice to work for something in your self-interest and be praised for promoting social issues – hence the quote unquote around Liberal Hollywood.

      • Unser says:

        yeah anonymous, that’s the “spin” and those are pretty words, but what about the other 98.2 percent of the public that is not interested in gay and lesbian agendas? It seems the only people gay people care about are other gays. That is not tolerance, it’s bigotry and intolerance.

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