The push comes as part of the anti-defamation group’s studio responsibility index, an annual survey of depictions of LGBT characters in major studio releases. Disney, which owns “Star Wars” creator LucasFilm, was one of two studios to feature no gay or lesbian characters in any of their films last year. The other was Paramount.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was praised for featuring a female and an African-American protagonist, but GLAAD says that the diversity push needs to be more expansive. It wants “Star Wars: Episode VIII,” currently shooting in London, to wave the rainbow flag, too.
“As sci-fi projects have the special opportunity to create unique worlds whose advanced societies can serve as a commentary on our own, the most obvious place where Disney could include LGBT characters is in the upcoming eighth ‘Star Wars’ film,” the report reads. “2015’s ‘The Force Awakens’ has introduced a new and diverse central trio, which allows the creators opportunity to tell fresh stories as they develop their backstory. Recent official novels in the franchise featured lesbian and gay characters that could also be easily written into the stories.”
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The lack of diversity on the big screen has inspired fierce debate around the entertainment industry, with some of the conversation stemming from the Oscars’ recent failure to nominate actors of color. Despite the chatter, when it comes to LGBT characters, GLAAD found that little progress has been made. Of the 126 major studio releases last year, only 22 of them — or 17.5% — featured LGBT characters. That was the same percentage of characters that appeared in films in 2014.
More than three quarters of films (77%) with LGBT characters featured gay men, less than a quarter (23%) included lesbians and less than a tenth (9%) included bisexual characters. There was only one film with a transgender character that was deemed inclusive. The characters that did appear were not racially diverse. In 2015, slightly more than 25% of LGBT characters were people of color compared with 32% in 2014.
“It is not enough for LGBT characters to simply be present; rather, these characters must be crafted thoughtfully and better reflect the full diversity of the LGBT community,” said GLAAD President/CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. “Leaving LGBT people out of the picture — or including them only as a punchline — keeps old prejudices alive and creates an unsafe environment, not only here in America, but around the world where most audiences see these depictions.”
The failure to show lesbian, gay and transgender characters comes amidst a period of wider social acceptance. The Supreme Court upheld same-sex marriage last summer and the majority of public opinion is now in favor of allowing same-sex unions. At the same time, Hollywood has used its financial heft to push for inclusion. Last March, major studios banded together to pressure Georgia not to go forward with a religious liberty bill that they claimed discriminated against LGBT citizens.
However, that did not extend to on screen portrayals of gay people. No studio received a “good” rating for their inclusion of LGBT characters. Fox, Lionsgate, Sony and Universal all earned adequate ratings, while Paramount, Disney and Warner Bros. earned failing grades. Lionsgate, which released the gay rights drama “Freeheld” and featured LGBT characters in “The DUFF” and “American Ultra,” was the most inclusive major studio, with eight out of its 24 releases deemed inclusive.
GLAAD also took issue with offensive depictions of LGBT people in a handful of big screen comedies. Kevin Hart’s work, in particular, was criticized in the report. “Get Hard” and “The Wedding Ringer,” two Hart hits, were cited for trading on “gay panic” humor.