Major film studios broadly fell short last year of increasing the number of characters in their movies that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ), according to a new analysis issued Thursday by GLAAD.
Only 23 of the 125 films counted by the New York-based media advocacy group featured an LGBTQ character last year, accounting for less than 20 percent of films produced by the seven studios GLAAD rated in its report. The organization rates studios’ efforts as excellent, good, insufficient, poor, or failing.
No film studio has earned an “excellent” rating in the five years GLAAD has tracked LGBTQ representation. Universal Studios earned the highest mark, rating “insufficient” but it drew praise for films like “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” which featured an “unexpectedly well-handled subplot” involving a gay fraternity brother’s wedding engagement and how the pending nuptials strained his friendship with his former fraternity brother, Teddy, played by Zac Efron.
Earning “poor” ratings were 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Bros. Lionsgate Entertainment, Sony Pictures, and Walt Disney Studios earned “failing” ratings.
Some art house divisions were also analyzed, but not part of the parent studio’s final rating. They included Fox Searchlight and Universal Picture’s Focus Features.
GLAAD’s annual Studio Responsibility Index is intended to pressure top movie studios to feature more LGBTQ characters and in more meaningful ways. Too often, GLAAD says, LGBTQ characters appear only briefly in films or in service of a joke. Of the films featuring LGBTQ characters, only nine passed the report’s Vito Russo test, a measurement that examines how well-rounded and integral the character is in the film.
Drawing a contrast between television and film, GLAAD said major studios are lagging their TV counterparts in boosting the number of LGBTQ roles.
“It is not getting better,” GLAAD president and chief executive, Sarah Kate Ellis, tells Variety. “The bars are not being moved.”
Ellis nonetheless says she is optimistic representation of LGBTQ characters will improve, pointing to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” live-action remake, released in March, as an example.
LeFou, sidekick to villain, Gaston, is gay and in the final moments of the film, LeFou dances with a man during the ball sequence. The inclusion of a gay character in the reboot of a Disney classic stirred controversy, particularly abroad. Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation where sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and whipping, initially objected to the scene, pressing for it to be cut. Disney stood firm, resisting any edits to the film, and exhibitors eventually showed the movie in full. In Russia, viewership was restricted to those 16 and older.
The film went on to become one of Disney’s most successful films, grossing more than $1.2 billion worldwide.
At a time when countries like Chechnya are committing human rights violations against suspected LGBTQ individuals, including kidnapping, torture and murder, it’s more important than ever to focus on representation in film, the country’s largest cultural export, Ellis says.
“Having representation, especially in the films that are widely distributed not only here in the States, they change hearts and minds,” Ellis says. “They allow people who are LGBTQ to see themselves reflected. That’s why it’s so important.”
For all the fanfare surrounding “Moonlight,” the 2016 film released by A24, the number of LGBTQ individuals of color declined for the second year in a row, according to the report. Last year, 20 percent of the 70 LGBTQ characters identified by GLAAD were people of color, compared with 32.1% in 2014.
Gay men are featured far more often than other members of the LGBTQ community, the report found. GLAAD found only one transgender character featured in Paramount’s “Zoolander 2,” and criticized the depiction of the character, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Ellis says studios should labor to stop using LGBTQ characters as the punch line or punching bag. “That’s a good step in the right direction.”
GLAAD‘s breakdown of films by major studio:
20th Century Fox: 16 films, three included LGBTQ characters. Two films passed Vito Russo test.
Lionsgate Entertainment: 24 films, three included LGBTQ characters. One film passed the Vito Russo test.
Paramount Pictures: 15 films, five included appearances by LGBTQ characters. Three films passed the Vito Russo test.
Sony Pictures: 21 films, two included appearances by LGBTQ characters. One film passed the Vito Russo test.
Universal Pictures: 17 films, five included appearances by LGBTQ people. Two films passed the Vito Russo test.
Walt Disney Studios: 13 films, one included an appearance by LGBTQ characters. None passed the Vito Russo test.
Warner Brothers: 19 films, four included appearances by LGBTQ characters. None passed the Vito Russo test.