Film Forward

LGBTQ Representation Has Decreased At The Movies, But There Is One Bright Spot

"Audiences want to see diverse stories that haven’t been told before."

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

When it comes to LGBTQ representation at the movies, Hollywood's biggest studios still have a lot of work to do, as shown by GLAAD's latest study. The 2018 Studio Responsibility Index, released by the organization earlier this month, looked at the presence of LGBTQ characters in films released by the seven major studios in 2017, and found some disappointing results.

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Out of 109 major releases, only 14 (12.8 percent) included LGBTQ characters. That's the lowest percentage since GLAAD began the study in 2012. Another problem is that none of the films featured a transgender character, and only nine of them passed the Vito Russo Test, a set of criteria inspired by the Bechdel Test to assess LGBTQ representation.

As disheartening as these results may be, there were signs of improvement in one area. The majority of LGBTQ characters in 2017 (16 out of 28, or 57 percent) were people of color. Examples include Rough Night, Get Out, and Alien: Covenant. However, it's important to note that there were no Asian or Pacific Islander LGBTQ characters represented by the major studios in 2017.

"With wildly successful films like Wonder Woman and Black Panther proving that audiences want to see diverse stories that haven't been told before, there is simply no reason for major studios to have such low scores on the Studio Responsibility Index," GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said of the results. 

In a letter, Ellis called on the major studios to ensure that 20 percent of their major releases will include LGBTQ characters by 2021, and 50 percent by 2024. There may already be signs of improvement this year, as GLAAD's Director of Entertainment and Research Megan Townsend points to releases such as Annihilation, Love, Simon, and Deadpool 2 — all of which feature LGBTQ characters of color.

"We hope that these films are the start of an upward trend of sustained progress, and not just a blip in the radar of next year's SRI," Townsend said of this year's titles.

GLAAD suggests several ways for studios to improve representation, such as tying LGBTQ characters more directly into the plot, and not leaving a character's sexual orientation up to subtext. The organization also called on comic book movies to stop erasing characters' canonically LGBTQ identities from adaptations, pointing to Thor: Ragnarok and Wonder Woman as major offenders. We would add the importance of depicting older LGBTQ characters and other similarly underrepresented groups.

Last year, comedian Billy Eichner pointed out that it's also up to moviegoers to support more diverse films. "When something good does happen — when a Moonlight comes along — we have to go and see it. We have to spend our money on it because, ultimately, it's a numbers game," he explained.

Hollywood might benefit by taking notes from television. Last year, GLAAD found that LGBTQ representation was at an all-time high during the 2017-2018 season, although there's still room for improvement in many areas, including racial diversity. 

(H/T: Backstage)

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