Report shows more women and racial LGBTQ diversity in films

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A new report from the media advocacy group GLAAD reveals that queer women and racial LGBTQ+ diversity were prominent in 2020 films from major studios. According to GLAAD’s annual Studio Responsibility Index, despite the pandemic’s impact on films, there were more films with LGBTQ characters.

Of the 44 films reviewed, there were 20 LGBTQ characters — a decrease from 50 in last year’s report, due to the smaller number of films in the pandemic. Among those, 80% of the films had LGBTQ characters with more than 10 minutes of screen time, meaning the roles were significant.

Significant, but as GLAAD explained, not necessarily positive representations. “For example, The Gentleman and Buddy Games both registered more than 10 minutes, but with characters that were stereotypical and which elicited negative reactions from many LGBTQ viewers,” GLAAD said. “There remains a huge opportunity for meaningful LGBTQ storytelling.”

Of the 44 films, 10 (22.7%) contained LGBTQ characters. The films included Like a Boss, The Broken Hearts Gallery, Fantasy Island, Valley Girl, Freaky, The New Mutants and Birds of Prey. It was an increase of 4.1% from the previous year, but a decrease of 12 films overall.

For the first time, queer women characters (11) outnumbered queer male characters (9). Of the LGBTQ characters, a full 40% (8) were characters of color, an increase of 6% from 2019 (though an overall decrease of nine characters). GLAAD noted that was still 17% lower than a record of 57% characters of color in 2017.

While these were very positive details, for the fourth year in a row, there were no openly trans or non-binary characters. The last was in the 2016 film Zoolander 2. GLAAD called for more transgender and non-binary representation and storytelling, “especially in a political climate with anti-transgender legislation moving forward at a record pace.”

The GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index (SRI) maps the quantity, quality and diversity of LGBTQ characters in films released by eight major motion picture studios during the 2020 calendar year. The SRI was created by GLAAD in 2013. GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis called the current moment “a critical time of transformation for Hollywood.”

The SRI was released just days after Mj Rodriguez became the first trans actor nominated for a major acting Emmy in the category of Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series — for her role as Blanca on FX’s series “Pose,” which has strong trans representation in both characterizations and performers.

The SRI also reported that there also wasn’t a single LGBTQ character with a disability. “Last year, GLAAD also began to track LGBTQ characters who have a disability,” says the report. “This year shows an unacceptable and complete absence, a drop from the single character counted in the previous study.”

Nor were there any characters with HIV. “In the past year, GLAAD challenged the TV industry to introduce new regular and recurring LGBTQ characters living with HIV in order to combat stigma,” GLAAD said. “Now, GLAAD is similarly challenging Hollywood studios.”

In a preface to the report, Ellis highlighted that people with HIV are facing “incredibly high levels of stigma and discrimination. We’ve seen how culture can change when stories have a face, most notably with Billy Porter recently sharing his experience of living with HIV and receiving incredible waves of support.”

The pandemic radically altered the film landscape and the report reflects that. In 2019, GLAAD surveyed 118 films. Also, due to the changes wrought by the pandemic, GLAAD disbanded its usual 5-star grading scale for this year’s SRI.

Ellis said that the SRI is intended to “track LGBTQ inclusion in major studio films and to drive acceptance and meaningful LGBTQ inclusion. To date, we’ve seen and felt the great impact our TV research has had and its continued impact, driving creators and industry executives to do more and better.”

Ellis also said, “After several years of issuing this study, progress presented itself with the release of outstanding movies like Love, Simon, Blockers, and Rocketman hitting big screens in recent years, and we remain hopeful with the announcements of upcoming queer-inclusive movies originally set for theatrical distribution in 2020 and beyond. But no one could have predicted the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic, and the ways it would uniquely disrupt and halt the theatrical distribution business these past sixteen months.”

GLAAD researched films released by Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, STX Films, United Artists Releasing, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros., as well as films released by four subsidiaries of those major studios. GLAAD said, “The report is intended to serve as a road map toward increasing fair, accurate and inclusive LGBTQ representation in film.”

Characters are denoted as LGBTQ by the SRI based on what is presented on screen or through a “wide and commonly held cultural knowledge of a real-life figure.” For example, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) presents the character Renee Montoya as an out lesbian with an ex-girlfriend. Conversely, the coffee-shop boss Gail in Promising Young Woman, played by trans actress Laverne Cox, didn’t count as “there was no indication that the character of Gail is transgender, though she very well could be.”

The current Hollywood cliimate said Ellis, “represents a great opportunity to swiftly accelerate acceptance of LGBTQ stories, break new ground, and invest in queer and trans talent and stories that audiences are eager to watch. Hollywood and the business of storytelling must be more nimble, more creative, more open than ever before.”

The report also highlighted that the audience for films is changing. “A Gallup poll released in February 2021 showed that at least 15.9

percent of Gen Z Americans (born 1997 to 2002) self-identify as

part of the LGBTQ community — that is 1 in 6 adult members of Gen

Z, people aged 19 to 24 in 2021.”

If studios and production companies wish to remain relevant, “they need to be prepared for this group,” Ellis said.

The report states, “This year’s SRI makes it clear, there remains significant work to be done in mainstream film releases to ensure that tomorrow’s releases include us all–no matter the means of distribution nor platform.”

Read the entire 44 page SRI at www.glaad.org/.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.