Starting out as the Cohn-Brandt-Cohn Film Sales in 1918, the studio adopted the name Columbia Pictures in 1924. Thanks to its association with Frank Capra in the 1920s, the studio gradually rose in prominence and over the subsequent decades became home to stars such as Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Rita Hayworth. Following a brief period of ownership by Coca-Cola and the spinning off of Tri-Star Pictures (which it subsequently merged with), Columbia Pictures was acquired by Sony in 1989, and is now a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
By and large, Sony Columbia has never had the most impressive track record when it comes to LGBT inclusive films. The 1962 political thriller Advise and Consent did contain a subplot about a senate chairman who is blackmailed over a past affair with a man (and subsequently commits suicide), but it’s hardly held up as a high point in the LGBT cinematic canon. Neither was 1992’s Basic Instinct from Tri-Star Pictures, which was decried by LGBT groups for its defamatory portrayal of lesbian and bisexual women. On a more positive note, Tri-Star Pictures also released popular inclusive films like Philadelphia (1993), Threesome (1994), and As Good as it Gets (1997). In more recent years, parent company Sony Columbia has also released Rent (2005) and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), but it has long remained rare to see a substantial LGBT character in one of their films.
GROWN UPS 2
The sequel to the successful 2010 comedy Grown Ups – about men struggling with adulthood – includes a minor gay character. The film’s female characters take a yoga class together, taught by an attractive male instructor named Dave who informs them he is gay after being hit on several times. This prompts the women to loudly boo and yell “What a waste!” among other things. Later in the film, another minor character played by comedian Nick Swardson appears to hit on the yoga instructor while drunk and dressed as Boy George at a costume party. This scene was unfortunately interpreted by many as his character’s “coming out,” though the character is mainly defined by a series of pulled faces and sight gags. The film also contains several gay panic jokes and recurring jokes about a female bodybuilder character secretly being a man and having a penis, who is also repeatedly mocked by other characters for her perceived masculinity. Much of the film’s humor is needlessly offensive.
THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
Adapted from the popular young adult fiction series, the film The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is notable for perhaps being the most inclusive mainstream film release of 2013, and a high-budget genre film at that. Author Cassandra Clare recalled getting a lot of pushback about the film’s gay and bisexual characters while shopping the adaptation rights around Hollywood, but fan favorites Alec and Magnus made it to the big screen intact. Set in a world where supernatural demon hunters must secretly keep the forces of evil at bay, the story follows a teenage girl learning she’s a member of their kind. One of those she meets is a hunter named Alec who is concealing the fact that he’s gay from the other hunters. He catches the eye of a bisexual warlock named Magnus, who agrees to help the hunters because of his attraction to Alec. Viewers can expect to see their relationship progress if a sequel moves ahead, as was previously announced. This was also the only film GLAAD tracked for the SRI that was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.
BATTLE OF THE YEAR
Despite the number of dance films that reliably grace cinema screens every year, LGBT characters in them are still relatively rare. It’s refreshing then that Battle of the Year includes one among its cast of juvenile delinquents turned b-boy dance crew. “Lil’ Adonis” is very upfront about being gay, and clashes with a homophobic fellow crew member named “Sniper,” but the two eventually come to respect each other. Though Lil’ Adonis only has a handful of lines in the entire film, the film narrowly passes the Vito Russo Test thanks to his accidental instigation of a club brawl involving the entire crew.
The most obvious place where Sony Columbia could include future LGBT content is in the Mortal Instruments series, should a sequel actually move forward as previously announced, though even if it doesn’t, there is reason for optimism. In the past two years, Sony was one of the few studios to include LGBT characters in both genre films and male-dominated comedies (such as Skyfall and 21 Jump Street in 2012), and the inclusive urban dance film Battle of the Year is further evidence that the studio is willing to put LGBT characters in films other studios might not. If they can avoid falling back to bad habits in their comedies and work on including more LGBT female characters, Sony could be on its way to a good track record.