Of all the major film studios, Universal Pictures is the oldest, having been officially founded in 1912. In 2004, Universal Studios merged with NBC becoming NBCUniversal, which was acquired by Comcast in 2009. Having long focused on mass appeal films, many of Universal’s most classic films came from collaborations with director Steven Spielberg and include Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List.
Because of that focus on mass appeal, perhaps it’s not surprising that it wasn’t until the 1990s that any LGBT content whatsoever began showing up in Universal films. Unfortunately, the 1991 adaptation of Fried Green Tomatoes removed nearly all traces of the novel’s lesbian content, but the 1994 comedic drama Reality Bites did feature a prominent gay character.
Universal’s other inclusive films have also been a mixture of highs and lows, and include To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995), Mulholland Drive (2001), I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007), Bruno (2009), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), Kick-Ass 2 and Riddick (2013).
In 2014, Universal Pictures released 14 films, of which 3 included appearances by LGBT people, amounting to 21%. None of these films passed the Vito Russo Test.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO
Widest theatrical release: 3188 theaters
Here is another comedy in which a gay character makes a seconds-long appearance just to set up a punchline, but at least this time the character got to make the joke rather than end up the target of one. While trying to sneak into a TED-like conference, Fraida (Kathleen Turner) offers to sleep with the desk man in a supply closet if he'll let her in, to which he replies "I didn't take 34 years to come out the closet just to go back into one with you." The moment was neither good nor bad, but its brevity was par for the course for most inclusive comedies this year.
GET ON UP
Widest theatrical release: 2469 theaters
The most significant LGBT character in a Universal release this year was the portrayal of musician Little Richard in the James Brown biopic Get On Up, though it amounted to just a few minutes of screen time. In the film, a performance by Richard inspires Brown to take the stage himself, and soon after, Richard imparts some career advice on the young singer with a bit of flirty affect. The sexual orientation of the real life Richard hasn't been identified consistently by the artist, with him identifying as gay and "omnisexual" at different times. Meanwhile his only public relationships have been with women. Strictly for the purposes of this report, we have counted him as a bisexual character, though what sets both the portrayal and the real-life performer apart is his confident showmanship and refusal to adhere to gender norms in either his mannerisms or appearance. A fictional character who acted the same way might be the object of ridicule or scorn in a mainstream film, but Get On Up treats Richard with respect.
Widest theatrical release: 3311 theaters
The raunchy comedy Neighbors features a brief appearance by an interracial gay couple who are prospective home buyers, which excites the two main characters (a straight married couple) about the prospect of living next door to them. Though the gay couple had no lines and were onscreen for just a few seconds, it was nevertheless a positive moment in which the main characters displayed enthusiastic acceptance that was also repeated in some of the film's trailers. The film also features two same-sex kisses in the film – all between straight-identified characters – one of which was played for laughs but not quite portrayed as a "gross-out" moment.
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST
Widest theatrical release: 3160 theaters
Writer/director Seth McFarlane isn't exactly known for sensitive handling of minority representation in his work, and while A Million Ways to Die in the West doesn't quite descend to the mean-spirited depths that his television show Family Guy often does, the jokes here are hardly enlightened. Early in the film, Albert (McFarlane's character) engages in a bit of gay baiting when he tries to joke his way out of a gun duel by miming oral sex between his and the other man's shadows. In another scene set in a saloon, Albert's accidental waving of a handkerchief prompts two prim-looking men sitting at a table to wave theirs back, with one exclaiming, "James, I found the friendly locals!" Their mannerisms and feminine inflections are meant to be enough to elicit a laugh from the audience, but thankfully they're onscreen for no more than a moment. Credited simply as "Dandy # 1 and # 2" by the film, GLAAD didn't count the pair as gay characters, though McFarlane obviously still finds the long-running homophobic "sissy" stereotype to be hilarious.
Focus Features was established in 2002 when USA Films, Universal Focus and Good Machine combined into one company. Focus Features produces and distributes its own features, in addition to distributing foreign films, and has established an impressive track record of critically acclaimed and popular LGBT-inclusive films, including The Kids are All Right (2010), Pariah (2011), and Milk (2008). Its most commercially successful LGBT-inclusive release to date is the 2006 Academy Award-winning drama Brokeback Mountain, about the romantic relationship between two men in Wyoming in the 1960s. In 2013, it released another prominent Oscar-nominated LGBT-inclusive film, Dallas Buyers Club, which tells the story of a homophobic cowboy who contracts HIV and begins importing and selling unapproved medication to the LGBT community. In his venture, he meets Rayon, a trans woman also afflicted by the disease who he eventually grows close to.
Widest theatrical release: 3464 theaters
The main antagonist of this film often resorted to cross-dressing as an alter ego named Madame Frou Frou as part of his evil scheme to publicly discredit the kindly boxtrolls, though it always appeared to be a means to an end rather than an indication of a transgender identity on his part. Still, Madame Frou Frou also clearly invoked the image of an insane, murderous cross-dresser, which has been a long-running and unfortunate Hollywood film trope, but appears even more tone-deaf now that transgender stories are finally starting to get their due in mainstream media. On a more positive note, the film created an animated trailer highlighting different types of families that briefly featured a same-sex couple and received great media attention. Unfortunately, these images weren't part of the final film.
UNDER THE ELECTRIC SKY
Widest theatrical release: 25 theaters
This documentary about attendees of the Electric Daisy Carnival and contemporary rave culture is surprisingly free of LGBT individuals, considering the gay club origins of dance music. The film follows one "rave family" made of up both men and women in a polyamorous relationship with each other, but besides some playful flirting between the women, they appear to all be heterosexual. Under the Electric Sky feels like something of a missed opportunity to examine the wide cross sections of society found in the rave scene, including the LGBT people that have been part of its core since inception.