Founded in 2012, A24 has become known for releasing some of the most well respected independent films of the last four years, including The Spectacular Now, Obvious Child, and Room. In 2016, A24 released Moonlight, a tender coming of age story about Chiron, a young, black, queer man. The film follows Chiron through three acts of his life, from childhood to teen years to adulthood. Over this time, he struggles with his own sexual identity, the concept of masculinity, and his feelings for his friend Kevin, all set against a challenging home life and bullying at school. Moonlight deftly balances telling a very intimate story about love, identity, family, and friendship with painting a picture of the larger experience of what it means to be a young, black, queer male. Moonlight made history as the first film with an LGBTQ lead and the first film with an all-black cast to win the Oscar for Best Picture. The film also received the GLAAD Media Award in Outstanding Film – Wide Release at the 28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards
Founded in 2006 by Nolan Gallagher, Gravitas Ventures was initially created to distribute content through video on demand and online systems. In 2011, the company began releasing a limited number of films into theaters. Past LGBTQ-inclusive releases include Appropriate Behavior (2015), the story of a Persian-American bisexual woman reconciling different parts of her identity. In 2016, Gravitas Ventures released All We Had, the story of a struggling mother and daughter who settle in a small town. The film co-starred trans actor Eve Lindley as Pam, a transgender waitress with big dreams who becomes the best friend of the young girl while dealing with transphobia in rural America. Gravitas also distributed 4th Man Out, a comedy about a young man coming out to his straight friends.
IFC FILMS & SUNDANCE SELECTS
A distributor of independent films and documentaries, IFC Films falls under the AMC Networks umbrella. Also under this umbrella are IFC Midnights, which focuses on horror and thriller films, and Sundance Selects that distributes independent films, documentaries and foreign films. This also includes IFC Midnights, which focuses on horror and thriller films. The company’s most successful and critically acclaimed LGBTQ-inclusive films include the drama Weekend (2011), about two men starting a relationship right before one of them must leave the country, and the acclaimed but controversial French lesbian drama Blue is the Warmest Color (2013). In 2015, among their inclusive releases were the documentary Do I Sound Gay?, Match, The Duke of Burgundy, and Jenny’s Wedding. Last year, IFC released King Cobra, a murder mystery drama set in the world of gay porn.
Formed in 2001, Magnolia Pictures specializes in releasing both foreign and independent film. The company is owned by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban, and is a subsidiary of 2929 entertainment. Some of Magnolia’s past LGBTQ-inclusive releases include Life Partners (2014) and Tangerine (2015). In 2016, Magnolia released the Korean import The Handmaiden, a psychological thriller that is ultimately a love story between a Korean handmaiden and a Japanese noblewoman. The Handmaiden was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award, and was the highest grossing film released by Magnolia that year. The studio also distributed the film Viva last year, a coming of age story about a young drag performer in Cuba and his relationship with his estranged father. Other queer inclusive content includes the documentary Tickled.
OPEN ROAD FILMS
A joint venture between two theater giants, AMC Theaters and Regal Entertainment Group, Open Road Films has released a good number of films since its founding in 2011. Among the studio’s previous LGBTQ-inclusive releases are 2015's Dope, a GLAAD Media Award-nominated comedy about three friends (one a lesbian) who have to dispose of someone else's drugs. In 2016, the studio's inclusive releases include Mother's Day, which features a subplot about a mother coming to accept her daughter’s sexuality and her partner. Open Road also released Snowden last year, which featured Zachary Quinto as out journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Initially upon its founding in 1989, Strand Releasing's focus was primarily LGBTQ inclusive films. Now, it has branched out, releasing non-LGBTQ films as well, and maintaining a focus on foreign films. Notable films from the past include The Living End (1992) a drama about two gay men on a dangerous road trip; Stonewall (1995) a fictionalized telling of the Stonewall Riots; Yossi and Jagger (2002), a love story between two Israeli army officers, as well as the 2013 sequel Yossi; and 2014's Mala Mala, exploring Puerto Rico's drag and transgender communities. Last year's Strand releases include the GLAAD Media Award-nominated Spa Night, a personal and compelling film about a gay Korean-American teenager trying to deal with the pressures from his parents and exploring his own sexuality. Other LGBTQ-inclusive Strand Releases from 2016 include Front Cover, Summertime, Being 17 and Closet Monster.
Founded in 2012 by Rich Goldberg and Mitch Budin, Vertical Entertainment focuses on smaller independent films. Vertical released the comedy G.B.F. (Gay Best Friend) in 2014. Last year, Vertical Entertainment distributed the GLAAD Media Award-winning film Other People, a touching story about a gay comedy writer who returns to his hometown to take care of his dying mother.
Wolfe Releasing is the oldest distributor in North America to focus solely on LGBTQ-inclusive content, from its founding in 1985. The company releases independent films that have a focus on telling stories from an LGBTQ perspective. Wolfe has released a large number of inclusive films over the years, but there are a few standouts. Brother to Brother (2004) explores gay life during the Harlem Renaissance through a modern lens, Tomboy (2011) is a French film about a gender non-conforming child, and in 2015, Boy Meets Girl, the story of a trans woman in Kentucky on a quest for love. Last year, Wolfe released the GLAAD Media Award-nominated Naz and Maalik, about a relationship between two black, Muslim teens. Some other notable releases of 2016 were GLAAD Media Award-nominated Those People, which explored a love triangle between three men, and Margarita with a Straw, the story of a bisexual Indian woman with cerebral palsy.
It is unsurprising that smaller studios, which don't often have the budget to compete for box office attention against the majors, are still distributing the majority of stand-out LGBTQ-inclusive films. These movies are limited by reach, often only playing on screens in major cities for a single weekend before being pushed to streaming services. Further, audiences typically only find these features if they go specifically looking for them. Given the groundbreaking LGBTQ stories we are now seeing in other entertainment media, mainstream major film releases appear more and more outdated as they continue to include LGBTQ people only in service of punchlines or as props to add authenticity to an urban setting.
After five years of analyzing inclusion in the SRI, we are still frustrated by the lack of meaningful progress on the part of major studios to include authentic LGBTQ characters and storylines. Studio execs should take note of the critical success of some of these indie films like Moonlight, The Handmaiden, and Spa Night. There are audiences who are looking for this content, for our stories. GLAAD will continue to hold Hollywood accountable for the stories these companies choose to tell – or not – on our screens.