Though we would like to see more films pass the Vito Russo Test, several of the films tracked this year and through the history of this report prove that passing does not mean that the film’s portrayal of LGBTQ people is not also problematic or offensive. Here are some additional recommendations GLAAD has for how studios can both improve depictions of LGBTQ characters and stop repeating offensive mistakes:
- This year, GLAAD has introduced a new grading system that holds the studios to a higher standard to reflect the quality and quantity of LGBTQ representation we are seeing in other forms of entertainment media. On the new five-grade scale, three studios received “Poor” ratings for their 2016 slates [20th Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers] and three others received “Failing” ratings [Lionsgate, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Studios]. Universal Pictures is the only studio to be rated “Insufficient.” No studios were rated “Good” this year, and none have ever received an “Excellent” rating. Mainstream film continues to lag far behind TV and other forms of media when it comes to LGBTQ representation.
- The overwhelming majority of LGBTQ characters in mainstream films are still minor, in both screen time and substance. This has been a consistent problem over the five years that GLAAD has tracked LGBTQ characters in Hollywood releases. Of the 23 mainstream films that GLAAD found to be LGBTQ-inclusive, 10 (43%) included less than one minute of screen time for their LGBTQ characters. While some of these were positive moments of inclusion like Sony Pictures’ Storks and Disney’s Zootopia, many of these characters only existed to be punchlines or establish urban authenticity. Many audiences likely missed several of these characters altogether. This brevity remains standard for LGBTQ inclusion. Studios must do better to not only include more LGBTQ characters, but to construct LGBTQ roles that are directly tied to the plot.
- Comedy films (the genre most likely to include LGBTQ characters) continued to include out-and-out defamatory portrayals of LGBTQ people. The jokes around these characters relied on gay panic and defamatory stereotypes for cheap laughs. Dirty Grandpa and Central Intelligence were two of the most egregious offenders, and the non-inclusive films The Brothers Grimsby and Ride Along 2 also included offensive humor based in the idea that two men touching each other is inherently strange. Comedy can be a powerful tool in challenging existing norms, but when crafted without thought, these jokes have the opposite effect by signaling that anti-LGBTQ attitudes are acceptable. Creators need to learn that appealing to one audience does not have to mean insulting other audiences.
- The racial diversity of LGBTQ characters remains a problem in all forms of media, but mainstream film is particularly dismal after a five-percentage point drop in LGBTQ characters of color. This is the second straight year with a significant decrease of LGBTQ characters of color; our previous report found a near seven-percentage point drop in 2015 films from the year before. Many of these characters were isolated tokens burdened with representing multiple communities through the views of one person – often limited to less than five minutes of screen time. Successful and critically acclaimed films that include central LGBTQ characters of color like Moonlight, Star Trek Beyond, Pariah, and Lilting should send a message that there is an audience and a hunger for these stories. Creators need to reflect the full diversity of our community, and tell those stories through the eyes of more than one character that allows for new and unique stories that audiences have not yet seen.
- Hollywood film most notably falls behind other forms of media in its portrayal – or lack thereof – of transgender characters. For the second year, GLAAD found one trans-inclusive mainstream film and, again, the character existed solely as a punchline. Paramount’s Zoolander 2 included Benedict Cumberbatch as All, a cartoonish portrayal of someone who is non-binary, who only exists to mock people who don’t perform traditional gender roles as strange and “other.” Several other mainstream films, which did not have transgender characters, nevertheless included so-called humor rooted in trans panic. There was one film from the smaller subsidiary studios, Fox Searchlight’s Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, which included transgender characters. Again, the character’s identities were treated as punchlines and one was a last minute reveal. Filmmakers should question what they are really communicating to audiences when they use thoughtless “humor” targeting an already marginalized community.