Moonlight, from the independent studio A24, made history this year as the first film led by a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) character to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Meanwhile, nearly half of the inclusive films released by the seven major studios included less than one minute of screen time for their LGBTQ characters. GLAAD started the Studio Responsibility Index five years ago to map the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ characters in films released by the seven major studios. We still struggle to see meaningful improvement in Hollywood’s depiction of LGBTQ characters and stories.
Major releases continue to lag behind the groundbreaking stories we see in independent films (like Moonlight) and even further behind the LGBTQ stories on TV and streaming series like Sense8 and Steven Universe. Millenials aged 18 to 34 are more than twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ as older generations. If film wants to remain relevant and retain an audience that has more options for entertainment than ever before, the industry must catch up in reflecting the full diversity of this country.
This year, GLAAD introduced a new five-point scale for grading the studios. Our previous reporting made it clear that what was once termed “Adequate” is not at all. This expanded gauge will allow GLAAD to more accurately report on the state of LGBTQ representation in mainstream film. The new grading system will also hold Hollywood studios to a higher standard reflective of the LGBTQ inclusion that is thriving in other forms of media.
Looking back at five years of the Studio Responsibility Index (SRI), there remains very little consistency in representation of LGBTQ characters. This inconsistency is seen in the year-to-year data as studios drop several grades, as well as within the studios’ yearly lineup in which a single studio will release both standout inclusive films alongside more problematic portrayals. We continue to see many of the same problems repeatedly. This includes LGBTQ characters who lack substance and are often treated only as a punchline, a dangerous message which keeps old prejudices alive both here in the U.S. and around the world where these films are distributed. Hollywood must do better to question what they are really communicating to audiences.
In 2017, we have seen signs of progress in LGBTQ representation in mainstream films. Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast established LeFou as a canonically gay character. His happy ending may have been a small moment, but it was a huge step forward for the industry. Disney’s decision to update the character for a more contemporary audience — who see LGBTQ people and families every day — paid off at the box office with the film breaking records as the biggest March opening of all time. Lionsgate’s Power Rangers introduced a storyline that saw the Yellow Ranger, Trini, questioning her orientation; a story reflective of many other teenagers. While these are positive steps, as the report has shown, there is still an inconsistency as other recent releases have made headlines for including humor rooted in gay panic like CHiPS.
Therefore beginning this summer, GLAAD will be upping the stakes by holding Hollywood accountable for the stories they are putting on the silver screen in real time as box office dollars are on the line. We will be reporting on films as they release, and ultimately, compiling that information for a revamped SRI to be issued in 2018. There are plenty of unique and new LGBTQ stories to tell, and Hollywood must embrace that to remain competitive with other media industries. With this new method of reporting and future iterations of the SRI, GLAAD will continue to hold Hollywood accountable for who they are – or are not – representing.
GLAAD President and CEO
Sarah Kate Ellis