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.
- Last year, GLAAD introduced an expanded five-tier grading system that holds the studios to a higher standard to reflect the quantity and quality of LGBTQ representation we are seeing in other forms of entertainment media. This year, three studios received “Poor” ratings for their 2017 slates [Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Studios] and two others received “Failing” ratings [Lionsgate Entertainment, Warner Brothers Studios]. Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox are the only studios to be rated as “Insufficient.” No studios were rated “Good” this year, and none have ever received an “Excellent” rating.
- LGBTQ characters in mainstream films are still minor – in screen time and in substance. This has been a consistent problem every year since GLAAD began tracking LGBTQ characters in Hollywood releases six years ago. Of the 14 inclusive films distributed by major studios in 2017, seven (50 percent) included less than five minutes of screen time for their LGBTQ characters, with the majority of those falling under three minutes. Many of these characters were included as plot devices in service of other more central characters or as part of a joke rather than as actual characters with agency and stories of their own. This brevity and lack of impact, unfortunately, remains the standard for LGBTQ inclusion in major studio films. Studios must do better to include more LGBTQ characters, and construct those stories in a way that is directly tied to the film’s plot.
- Far too often, LGBTQ characters and stories are relegated to subtext and it is left up to the audience to interpret or read into a character as being queer. In other cases, audiences may not realize they are seeing an LGBTQ character unless they have outside knowledge of a real figure, have consumed source material for an adaptation, or have read external press confirmations. This is not enough. GLAAD updated its report methodology this year to explain our focus in on-screen representation. Our stories deserve to be seen on screen just as much as everyone else’s, not hidden away or left to guess work, but boldly and fully shown.
- There are so many LGBTQ heroes in comics – enough for GLAAD to up its Outstanding Comic Book award category from five to ten nominees to reflect the quality and quantity of what we are seeing – that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore that LGBTQ people remain almost completely shut out of Hollywood's big budget comic films. There have been several films in recent years that have erased a character’s queer identity as they moved from page to screen. In 2017, Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok and DC’s Wonder Woman both included characters who are queer in the source material, but did not include any on screen confirmation of their identities. This must change going forward.
- After two straight years of significant decreases, the racial diversity of LGBTQ characters saw a welcome uptick this year. In 2017, 57 percent of LGBTQ characters were people of color, compared to 20 percent in films released in 2016 and 25.5 percent in 2015. However, there were zero Asian Pacific Islander LGBTQ characters or any other race/ethnicity. The racial diversity of LGBTQ characters remains a problem across all forms of media, and this remains an area we’d like to see Hollywood as a whole improve in going forward. We’d also like to see inclusion of LGBTQ characters with disabilities. Filmmakers should work to reflect the full diversity of our community and include the long-sidelined stories of those living at the intersections of many identities.
- One area where Hollywood film most notably falls behind other forms of media is the complete lack of transgender characters. GLAAD did not count a single transgender character across the 109 films distributed by major studios in 2017. On the indie side, however, 2017 included the release of the history-making and Oscar-winning Chilean drama A Fantastic Woman from Sony Pictures Classics. The film followed Marina, a transgender woman who is coping in the aftermath of losing her partner, played by transgender actress Daniella Vega. This marked the first time a film has won an Oscar with a trans actor playing a trans character, it was also history making for Chile as their first film to win in the Best Foreign Language Film category.