Hollywood is at a tipping point. The past year has seen the rise of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, which have transformed the conversation in the industry and among the movie-going public, and are driving change behind the scenes and in the media. On screen, record-breaking films like Black Panther and Wonder Woman prove that not only does inclusion make for great stories – inclusion is good for the bottom line. It is time for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) stories to be included in this conversation and in this movement.
GLAAD is calling on the seven major film studios to make sure that 20% of annual major studio releases include LGBTQ characters by 2021, and that 50% of films include LGBTQ characters by 2024. This is the first step in creating a barometer that will move them from a “Poor” or “Failing” rating, to a “Good” or “Excellent” one.
According to the MPAA’s most recent THEME report, in the U.S. and Canada people aged 18-39 made up 38 percent of the “frequent moviegoer” audience in 2017 – meaning they went to the cinema once a month or more. Meanwhile, GLAAD’s own Accelerating Acceptance report shows that 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 and 12 percent aged 35-51 identify as LGBTQ. If Hollywood wants to remain relevant with these audiences and keep them buying tickets, they must create stories that are reflective of the world LGBTQ people and our friends and family know. This needs to take place in the major studio releases that play in wide release all over the country – and indeed, all around the world – as well as in the indie films that have long been home to stand out queer and trans stories like Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name, and A Fantastic Woman.
We have started to see some welcome progress in 2018 – major studio films like teen rom-com Love, Simon (Fox 2000), sci-fi action Annihilation (Paramount), and raunchy teen comedy Blockers (Universal) all opened in thousands of theaters across the country and included central queer characters who have agency over their own stories. The protagonists do not simply exist as prop devices for someone else’s development. However, you would not know this from what GLAAD’s SRI found for films released during the 2017 calendar year: there was a significant drop from the previous year (2016), representing a tie for the lowest number and the lowest percentage ever of LGBTQ-inclusive films amongst all mainstream releases since GLAAD began tracking in 2012. Only 14 major studio releases in 2017 had LGBTQ characters. Of those 14, only 9 passed GLAAD’s Vito Russo Test.
This inconsistency from year-to-year, even sometimes within a single year across a studio’s slate, is something we have noted in several editions of this report. We cannot let these signs of improvement be a blip in the radar; we need real and sustained progress, and GLAAD is a resource to the industry in making that change. Our GLAAD Media Institute is driving a culture revolution through research, consulting, and training to help creators and industry leaders be better prepared to produce compelling, entertaining LGBTQ characters that do not reinforce harmful and outdated stereotypes. (Call us, we’re happy to help!)
Films like Love, Simon have helped accelerate acceptance around the world with many outlets covering the stories of LGBTQ young people who were inspired and empowered to come out after seeing the movie. This is the unique power of entertainment – to change hearts and minds by sharing our stories, and helping people find understanding and common experiences with people who may not be exactly like them.
There are many exciting LGBTQ-inclusive projects that have already been announced as heading into development, and the studios have many opportunities ahead in their already scheduled slates for authentic and meaningful LGBTQ representation. The lifecycle of a film is long, and the next two to three years are critical, as we will begin to see more films hitting theaters that were greenlit following the beginning of GLAAD’s SRI tracking. GLAAD will be holding dedicated pressure on studios to fulfill their social responsibility for LGBTQ inclusion, and we are here as a resource to help them achieve their goals.
We hope that next year’s report is able to paint a more promising picture than GLAAD’s 2017 findings. While the films mentioned above are impressive, three films are still only a small percentage of the total. With this report and future editions of the SRI, GLAAD will continue to hold Hollywood accountable for the stories they are – or more notably, are not – telling.
Sarah Kate Ellis
President & CEO, GLAAD