Entertainment has a reciprocal relationship with society – the characters and stories on screen are a reflection of our cultural values (even if just in subtext), and our wider culture is influenced by and can evolve from seeing stories and people that are different from them on screen. Studies have repeatedly shown that in the absence of knowing an LGBTQ person in real life, TV and films with LGBTQ characters foster understanding and acceptance.
A Variety survey¹ found that 38 percent of people surveyed cited LGBTQ characters as a “key influence” in their support for the community, and Ellen DeGeneres was cited as doing “more to influence American’s attitudes […] than any other celebrity or public figure.” Several academic studies dating back to the mid-1990s have also continually proven that inclusive entertainment or news media has a significant effect on viewer’s perceptions of the LGBTQ community.²
GLAAD has seen LGBTQ characters and couples paving the way for culture change as Americans support for marriage equality grew alongside the increase in LGBTQ characters on television.³ And we know how powerful representation is for LGBTQ people personally.
GLAAD works everyday with young people across the country through its Youth Engagement program and with LGBTQ advocates around the globe who have spoken about the power that inclusive storytelling has had on their lives.
Last year’s release of Love, Simon sparked a huge wave of audiences sharing their stories of what the film would have meant to them as teens, or feeling empowered to come out after seeing the movie. Stars Keiynan Lonsdale and Joey Pollari spoke out about their decisions to come out while doing the film, with Lonsdale saying to The Hollywood Reporter, “You watch something, and depending on how the story is told and how these characters feel to you, it influences your life, it influences how you feel about yourself and people that you meet.” Love, Simon’s groundbreaking storytelling and release – which hit over 2,400 theaters around the world, in cities big and small – paid off.
Love, Simon made back more than 3.5 times its production budget at the worldwide box office. The film also garnered critical acclaim with a 91 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a handful of awards including a GLAAD Media Award, three Teen Choice Awards, and an MTV Movie & TV Award for Best Kiss. The film additionally had a successful line of merchandise through Hot Topic in stores and online, as well as a soundtrack that charted in the Top 40 on the Billboard 200, contributing to the film’s total bottom line.
Inclusion is not just the right thing to do; it is also good business.
“1.3 billion tickets each year are not sold to one audience, but rather, to many audiences. Movie theaters build temporary communities one movie at a time. Diversity in storytelling and representation, including LGBTQ people, expands our sense of cultural belonging and expands the moviegoing community at the same time,” John Fithian, President and CEO, National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) told GLAAD in an exclusive statement. “NATO and its members are committed to creating inclusive spaces that expand our audiences, increase ticket sales, and reaffirm the importance of representation on screen.”
According to the MPAA’s most recent THEME report⁴, in the U.S. and Canada people aged 18-39 made up 38 percent of the “frequent moviegoer” audience in 2018 – meaning they went to the cinema once a month or more. This “frequent moviegoer” audience is also responsible for 49 percent of all tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada.
Meanwhile, GLAAD and The Harris Poll’s Accelerating Acceptance report⁵ shows that 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 and 12 percent aged 35-51 identify as LGBTQ. Twelve percent of Americans 18-34 identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. A majority of these demographics would also call themselves allies – 63 percent of Americans 18-34 and 53 percent of Americans 35-51. This applies across demographics as well, the University of Chicago’s GenForward Survey⁶ found that one in five Latinx millennials identify as LGBTQ. Latinx people have long overindexed at the box office, representing a larger amount of the ticket buying public than the community’s population makeup.
The Family Equality Council reports⁷ that 48 percent of LGBTQ millennials are actively planning to grow their families, and 63 percent are considering expanding their family by becoming first time parents or having more children. This significant growth in LGBTQ-led families presents an underserved audience that studios who focus on family friendly content should be engaging.
Nielsen’s State of the LGBTQ Moviegoer report8 explicitly states “studios and theaters alike can bolster box office sales by […] tailoring their promotions and offerings to LGBT moviegoers’ entertainment needs.” Nielsen found that queer audiences are 22 percent more likely to see a new theatrical release more than once compared to straight audiences.
LGBTQ audiences are also more likely to generate social media buzz and word of mouth recommendations. Forty-nine percent of all LGBTQ moviegoers said they texted, tweeted, or otherwise posted about a film the same day they saw it as compared with 34 percent of straight audiences, per Nielsen. LGBTQ fans are more likely to select both Horror and Sci-Fi genre films as favorite than straight audiences.
Studios should take note of these trends, particularly when promoting and advertising titles that include LGBTQ characters, and let audiences know why they should turn out to their local multiplex.
It is clear that if Hollywood wants to remain relevant with these audiences and keep them buying tickets, the studios must create stories that are reflective of the world LGBTQ people and our friends and family know and make those films accessible in wide release.
GLAAD stands ready to support them.
2 Lavina, Marina, Waldo, Craig R, and Fitzgerald, Louise F. “We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re on TV: The Effects of Visual Media on Heterosexuals’ Attitudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbians.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology. April 2000.
2 Gillig, Traci K., Rosenthal, Erica L., Murphy, Sheila T., and Folb, Kate Langrall. “More than a Media Moment: The Influence of Televised Storylines on Viewers’ Attitudes toward Transgender People and Policies.” Sex Roles. 2 August 2017.