Hollywood moves the needle after GLAAD challenge, but opportunities remain.
GLAAD has been tracking lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) inclusion in major studio films since 2012. We know that representation matters, and that mainstream films are one of America’s most far-reaching cultural exports. These movies are marketed and accessible to nearly every person in the U.S. and to billions more around the world. But still, LGBTQ characters and stories in film are lagging behind other forms of entertainment.
The Studio Responsibility Index (SRI) has shown a pattern of inconsistency from year-to-year in the number and quality of LGBTQ stories – and even sometimes within a single year across a studio’s slate. We continue to see that trend in this year’s report as 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios included LGBTQ characters in 40 and 30 percent respectively of each studio’s 2018 releases, while Disney did not release any inclusive films in 2018.There was additionally a wide variance in the quality of stories told across all seven studios.
This is why when GLAAD released its 2018 SRI, we called on the seven major film studios to ensure 20 percent of annual major studio releases include LGBTQ characters by 2021, and that 50 percent include LGBTQ characters by 2024. This threshold marks a first step in creating a barometer that will help move the needle on LGBTQ representation in film and guide the studios to improved grades.
In 2018, 18.2 percent of films from the seven major studios contained LGBTQ characters, a huge leap from 2017’s all-time low of 12.8 percent. Four of the seven studios hit this 20 percent goal individually this year – 20th Century Fox at 40% (four of 10), Universal Pictures with 30% (six of 20), then Warner Bros. at 22% (five of 23), and Paramount rounding out at exactly 20% (two of 10).
For the first time since GLAAD began this report, two studios have received a “Good” rating in a single year. While the past year a substantial uptick in numbers from major studios, the figures are only part of the story.
Outstanding stories with nuanced LGBTQ characters at the center like GLAAD Media Award nominees Love, Simon, The Girl in the Spider’s Web and Blockers should serve as examples for studios. These protagonists have agency and development of their own stories; none of them serves as a punchline or a prop for another character’s growth. But it also matters who is being included in stories – Hollywood needs to better reflect the full diversity of the LGBTQ community.
Though mainstream releases including Crazy Rich Asians, Deadpool 2, Annihilation, and Truth or Dare all featured the stories of queer people of color, the overall racial diversity of LGBTQ characters dropped year-over-year. One way that film continues to lag far behind other entertainment media is the complete lack of transgender characters in any major release last year. This is a particularly glaring omission when compared to television which in 2018 introduced TV’s first transgender superhero on Supergirl and the largest cast of series regular actors who are trans on Pose.
The uncertain media landscape – particularly in the shifting layout of the major studios following Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox – creates a real concern. This consolidation may mean a more difficult path to distribution for films that are not major blockbuster or tentpole releases. Studios may be more hesitant to invest in new types of content, and decisions on what gets green-lit and who is involved are made by a smaller group of people. This is a quickly moving space that GLAAD is closely monitoring and actively working in every day.
The good news is that the studios have plenty of opportunities to release outstanding LGBTQ-inclusive movies with what has already been announced in their upcoming slates. Films have a long lifecycle, so the choices made in the next two to three years are critical as they will have long running effects on the findings of this report and the grades of each studio. GLAAD is a resource at every step of the process in making sure that these projects make it through to the big screen. Our GLAAD Media Institute is driving a culture revolution through education, consultation, and actionable research to help creators and industry leaders be better prepared to produce and market compelling, entertaining LGBTQ characters that do not reinforce harmful and outdated stereotypes.
Futhermore, GLAAD is working to uplift LGBTQ-inclusive projects. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival in partnership with The Black List, GLAAD released our inaugural GLAAD List highlighting 10 promising LGBTQ-inclusive films that we would like to see be made in coming years. We know the unique power of entertainment to change hearts and minds and the impact that nuanced LGBTQ characters can have on audiences.
That is why GLAAD was founded, and why we continue the work today to hold Hollywood accountable for the images they are portraying.
Sarah Kate Ellis
President & CEO, GLAAD