GLAAD offers the following insights on how studios can both improve depictions of LGBTQ characters and stop repeating mistakes.
A repeated problem found across several films in 2019: LGBTQ characters are too often featured in major blockbuster films in moments so small many audiences could have easily missed them. Of the 22 LGBTQ-inclusive films GLAAD counted from the eight studios tracked, only nine included an LGBTQ character who had more than ten minutes of screen time. More than half of LGBTQ characters (28 of 50, 56 percent) received less than three minutes of total screen time, with 21 of those appearing for less than one minute. Several LGBTQ characters were so minor that they were not given names. Films like Rocketman and Booksmart told stories with gay and lesbian leads whose identities were a sizable aspect of the plot, while blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame and Toy Story 4 included more incidental characters in only one scene. While all of those stories have their own impact, there is a huge opportunity existing in the spectrum between these models for meaningful LGBTQ storytelling. The huge waves of press garnered when announcements were made about blockbuster films including LGBTQ characters proves the passion and power of LGBTQ audiences anxious to support – and buy tickets to – these. Hollywood must feel encouraged and empowered to leverage that interest and buying power by delivering movies that include substantial LGBTQ characters and by unambiguously marketing and promoting those movies.
In 2019, mainstream films significantly regressed in representing the full diversity of the LGBTQ community. This must change. For the second year in a row, the racial diversity of LGBTQ characters decreased considerably with only 34 percent (17) of LGBTQ characters being people of color (POC) in 2019. This is after a fifteen-percentage point drop the previous year, going from 57 percent in 2017 to 42 percent LGBTQ POC in 2018. Of the 17 LGBTQ characters of color counted this year, only four characters counted more than three minutes of screentime with just one character appearing for more than ten minutes (Pepe in Perfect Strangers). In arthouse subsidiary films, which are typically perceived to be more inclusive, the results were even bleaker. All 17 LGBTQ characters counted in 34 films were white, gay men. For the first time this year, GLAAD quantified LGBTQ characters with disabilities and found disheartening news. Of the 50 LGBTQ characters in major releases, one (two percent) was a character with a disability and he ultimately dies (Poe in Lionsgate’s Five Feet Apart). GLAAD challenges Hollywood to prioritize authentic and meaningful LGBTQ characters and stories highlighting the full community, and including LGBTQ characters living at the intersection of multiple identities. More LGBTQ people of color, characters with disabilities, transgender and non-binary characters, those of different religions and faiths, body types, more queer women, characters who are asexual, and others will only fuel Hollywood’s future success.
For the second year in a row, only three major studio releases counted in GLAAD’s report included bisexual+¹ characters despite bi+ people making up the majority of the community.² Those films are Bombshell and Anna from Lionsgate, and Good Boys from Universal. One positive finding is that this year’s bisexual+ characters avoided the transactional trope we’ve seen too much of before – that is, women characters only engaging in a romance with another woman to gain something they need (often information or access) rather than out of any genuine interest. Unfortunately, there are zero bisexual+ men this year. This erasure has a real impact on bisexual+ people who are less likely to be out of the closet than gays or lesbians, and report higher levels of minority stresses. Hollywood has an opportunity to lead and drive cultural change by telling compelling stories about fully developed bisexual+ characters.
GLAAD recorded zero transgender characters in the 118 major studio films released in 2019, a finding consistent with the previous two years. Disappointingly, film continues to lag behind other media as a third straight year passes with zero transgender characters in major releases. Meanwhile, TV has seen the premiere of FX’s history making Pose, television’s first transgender superhero on The CW’s Supergirl, and transgender men stepping into series regular roles on FOX’s 9-1-1: Lone Star, Showtime’s The L Word and Work in Progress. Yet, major studio films continue to leave trans characters out of the story. While the year did include four transgender and/or non-binary actors in major releases – Trace Lysette in Hustlers, Indya Moore in Queen & Slim, Zach Barack in Spider-Man: Far From Home, and Asia Kate Dillon in John Wick 3 – none of those films established those characters as transgender or non-binary within the film’s world. We are pleased to see trans actors being cast in roles that are not explicitly written as transgender. However, for this report, GLAAD did not count those characters in its tally based on what was on screen. Polls show that approximately 20 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender, compared to nearly 90 percent who know someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. There is incredible opportunity for storytellers to lead change and to accelerate acceptance by sharing and uplifting the experiences of trans people, and we’d like to see film catch up to TV in this respect. GLAAD and 5050by2020’s TRANSform Hollywood³, a free, in-depth digital guide offering tips and best practices for collaborating with trans storytellers and fostering a more trans-inclusive production environment, is a first step resource available for productions beginning this work. Creators should also screen Disclosure, a new documentary available on Netflix, which explores and contextualizes the last 100 years of trans representation TV and in film as a further resource on best practices and what to avoid.
This year, GLAAD counted two inclusive animated and family films, after having seen zero in the previous year’s report. Yet still, the category lags behind the programming boom happening in television for all-ages. In our previous report, for the first time in five years, GLAAD did not count a single inclusive film in the animated/family film genre released in 2018. In 2019, there were two inclusive films in this genre, though the moments are incredibly minor (two dads dropping their child off to camp in Paramount’s Wonder Park, and two moms escorting their child to school in Disney’s Toy Story 4). While these are nice moments of casual inclusion, affirming that LGBTQ people exist in all families of every kind, film should look to the boom and success of queer and trans representation in all ages programming happening on TV. With LGBTQ characters in significant roles on series including Arthur (PBS), She-Ra and The Princesses of Power and Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts on Netflix, Steven Universe on Cartoon Network and more. LGBTQ families and parents are part of the world experienced by kids,and should be part of the movies they see with their families. And LGBTQ youth, who are coming out at younger ages as cultural acceptance grows, deserve to see age-appropriate, positive and truthful representations of themselves in film. These small moments seen these past few years need to progress to more significant characters and stories appearing more regularly.
¹ Bisexual+ or bi+ is an encompassing term for people with the capacity to be attracted to more than one gender. Can include people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, and more.