From the Office of the President & CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis
GLAAD created the Studio Responsibility Index in 2013 to track lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) inclusion in major studio films after seeing the progress our TV research had driven in the industry and with creators. Entertainment is America’s most widespread cultural export – reflecting the culture that produces it while also having the opportunity to shape culture through nuanced and inclusive storytelling – and wide release major studio films are marketed to and accessible by billions of people across the U.S. and around the world. Yet, LGBTQ characters are still often sidelined or entirely excluded from major Hollywood releases.
While we have seen consistent forward movement in LGBTQ representation on television in recent years, mainstream films continue to lag behind. Every year, this study continues to find a pattern of inconsistency in the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ stories year over year as well as across single studio’s slates. GLAAD’s 2019 Studio Responsibility Index (SRI) for the first time reported two studios receiving a grade of “Good” in the same year, meaning the quality, quantity, and diversity of LGBTQ inclusion was significant. Our 2020 SRI tells a bleaker story – that challenges remain.
No studio this year received a grade better than “Insufficient” based on the quality, quantity, and diversity of their full slates – even though GLAAD is reporting a record-high percentage of inclusive films found in a single year across all the studios tracked (a 0.4-percentage-point increase to 18.6 percent).
Admittedly, simple numbers do not tell the full story.
Audiences should be able to see the full diversity of the LGBTQ community reflected in film. This is the second year in a row GLAAD counted a significant decrease in the percentage of LGBTQ characters who are people of color, down to just 34 percent or 17 total characters in mainstream releases. Additionally, this year, for the first time in its SRI, GLAAD analyzed the disability status of LGBTQ characters and found one gay character with a disability in all major studio releases. For a third year in a row, there was not a single transgender character in a major release while TV has seen groundbreaking shows like Pose draw audience and critical acclaim.
Two years ago, GLAAD issued a challenge – 20 percent of annual major studios releases must include LGBTQ characters by the 2021-year’s end, and that 50 percent include LGBTQ characters by the end of 2024. While the COVID-19 global pandemic has and will continue to have ripple effects across the film business and all businesses, we still believe in this challenge and reaffirm our commitment to holding the industry accountable for telling inclusive stories. Four studios individually hit this 20 percent goal: Paramount Pictures at 33 percent of their annual slate including LGBTQ characters, United Artists Releasing at 29 percent, Lionsgate at 25 percent, and Walt Disney rounding out at 21 percent – though no studio hit the previous years’ established record high percentage for a single studio of 40 percent (20th Century, since acquired by Disney).
In GLAAD’s most recent Where We Are on TV study, we challenged the TV industry to ensure that within the next two years, half of LGBTQ characters tracked are people of color. We are extending that message to the film industry as well. While the studios have previously hit this mark with 57 percent of LGBTQ characters counted as people of color in 2017, this significant 23-percentage point drop in two years signals a negative trend that needs deliberate correction. The entertainment industry is currently facing a moment of great change as new content platforms are launching, the model of business is being redefined under the global pandemic, and companies are facing a deserved reckoning of their part in the structural and systemic racism of the industry, most particularly towards Black creatives and audiences. We stand alongside our partners in the Black Lives Matter movement and other underrepresented populations to demand that tomorrow’s stories include all of us.
This challenge and our previously set benchmarks are key drivers towards ensuring that the entertainment on our screens is actually reflective of the world in which we live and the audiences who consume it. Together, these benchmarks are a first step in creating a barometer that will help move the needle forward on LGBTQ representation in film, and that will guide the studios towards improved grades.
There has been significant change in the film industry since this report launched in 2013. The layout of the major studios shifted in 2019 after Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century as a new imprint distributed under their parent company. GLAAD also added this year STX Entertainment and United Artists Releasing to the lineup of major studio distributors quantified in this report based on their release pattern, reach, and slates as compared to the studios traditionally tracked. Despite changes in how consumers view and engage with films, and COVID-19 resulting in the temporary closure of movie theaters across the globe, films released to wide audiences at cinemas still matter. Several upcoming LGBTQ-inclusive films have been rescheduled for theatrical exhibition allowing for communal experiences for LGBTQ audiences and our allies to see these stories on the big screen – together.
Another change since our first SRI has been the release of several outstanding LGBTQ films from major studios including Love, Simon, Blockers, Booksmart, Rocketman, and more, and the increasing frequency of announcements of leading queer heroes in upcoming major releases. The GLAAD Media Institute is working everyday with major studios and streaming services on upcoming LGBTQ-inclusive film productions. These are all exciting signs of the impact of this report these past eight years, and the overall changing cultural conversation about representation spurred by activists and fans. Though these represent just a handful of projects, there are plenty of opportunities for studios to improve their slates when it comes to LGBTQ-inclusion.
The next year will include the release of several highly anticipated major studio films with leading LGBTQ characters, including the first gay superhero in a Marvel blockbuster (The Eternals) and a holiday-themed romcom about a lesbian couple (Happiest Season). While we celebrate these moments, inclusion must also be scaled across a company’s slate. This means telling stories that center LGBTQ characters, as well as casual inclusion of LGBTQ characters in all movies. This year’s report noted several instances of this kind of casual inclusion, but unfortunately, many were too minor, almost entirely missed or so understated as to be relegated to subtext.
Proudly, GLAAD is a resource for and to content creators and marketers. Our GLAAD Media Institute is driving a culture revolution through advocacy and providing education, consultation, research and contextualized analysis, and training creators and industry leaders to better produce and market compelling, entertaining LGBTQ characters that do not reinforce harmful and outdated stereotypes.
Activists who understood the power of the media and the power of smart, authentic narratives to create real cultural change founded GLAAD. And it is these same guiding principles which remain at the heart and soul of our mission – today and always.
Sarah Kate Ellis
President & CEO, GLAAD