United Artists Releasing (UAR) is a distribution joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Annapurna Pictures, and MGM’s Orion Pictures that aims to release 10-14 films each year. The company was founded as Mirror in December 2017, and rebranded in February 2019 as United Artists Releasing on the 100th anniversary of the founding of United Artists. The distributor plans to compete with the traditional major studios and streamers by combining their slates and following a similar calendar and wide release roll out. UAR as it now stands, is a collective of studios with a back catalog of LGBTQ-inclusive releases, including GLAAD Media Award nominee Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) from Annapurna, and GLAAD Media Award nominee God’s Own Country (2017), Every Day, and Anna and the Apocalypse (2018) from Orion.
Widest Theatrical Release: 2518 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Pass
This GLAAD Media Award-nominated comedy follows teen best friends and exceptional high schoolers Molly and Amy who decide to have one wild night of partying before graduation. Amy is a lesbian and hopes to finally connect with her longtime crush at the huge class party, but ends up hooking up with a different girl, Hope, in an embarrassing encounter in the bathroom at a house party. Amy and Hope’s awkward sexual experience is treated with the same humor and compassion that are usually reserved for straight couples. The school includes several other queer characters, and handles very casual conversations throughout the film about gender and sexuality in a way that is relevant and accurate to how young people discuss these topics today.
In a refreshing change, Booksmart incorporates Amy’s sexuality as a key part of the plot, informing who she is, while not telling a coming out story nor presenting any conflict about her orientation. Booksmart, similar to Love, Simon and Blockers in 2018, represents a shift in teen comedies. A few years ago, the LGBTQ community were often the butt of the joke (if present at all), now 12 get to lead stories with comedy and heart.
Widest Theatrical Release: 3077 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Fail
A remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), the film follows two con-women, the experienced Josephine and the amateur Penny who team up. Throughout the film, there were several moments where being queer is a punchline. When Josephine and Penny meet, Josephine tells Penny that the town on the French Riviera to which they are headed is a lesbian community to discourage Penny from moving in on Josephine’s territory. The gag continues when Penny gets arrested by Josephine’s partner-in-crime Brigitte, presented as a police officer, and Penny attempts to hit on her to get out of custody (“That’s why I came, to do some experimenting, don’t you think we can work something out, just between us girls.”) Brigitte lives with Josephine, as does another of their paid conspirators. Penny later says it is “hard to tell nowadays” when asked if the two women are dating. In another scene, a man jokes about having a boyfriend while trying to hit on Josephine. Had the film delved deeper, confirming either Brigitte or Josephine as lesbian or bi+ would have been great, but the story as-is was more of a joke at the expense of the community. GLAAD did not count either Brigitte or Josephine in its tally.
Midway through the film, Josephine and Penny’s target, Thomas, begins a conversation with a man at a hotel bar who he believes to be a doctor that can help Penny. The man responds in Dutch, subtitled on screen, and expresses romantic interest, as he believes Thomas is trying to pick him up. When Josephine, who can understand and speak Dutch, replies that Thomas is not interested in having sex with the man, he pouts and replies that Thomas is “just my type.” It is disappointing that the film decided to include this incredibly minor gay character solely for comic relief, particularly with so many other jokes running throughout using a queer identity as a punchline.
Widest Theatrical Release: 3437 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Fail
This stop-motion feature follows adventurer Lionel Frost on his quest to find a mysterious Sasquatch, and their journey. Actor Zach Galifianakis voices the Sasquatch who, midway through the film, chooses the name Susan for himself in a line adlibbed by Galifianakis. Previously, he had been referred to as Mr. Link, and had struggled to choose his first name. He chooses Susan as a tribute to the first human who ever showed him any kindness. There is a moment where Lionel comments that it is a girl’s name, but he quickly accepts his friend’s chosen name. Though some media outlets have perceived Susan as being non-binary or gender non-conforming, throughout the film, Susan uses he/him pronouns and dresses in a suit.
Earlier in the film, there is a more questionable scene. When Lionel rides into town, a woman blows him a kiss from a saloon window and he replies with a smile. Immediately after, a burly man sharpening a knife on the bars of his prison cell blows a kiss to Lionel from his window and Lionel appears visibly shaken. While his reaction could be read as having more to do with a perceived threat from a criminal and less about the attention coming from a man, it is worth exploring the intention of the film to use a male prisoner. There is a history of negative portrayals surrounding predatory prisoners and, though this was a simple joke in an animated film, it does fit into that harmful trope.
MGM is producing a biopic of Culture Club frontman Boy George with Sacha Gervasi attached to write and direct, that could be distributed by UAR. The film is set to explore Boy George’s roots growing up in an Irish middle class family through the height of Culture Club’s success in the ‘80s. George’s queerness is integral to his life and should be fully represented in the film, as should the truths of his life including his issues with addiction and other troubles. George has made headlines in recent years for biphobic and transphobic comments, though he has recently shared he may have not been as clear in his tweets as he intended.