Universal Pictures was founded in 1912, making it one of the oldest surviving film studios in the country. In 2004, Universal merged with NBC, and shortly after, the new NBCUniversal was purchased by Comcast in 2011. In 2016, Universal acquired DreamWorks Animation from 20th Century Fox, and released their first film under that umbrella in February 2019. Universal often focuses on mass appeal films with previous releases including Jaws, E.T., the Bourne series, and the ongoing Fast and the Furious franchise.
It was not until the 1990s that Universal began to release LGBTQ-inclusive films. Even then, the 1991 adaptation of Fried Green Tomatoes removed the majority of its lesbian content found in the novel. LGBTQ representation in Universal films has had its many highs and lows, including films such as To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995), Mulholland Drive (2001), I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007), Bruno (2009), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), Kick-Ass 2 (2013), Riddick (2013), Legend (2015), Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016), Blockers (2018), and Last Christmas and Good Boys (2019).
Widest Theatrical Release: 2472 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Pass
Freaky is a slasher comedy which centers on Millie, a teen girl who accidentally switches bodies with a middle-aged man who is a serial killer. She turns to her two best friends, Josh and Nyla, to find out what happened and to determine how to fix it. Josh is out and vocal about being gay from the beginning of the movie and he has a central role in the film – working with Millie and Nyla to research the cause of the switch and, ultimately, helps Millie find and detain the killer to change back into her body. Horror films have become a surprise genre for solid queer inclusion from major studios in recent years of this study, as Freaky follows the examples of Happy Death Day 2 U, Fantasy Island, Truth or Dare and others.
Other films which have included body swaps across genders have leaned into making a joke out of the world’s reactions to the people who are swapped. Previous editions of this study have specifically made a point of speaking on the issue of portraying what visually looks like a queer romance for laughs or as a gross-out moment in other films. While the film poster leaned into some of these tropes with a teenage girl using a knife to scrape off a shaving foam beard, Freaky largely avoided those issues within the film itself by instead providing commentary on how the killer realizes he is beyond suspicion as a teenage girl and Millie shares how she has a new sense of confidence and strength from how people in the world reacted to her as a man. Millie and her crush Booker share their first kiss while she is in the killer’s body, and the moment came across very sweet, as opposed to Booker displaying any homophobia about his crush being in a man’s body. One moment worth eliminating was a scene where a closeted jock forcibly kisses Josh at the school dance, as three other jocks attempt to assault the killer in Millie’s body. Josh pushes the other boy away and calls him out for forcing the kiss on him. That boy is murdered alongside the other jocks shortly thereafter.
A date has finally been announced for Bros., the gay romantic comedy from out writer and star Billy Eichner and produced by Judd Apatow, which will be hitting theaters in August of 2022. The film follows two men who attempt a monogamous relationship despite both of their commitment issues. Universal will also be releasing Talent which centers on a struggling songwriter played by Cynthia Erivo with a screenplay by out writer Lena Waithe. Though no LGBTQ characters have yet been announced, this film represents a great opportunity for inclusion.
Out filmmaker Greg Berlanti is attached to direct All That Heaven Allows, a biopic of Rock Hudson, which follows the closeted Hollywood star who tragically died of AIDS-related complications in 1985.
The acclaimed Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen will be adapted for the big screen for release on September 24. Though the musical itself was not LGBTQ-inclusive, the follow up novel included LGBTQ characters, and the film could and should do the same. The core cast includes out actors Ben Platt, Amandla Stenberg, and Nik Dodani. Universal has also been in talks about moving forward with a third Mamma Mia film. The first two films included gay character Harry, but have yet to give him a significant male romantic interest or develop any story on how his queerness has shaped his experience. This sequel could be a perfect opportunity to do so.
In 2002, USA Films, Universal Focus, and Good Machine teamed to form Focus Features. Focus Features produces and distributes its own films, as well as several independently acquired films. Focus has an impressive catalogue of popular LGBTQ-inclusive films including GLAAD Media Award-winning films Brokeback Mountain (2005), Milk (2008), The Kids Are All Right (2010), Pariah (2011), and Boy Erased (2018).
Widest Theatrical Release: 529 theaters
GLAAD Media Award-nominated Kajillionaire follows a family of small-time con artists, with a special focus on mid-twenties daughter Old Dolio, who is emotionally neglected by her parents, Robert and Theresa. The family connects with Melanie, a relatively average person in comparison to them, and uses her to help them pull off cons. Midway through the film, Robert and Theresa try to jointly seduce Melanie. As Melanie tries to depart the situation, Old Dolio chooses that moment to have a confrontation with her parents, and the two women end up leaving together. Melanie makes a list of all the affection that Old Dolio missed out on growing up and tries to create experiences that recreate those moments. Through odd ups and downs, the two grow closer and develop romantic feelings for one another. The film culminates with Old Dolio coming to terms with the fact that her parents can never be truly emotionally supportive and the film ends on a shot of Old Dolio and Melanie kissing.
It is exciting to see a relationship between two women be the central focus in a quirky comedy. Often in media the conflict in a queer woman’s life or romance is centered on their queerness – whether it be coming out, discrimination, societal pressure to marry a man or similar. It’s refreshing for this romance to unfold without those roadblocks, simply two characters who almost effortlessly formed a connection. The conflict comes from another area of their lives.
Promising Young Woman
Widest Theatrical Release: 1448 theaters
This drama follows protagonist Cassie on a quest to seek revenge on the man who sexually assaulted her best friend while in medical school and those who enabled him. Cassie works at a coffee shop with her boss Gail, who is the closest she currently has in life to a friend. Gail is portrayed by Laverne Cox, a transgender actress. There is no indication that the character of Gail is transgender, though she very well could be. Because Gail is not explicitly referred to or portrayed as a trans woman, GLAAD did not count her in this tally.
They Way I See It
Widest Theatrical Release: 124 theaters
Many significant historical events are covered in this documentary about Pete Souza, the official photographer for Barack Obama’s years as President. These include when Obama voiced support for marriage equality, and then, the celebration when marriage equality passed in June 2015. A gay staff member is interviewed and talks about how significant that day was for him and his husband. The film also touches on Souza’s time working for Ronald Reagan and brings up Reagan’s lack of action during the early days of the HIV and AIDS crisis in the U.S. Though Souza cites this as an area of policy where he and Reagan disagreed, unfortunately it is glossed over quite quickly.