Universal Pictures was founded in 1912 and is one of the oldest operating film studios in the United States. Universal merged with NBC in 2004, Comcast purchased the new NBCUniversal in 2011, and Universal acquired DreamWorks Animation from 20th Century Fox in 2016, releasing their first film under that umbrella in February 2019. Universal’s previous releases tend to focus on mass appeal films such as Jaws, E.T., the Bourne series, and the ongoing Fast and the Furious franchise.
Universal only began to release LGBTQ-inclusive films in the 1990s, and its 1991 adaptation of Fried Green Tomatoes removed most of the novel’s lesbian content. Universal’s many highs and lows in LGBTQ representation encompass 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), Last Christmas (2019), Good Boys (2019), and Freaky (2020).
Widest Theatrical Release: 3,569 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Pass
Candyman follows a couple, Anthony and Brianna, as Anthony is taken over by the infamous Candyman. Early on in the film, audiences meet Brianna’s brother Troy and his boyfriend Grady who come over to their house, where Troy tells the notorious Candyman legend. Later, once Brianna leaves Anthony, she stays at Troy’s house and he provides a support system for her. There is also a short scene where five high school girls summon Candyman as a joke, and one is implied to be a lesbian. The girls only appear in this quick moment and do not survive the scene. While it is unfortunate that this queer character had such a brief appearance before dying, the scene does make sense given the genre. It is worth noting that both members of the gay couple, including Troy, a gay Black man, survive the events of the film.
Dear Evan Hansen
Widest Theatrical Release: 3,364 Theaters
Vito Russo Test: Pass
The film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical features Jared, played by out actor Nik Dodani, a character who plays an expanded role compared to the stage show. Jared is gay in the film, and discusses a boy he hooked up with at camp in his first scene. Jared is a family friend of the lead, Evan, and ends up helping him craft fake emails to make it seem like Evan and recently deceased classmate Connor were best friends. Jared insinuates that people will think Connor and Evan were lovers, and a portion of the song “Sincerely, Me” includes Evan insisting that he and Connor were not gay.
In the Dear Evan Hansen novelization, the character of Connor is revealed to be bisexual, but was not included in this adaptation. Given that Connor dies early on in the film, this omission was an understandable decision given the problematic history of “Bury Your Gays” trope. Jared’s expanded role and backstory in the film was a sign that this school includes queer people, reflecting reality as about one in five Gen Z adults identify as part of the LGBTQ community. While it is worth celebrating Jared’s inclusion, we would have liked to see more of his life outside of helping Evan.
Widest Theatrical Release: 3,727 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Pass
This entry in the Halloween franchise shows infamous killer Michael Myers continuing his murdering spree. Two of his victims are a gay couple named Big John and Little John. The Johns are seen as a couple in their home – which happens to be Myers’ childhood home – before he breaks in and kills them. They are significant to the plot in that they provide a link to Michael’s home, where the climax of the film takes place. It is important to note that Michael did not kill them because they are gay; he is known to kill anyone who lives in that house. However, it is still unfortunate that they do not survive the film.
NBCUniversal runs NBC Out, one of the only LGBTQ focused verticals from a major media company. The company signed on to a Business Coalition of companies who supported passing the Equality Act and issued a public statement praising a Supreme Court decision in 2020 which ruled that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity violates the Civil Rights Act. In 2020, Comcast NBCUniversal joined over 250 other businesses that signed onto HRC’s and Freedom For All American’s Business Statement Opposing Anti-LGBTQ State Legislation. Comcast NBCUniversal received a top score of 100 in the 2022 Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index with points awarded for inclusive benefits, employee safety policies that specify coverage for sexual orientation and gender identity, an active LGBTQ employee resource group, and more. The company also has introduced a supplier diversity program to evaluate the vendors they employ. In 2021, Comcast NBCUniversal was a financial supporter of LGBTQ groups and events, including GLAAD. No anti-LGBTQ political donations were found from Universal Pictures. Parent company Comcast/NBCUniversal donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-LGBTQ politicians.
Billy Eichner’s long anticipated romantic comedy Bros was released this fall. The film follows two men who attempt to stay in a committed relationship and boasts a primarily LGBTQ cast. Also released in 2022 was romantic comedy Marry Me, which featured a lesbian character Parker, the lead’s best friend.
There is plenty of opportunity to include queer characters in Universal’s upcoming films including Talent, a script by lesbian producer and writer Lena Waithe and starring queer actress Cynthia Erivo as a struggling songwriter. There will also be a third Mamma Mia film, which has the chance to include a significant plot for gay character Harry. While there have been no updates on All That Heaven Allows, the Rock Hudson biopic from out director Greg Berlanti, we hope to see this project move forward, as stories of characters living with HIV are almost entirely absent from major studio releases in recent years.
Focus Features was founded in 2002 by USA Films, Universal Focus, and Good Machine, and produces both its own films and independently acquired films. Focus’s expansive inventory of popular LGBTQ-inclusive films include GLAAD Media Award-winners Brokeback Mountain (2005), Milk (2008), The Kids Are All Right (2010), Pariah (2011), Boy Erased (2018), and GLAAD Media Award nominee Kajillionaire (2020).
Widest Theatrical Release: 213 theaters
This film follows a group of refugees in Scotland waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. Farhad, one of the refugees, is from Afghanistan and looks up to Freddie Mercury as an idol. Further into the film, Farhad admits to protagonist Omar that he cannot be himself back home. Omar later confesses that he’s never met someone like Farhad, and Farhad replies that he too has never met anyone like himself. Though vague, this dialogue implies that Farhad is gay and is looking for asylum in another country to escape violence or anti-gay persecution.
Widest Theatrical Release: 2,611 theaters
This drama follows Bill, a father who is attempting to clear his daughter Allison’s name after she was accused of murdering her girlfriend abroad. Though the film could have easily leaned into stereotypes of people in rural areas as being homophobic and had Bill disapprove of his daughter, Bill stood by Allison the entire film and eventually proved her innocence. Allison’s innocence also went against the stereotype that often portrays queer women as devious or self-destructive, and simply showed her in love and caught up in an unhealthy relationship. Though the overall story was much more Bill’s than Allison’s, his acceptance of Allison’s sexuality is significant and was a welcome inclusion.