Observations & Recommendations
LGBTQ characters played leading roles in films across many genres.
After decades of LGBTQ characters in major studio films being relegated to supporting roles or side characters, there was a huge increase in LGBTQ characters who were front and center in their own narratives in this year’s report. Of the 100 films with LGBTQ characters, 56 of them (56 percent) featured LGBTQ characters with over ten minutes of screentime. Standout films with major LGBTQ characters include A24’s award-season sweeper Everything Everywhere All At Once, as well as the studio’s Aftersun, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and GLAAD Media Award-winning drama The Inspection. Disney’s Strange World centered a young gay Black man on a family adventure, while its streamer Hulu released queer romantic comedies Fire Island and Crush. Amazon debuted the GLAAD List script Anything’s Possible with a young Black trans woman as the romantic lead. Max’s drama The Fallout included two queer girls at the center of the film, and Paramount Plus’ Three Months followed a gay teen awaiting his HIV test results. Universal’s romantic comedy Bros boasted a central gay love story and a multitude of LGBTQ characters in the larger ensemble, while Focus Features’ releases Spoiler Alert and Tár had gay leads. Netflix had a queer teen girl lead in Do Revenge and a trans boy save the day in Wendell & Wild. GLAAD urges all studios and distributors to build on this exciting progress, and to continue telling meaningful, diverse and impactful stories that center nuanced and autonomous LGBTQ characters.
Films featuring sizable LGBTQ ensembles finally hit big and small screens.
For years, GLAAD has called for films featuring multiple LGBTQ characters. In real life, rarely is there only one person who is part of the LGBTQ community in a group of friends or family, and this needs to be reflected on screen. This year, GLAAD Media Award-winning romantic comedies Bros and Fire Island both not only featured gay romance, but diverse friend groups and chosen families of queer people. Horror comedy Bodies Bodies Bodies showcased several queer characters in its Gen Z ensemble, and coming-of-age drama Three Months showed the lead with new and old queer friends who helped shape his life. This film was particularly notable for showing LGBTQ people of different generations. The sense of community, support, education and found family is a defining hallmark of the LGBTQ experience and we’re excited to see some of these stories beginning to be explored further. GLAAD also urges studios to invest in ensemble films spotlighting LGBTQ people of color, LGBTQ women, and trans people, as those communities are lifesaving and still often unexplored in film.
Transgender representation, though still lacking, is at a high point in this report’s history.
Given the addition of streaming services and the consolidation of studio labels in this report’s methodology, it’s understandable that the numbers would increase across the board. Still, it is exciting to see 12 films with transgender characters in this year’s report, up from one last year, and zero in the five years before that. Beyond the numbers, several of the films counted were authentic and nuanced portrayals of trans people. Amazon’s teen romance Anything’s Possible, Billy Porter’s directorial debut from a GLAAD List script written by trans writer Ximena García Lecuona, depicted a young trans woman falling in love in high school; Sony’s A Man Called Otto showed a trans teen boy help an old man believe in humanity again; Max’s documentary Santa Camp showed a trans man as Santa Claus talking to a young nonbinary child who wanted a binder for Christmas; and the Netflix doc Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story profiled Leo Baker, a trans skateboarder, sharing his journey. All these films showed different and exciting portrayals of trans people’s lives. Yet, this barely scratches the surface of the storytelling that is possible to fully reflect the diversity of identity and experience of trans people. Though there is far more trans representation than in the past, these 12 films still only represent 12% of all LGBTQ films tracked in 2022, and 0.4% of all films released for the year. In an era where trans youth and adults are constantly attacked by anti-LGBTQ politicians and put in harm’s way by inaccurate reporting and rhetoric in media, we need even more stories that humanize trans people, center trans people’s voices, and show the trans community as everyday people trying to live their lives.
Bisexual representation is up, but still far below the actual population.
For the past several editions of this report, bisexual+ characters have been largely absent from major studio films, with roles that were often small at best and offensive at worst. This year, 21 (21 percent) of the 100 LGBTQ inclusive films counted included bisexual+ characters. Though there were some standouts such as the lead roles Hulu’s romantic comedy Crush, Sony’s Whitney Houston biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody, and Max’s The Fallout, there were far less significant bi+ characters in film compared to gay and lesbian characters. Surveys have continually shown that over half of LGBTQ folks are bisexual+, and film needs to catch up to the reality of reflecting this sizable community and underserved audience.
While there were welcome increases in LGBTQ screentime, there was also a less welcome trend continued in films this year of ambiguous LGBTQ subtext or representation which was only clear to audiences aware of outside press or source material.
Several high-profile films released in 2022 stopped short of telling LGBTQ stories and instead used subtext that audiences could read into if they wanted to, or small symbols that would only be clear with outside context beyond the film. For example, Warner Bros.’ The Batman showed Catwoman tenderly caressing another woman’s face and calling her baby, but solely referred to her as her friend, and the woman died before their relationship could be explored. Marvel’s Doctor Strange and The Mulitverse of Madness gave America Chavez a pride flag patch on her jacket, but her actual identity was never discussed or even casually alluded to. America is one of the loudest and proudest lesbian characters in Marvel comics, and several iterations of Catwoman in comics and on TV, including Max’s Harley Quinn, depict her as explicitly bisexual. Several films also contained minimal shots of presumed queer couples in montages or brief moments, where if the camera had lingered for a second, or if they were given dialogue, their sexual orientation could have been confirmed. These characters are worth further investment, as simply implying queerness is not enough. GLAAD did not count those characters in its tally.
In a worrying industry trend across film and TV, LGBTQ content is being removed from streaming services.
A disturbing industry-wide trend across film and television for the past several months has seen large conglomerates removing content from their streaming services for the tax write-off. This includes a number of 2022 films tracked in this report; Disney+ removed Better Nate Than Ever, which had a young gay protagonist; Hulu removed Darby and the Dead, which featured a trans teen girl in the ensemble; and Max removed Moonshot, which included a supporting lesbian couple. Film is one of the most powerful mediums for LGBTQ people to see themselves reflected, across the globe, and to see a world in which they are thriving, particularly in a political climate that targets them. Film also has a unique long lasting power; LGBTQ cinema of past decades still has enormous impact today, from Paris is Burning to Desert Hearts to The Birdcage to But I’m a Cheerleader and beyond. These stories being told and then swiftly removed from public consumption is damaging to the art of cinema and the communities it represents. Further, removing the work of LGBTQ creatives prevents them being able to further their careers and build their reputations. These writers, actors, directors and beyond are losing a pivotal part of both their art and their ability to advance in the industry by taking on larger roles and bigger projects.
The percentage of LGBTQ characters of color slightly increased YOY but there is still work to be done, especially among Latine LGBTQ characters.
The overall percentage of LGBTQ characters of color rose to 40 percent (117 of 292) and several of those characters appeared in leading roles. Both friendship and romance between AAPI gay men was at the heart of Fire Island; Anything’s Possible centered a Black trans girl finding love; Strange World saw a young Black boy on an adventure with his family and his relationship with a Latine boy. In fact, of the 95 characters who had over ten minutes of screen time, 49 (52 percent) of them were POC. However, there are some communities missing in these numbers. Only 17 (six percent) of all LGBTQ characters were Latine, and only four (four percent) of the 95 characters with over ten minutes of screen time were Latine – and all of them were from streaming services (Netflix’s The Bubble, Senior Year, Wendell & Wild, and Hulu’s Fire Island.) There were additionally only three characters who were Afro-Latine (categorized as multiracial), a population that is severely underrepresented in both English and Spanish language media. The 2021 MPA THEME Report reported that the Hispanic/Latine population is a key audience overindexing in both streaming views and box office tickets. If studios want to retain this audience’s crucial buying power, their stories can no longer fall by the wayside. Additionally, out of all 292 LGBTQ characters, only two were indigenous, neither of whom had over ten minutes of screen time. The stories of LGBTQ people of color can be uniquely impactful and studios must invest in breaking new ground with this storytelling.
Only 11 LGBTQ characters were counted with a disability, vastly underrepresenting the reality of the LGBTQ population who are living with disabilities.
This comes to under four percent of all 292 characters. According to a 2019 study by the Movement Advancement Project, LGBTQ people are more likely to have a disability than the general population. Per the report, two of five transgender adults and one in four lesbian, gay, or bisexual+ adults reported having a disability. We hope to see representation expand for those with seen and unseen disabilities who are part of this community. Furthermore, only one character in one film (Three Months) was living with HIV. Though Three Months itself told a fascinating and heartfelt story about the stigma of HIV, there is room for so many more stories. With all the scientific advances in HIV prevention and treatment, audiences deserve to see new films about people living their everyday lives with HIV in every time period, especially in the present and future.
There were a few standout LGBTQ stories in the kids and family space, but this should be seen across all distributors.
After the previous report’s disheartening lack of inclusive kids and family content, it is exciting to see so many films from major studios include vibrant LGBTQ characters in films made for younger audiences. Disney’s Strange World and Lightyear were both nominated for GLAAD Media Awards, as was Disney+’s Zombies 3 and Netflix’s Wendell & Wild. LGBTQ characters included in – and especially leading some of these stories – is more impactful and necessary than ever as laws are placed into effect that directly target LGBTQ youth, and specifically trans youth.