Founded in 1918 as Cohn-Brant-Cohn Film Sales, the film studio was renamed Columbia Pictures in 1924. It gained prominence starting in the ‘20s due to its association with Frank Capra and producing some of the biggest stars of the classic Hollywood era. In the ‘80s, the studio was acquired by Coca-Cola, where the company launched Tri-Star pictures. Columbia/TriStar was briefly its own entity, before Sony purchased it in 1989. Sony releases films from its many imprints including Columbia, TriStar, Sony Pictures Animation, Screen Gems, and Affirm.
Sony Pictures has an inconsistent track record as relates to LGBTQ-inclusive films. A political thriller from 1962, Advise and Consent, included a subplot where a Senate chairman is blackmailed over an affair he had with another man, before dying by suicide. Tri-Star’s Basic Instinct (1992) faced opposition from LGBTQ groups, including GLAAD, for its defamatory depiction of lesbian and bisexual women. Other inclusive films from Sony Columbia include Philadelphia (1993), Threesome (1994), and As Good as it Gets (1997). In more recent years, parent company Sony Pictures has released Rent (2005), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013), Rough Night (2017), and The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018).
A Dog’s Way Home
Widest Theatrical Release: 3090 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Pass
This film follows the adventures of Bella, a dog separated from her family, and her attempts to return home to them. On her journey, she meets several people and animals who assist her. At one point, Gavin and Taylor, a gay married couple, take in Bella. Though she does end up running away to return to her owners, the couple is inspired to rescue a dog that had been mistreated by its owner. This casual inclusion of a sweet couple, though brief, was a nice way to show that the world of the film included queer people. The film’s plot unfolds in an episodic style with each group Bella encounters contributing a lesson or help in some other way on her journey to return home. In this way, the film does pass the Vito Russo Test – without the assistance of Gavin and Taylor, Bella would not have made it out the harsh winter weather and back into civilization which helped her back to her family. Even so, the characters themselves could have been better developed.
Widest Theatrical Release: 3452 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Pass
The newest in this popular spy franchise, Charlie’s Angels features out actress Kristen Stewart as Sabina, one of the spies and a lesbian. In a mid-film scene, Sabina is distracted from her case when she stops to check out an attractive woman at the gym. Though the moment is technically enough to confirm Sabina’s interest in women, the scene is a very small moment that could have been missed easily by audiences. Ultimately, Sabina spends much more time in the film pretending to be interested in a man for her job, rather than pursuing a woman love interest.
While Sabina’s lack of romantic interest is a noticeable omission, particularly when contrasted with one of the straight Angels who did have a brief romance plot, it is still noteworthy for a queer woman character (particularly one played by an out actress) to be one of the leads in an action comedy. Hopefully, this small first step with Sabina will lead to more substantial depictions of LGBTQ characters in this genre in future.
Jumanji: The Next Level
Widest Theatrical Release: 4227 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Fail
This sequel includes a group of teens and two older men jumping back into the virtual game where each character inhabits an avatar, with characters visually appearing as new characters who are sometimes of a different gender. Over the course of the movie, two straight characters are experiencing romantic troubles. Though on-screen, the romance at times looks like a gay couple because of the bodies inhabited, it isn’t actually. The couple eventually reconciles, but only when they are swapped into new bodies which match their own genders.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Widest Theatrical Release: 4634 theaters
Vito Russo Test: Fail
In the lead up to this sequel, press reported a young trans actor named Zach Barack, would play one of Peter Parker’s classmates also named Zach. Tyler Luke Cunningham, another actor who is also transgender, was similarly reported to be a featured extra in the film. Since there was no indication of either character being transgender within the film itself, GLAAD did not count Zach or Cunningham’s character in its tally.
Sony will be releasing the highly anticipated holiday 2020 film Happiest Season, from out filmmaker Clea DuVall. The film is a romantic comedy about a woman who is planning to propose to her girlfriend, but finds out the girlfriend is not out to her family when they travel for a Christmas visit. DuVall co-wrote and directed the film, which stars several out actors including Kristen Stewart, Dan Levy, Victor Garber and Aubrey Plaza. Another upcoming Sony romcom, The Broken Hearts Gallery, coming August 2020, includes a central lesbian character, Nadine, who is part of the trio of best friends at the heart of the film. The success of recent romcoms like Love, Simon and Booksmart on the big screen and The Half of It and The Thing About Harry on TV should serve as a challenge to Hollywood to create content for an audience clearly searching for queer love stories.
Sony will be distributing Blumhouse’s reboot of 1990s cult favorite The Craft, with a new group of teen witches. They have already announced that one of the witches will be a transgender girl, played by Zoey Luna, an actress who is also transgender. Another horror film from Sony, Escape Room 2 scheduled for January 2021, has cast non-binary actor Indya Moore in the ensemble. It is not yet known how their character will identify in the film. This type of casting and inclusion indicates progress, particularly for horror films which have historically portrayed LGBTQ characters as one-dimensional victims or villains, but which remain the most popular genre among LGBTQ moviegoers.
An upcoming adaptation of Cinderella has cast out actor Billy Porter as the fairy godmother character “Fab G,” and he has said the film is “presenting this character as genderless – at least that’s how I’m playing it.” The film is set for a 2021 release. While there is not yet any further information known on how the character’s story will play out in the film, this would be a great opportunity to introduce LGBTQ characters in a beloved fairy tale for families. In 2018, out bi pop star Halsey signed with Sony to create a semi-autobiographical film in which she would also star. There hasn’t been an update to the story since the announcement, but GLAAD is looking forward to this project moving forward.
Sony Pictures Classics (SPC), founded in 1992, is the independent film division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which acquires, produces, and distributes independent films and documentaries. Several LGBTQ-inclusive films released since its inception include My Life in Pink (1997) about a gender non-conforming child; The Celluloid Closet (1995), a documentary about LGBTQ representations in film based on the book with the same title written by Vito Russo (co-founder of GLAAD); the Alan Ginsberg-centered story Kill Your Darlings (2013); Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited! (2013); Love Is Strange (2014); Grandma (2015); The Meddler (2016); GLAAD Media Award winners Call Me By Your Name and A Fantastic Woman (2017), and more.
All is True
Widest Theatrical Release: 328 theaters
This biopic of William Shakespeare in his final years shows him back at home with his wife and daughters. During a visit from the Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare tells the Earl he wrote a sonnet for him, and makes it clear he harbored romantic feelings for him. The Earl dismisses this as simple flattery, but also hints that the feelings may have once been mutual, though nothing was acted upon between the two. It’s refreshing for a film set in the 17th century to allow Shakespeare to be so forthcoming about his feelings for a man, and a lack of shame, regret, or conflict about that love.
Widest Theatrical Release: 117 theaters
This film follows the titular Frankie, a renowned actor. She gathers her friends and family to Portugal to vacation together in the final months of her life. Those gathered include Michel, Frankie’s ex-husband, who speaks of how her leaving him was a positive because the break-up allowed him to recognize his attraction towards men. There aren’t any harsh words or ill will between Frankie and Michel, and the story is a good example of casual inclusion.
Pain and Glory
Widest Theatrical Release: 266 theaters
The Oscar and GLAAD Media Award-nominated film Pain and Glory is the latest from out filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. The semi-autobiographical film follows Salvador Mallo, a gay filmmaker who lives with chronic pain and who has started using heroin to manage his pain. Although he is in a creative slump, Salvador has a friend anonymously stage a production of an old one-man show centered on Salvador’s former relationship with a man named Federico, who had been addicted to heroin while they were together. Federico attends the show, reconnects with Salvador and they reminisce on their past. The two say goodbye with a kiss, and this moment inspires Salvador to commit to seeking medical treatment for his pain and his addiction.
The nuance in which Salvador is portrayed as a gay man, an artist, and a person living with chronic pain and addiction showing him as fully human, not simply a sum of his parts. Creators need to commit to telling stories with these well-rounded characters, integrating a character’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a meaningful part of who they are and how they live their lives.
Where’s My Roy Cohn?
Widest Theatrical Release: 64 theaters
This documentary follows the life of notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, who was instrumental in the worst brutalities of the McCarthy hearings, as well as a mentor to a young Donald Trump. Cohn was gay and closeted, though he spent a portion of his career blackmailing others for being gay, particularly during the McCarthy era. The film delves into Cohn’s legacy as a combative lawyer to the mob and expert manipulator, and includes his staged legal hearings to protect G. David Schine, recounts of the younger men he dated in New York City, and his eventual HIV diagnosis which he vehemently denied publicly until his death. The documentary is a fascinating portrait of how the politics of a closeted gay man supported the current anti-LGBTQ movement.
The White Crow
Widest Theatrical Release: 365 theaters
This biopic is based on the true story of Rudolf Nureyev, a ballet dancer from the Soviet Union, who fled during the Cold War to live in the West. Nureyev was queer, though reports vary on whether he identified as gay or bisexual. In the film, his queerness is explored in scenes with his friend, Teja, who teaches him about Western culture, and the two end up sleeping together. In addition, Rudi has a sexual encounter with the wife of his teacher, one that he does not initiate and about which he feels great discomfort. During the film, audiences see Rudi on dates with Clara, a woman he meets in France, but the relationship never fully blooms. He also checks out other men while the two are out. Because the only romantic connection that he genuinely seemed to enjoy was with another man, GLAAD counted Rudolf as gay in its tally.