The organisation found that of the 126 releases from major studios in 2015, only 22 of them (17.5%) included characters identified as LGBT – and perhaps most shockingly only one of those included a trans character, and that was to be the butt of a joke in Hot Pursuit. This marks no change from the 17.5% of films in 2014 with LGBT characters. More than three quarters of inclusive films (77%) featured gay male characters, less than a quarter (23%) included lesbian characters, and less than a tenth (9%) included bisexual characters.
“Hollywood’s films lag far behind any other form of media when it comes to portrayals of LGBT characters,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President & CEO. “Too often, the few LGBT characters that make it to the big screen are the target of a punchline or token characters. The film industry must embrace new and inclusive stories if it wants to remain competitive and relevant.”
GLAAD also found that racial diversity among LGBT characters in film dropped drastically year over year. In 2015, 25.5% of LGBT characters were people of color, compared to 32.1% in 2014. Of the LGBT characters counted in 2015, 34 (72.3%) were White, 5 were Latino/a (10.6%), 4 were Black/African American (8.5%), and 3 (6.4%) were Asian/Pacific Islander.
No studios received a rating of ‘Good’ for their 2015 releases. 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate Entertainment, Sony Columbia Pictures, and Universal Pictures all received ratings of ‘Adequate’, while Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Brothers all received a ‘Failing’ grade for their portrayals of LGBT people. It is perhaps most surprising that Disney failed, as its TV division has done fairly well with LGBT representation and the organisation is generally seen to be pretty gay-friendly. However, not a single one of its 2015 movies included an identifiably LGBT character (barring a brief Lady Gaga cameo in Muppets Most Wanted).
Virtually the only progress the report includes is that significantly fewer derogatory slurs were used in film comedies this year, but even so the LGBT-themed humour they included still generally ran from the pointless to the offensive. They also noted a particular theme of jokes about male friends/colleagues being mistaken for gay couples, which is in essence a riff on gay panic humour, as it relies on characters not wanting to be seen as LGBT.
GLAAD also applied its more rigorous Vito Russo test to the 22 movies that did include LGBT people, which looks not just at whether a film contains a character who is identifiably LGBT, but also whether the character is defined by more than just sexual orientation, and if the character has a significant role in the film’s plot. By that measure, only eight movies passed, a significant decrease on last year.
It’s also noticeable looking through the list of movies that included LGBT depictions, that films designed for large, mainstream, mass entertainment releases generally included no or only fleeting LGBT representation, while films with more important gay, lesbian or transgender characters were generally likely to be less populist titles (or at the very least not given as wide releases). The likelihood is that nervous studio executives worry that including LGBT characters in their bigger movies is a risk at the worldwide box office (not just in more homophobic cultures, but also whether it will result in less gay-friendly westerners staying home). However, no progress is going to be made until the studios are less afraid to challenge this.
GLAAD also had some particular observations and recommendations:
- The majority of LGBT characters in mainstream films remain minor – both in substance and screen time. Of the 22 LGBT-inclusive films, almost three quarters (73%) of them include less than ten minutes of screen time for LGBT characters. Not only must there be a larger number of LGBT roles, but they must be roles built with substance and purpose.
- LGBT portrayals on film are overwhelming White (72.3%) and male (77%). Films must do better to include LGBT characters in roles directly tied to the plot which reflect the wide diversity of our community.
- Transgender representation is shockingly low with only one character in the mainstream releases of 2015 – whose brief appearance served as a punchline to laugh at when her identity is revealed. Filmmakers should examine what message they are really sending when they rely on thoughtless humor to exploit an already marginalized community.
- 2015 saw a notable resurgence of outright offensive depictions of LGBT people, relying on gay panic and defamatory stereotypes for cheap laughs. Humor can be a powerful tool for holding a mirror up to society and challenging the norm, but when crafted without thought, it has the opposite effect and bolsters ignorance and prejudice.
It all shows that despite the major strides being taken for LGBT rights, visibility and equality being taken in the last few years, Hollywood is lagging far behind, and is still more likely to use representation for a cheap joke or to merely hint someone is gay than to genuinely depict queer people in their films.