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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters may be showing up on television with increasing regularity, but they are still a relative rarity in mainstream movies released by the major Hollywood studios. In its third annual report about LGBT representation on film, the gay advocacy group GLAAD, found that of the 114 releases from the major studios in 2014, only 20 of them, or 17.5 percent, included characters identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
That figure represented a slight increase from 2013, when 16.7 percent of studio releases were found to be inclusive. But many of the gay characters who appeared on screen in 2015 made only fleeting appearances. “Of the 20 films we found to be inclusive,” the report, which was released today, said, “10 of those contained less than five minutes of screen time for their LGBT characters — with several being less than 30 seconds — while three others contained less than 10 minutes of screen time. In the case of several films, audiences may not have been aware that they were seeing LGBT characters if they did not read outside press coverage or were unaware of the real-life LGBT person a character was based on.”
Grading the individual studios on their performance, GLAAD awarded a “good” to Warner Bros, an “adequate” to Fox, Lionsgate, Paramount and Universal and “failing” grades to Sony and Disney. No studio earned a grade of “excellent.”
GLAAD observed that there no were identifiable transgender characters in major film releases last year. And it also noted that there were “fewer overtly defamatory depictions in mainstream film compared to last year, though offensive representations were by no means absent, and were found in films such as Exodus: Gods and Kings and Horrible Bosses 2.”
“As television and streaming services continue to produce a remarkable breadth of diverse LGBT representations, we still struggle to find depictions anywhere near as authentic or meaningful in mainstream Hollywood film. The industry continues to look increasingly out of touch by comparison, and still doesn’t represent the full diversity of the American cultural fabric,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said.
Among the inclusive films, the report found, 65 percent of them featured gay male characters, less than a third featured bisexuals and about one tenth included lesbian characters. There was a slight increase in racial diversity with 32.1 percent of the characters being people of color, compared to 24 percent in 2013. Of the 28 characters GLAAD counted, 19 were white (67.9 percent), three were black/African-American (10.7 percent), two were Latin (7.1 percent), and four were Asian/Pacific Islander (14.3 percent).
If gays did appear on screen, they were most likely to appear in comedies, which was also the case in 2013 and 2012. “LGBT people were largely shut out of the genre films (action, sci-fi, fantasy), where Hollywood film studios commit the majority of their capital and promotional resources,” GLAAD said. Additionally, three of 13 animated/family films (23.1 percent), six of 33 dramas (18.2 percent) and none of the three documentaries contained LGBT characters.
This year, for the first time, GLAAD also surveyed the specialty divisions affiliated with four of the larger companies: Focus Features, Fox Searchlight, Roadside Attractions and Sony Pictures Classics. And while those distributors typically appeal to more sophisticated audiences, their track record was even worse than the majors. Of 47 films released by the specialty outfits, only five, or 11 percent of the total, were deemed to be LGBT-inclusive.
GLAAD also applied what it calls its Vito Russo Test, named after the late author and activist, to the films depicting LGBT characters. The test measures whether a film contains an identifiably LGBT character, whether that character is defined by more than just his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and whether the character has a significant role in the plot. Of the 20 major studio films with an LGBT character, just 11 passed the Vito Russo test.
Warners earned the best overall score, with seven of its 22 movies featuring LBGT characters, such as the record producer Bob Crewe, who appeared in Jersey Boys, and a same-sex couple whose existence is revealed in the final moments of This Is Where I Leave You. The Melissa McCarthy comedy Tammy earned words of praise from GLAAD, which said it was the only studio film “to feature major characters who are openly and unashamedly depicted as LGBT and cast in a positive light.” But the report reserved some of its harshest words for the comedy Horrible Bosses 2, pointing to Jennifer Aniston’s bisexual Dr. Julia Harris for exhibiting “some of the worst stereotypes about bisexual people.”
“While we were pleased to see Warner Brothers show real improvement in its LGBT-inclusive films in 2014, they also recently released the  comedy Get Hard, one of the most problematic films we have seen in some time. This glaring lack of consistency seems to be common amongst almost every major film studio, showing a need for greater oversight in how their films represent — or don’t represent — significant portions of their audience,” Ellis said. “Only when they make those changes and catch up to other, more consistently inclusive media portrayals will we be able to say that America’s film industry is a full partner in accelerating acceptance.”
The full report can be found at http://glaad.org/sri.
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