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The two studio films have sparked conversations around the inclusion of LGBTQ characters in film, with LeFou (played by Josh Gad) being Disney’s first LGBTQ character and Trini (played by Becky G) becoming the first LGBTQ big-screen superhero.
GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis tells Heat Vision that it is crucial to have LGBTQ representation in major studio films, particularly when the films are geared toward youth.
“LGBTQ youth deserve a happily ever after just like everyone else,” says Ellis. She says that young LGBTQ children being able to see these images in a film can be “a lifeline” for a lot of children, and this is especially important in countries where LGBTQ acceptance has not become the norm.
GLAAD releases an annual Studio Responsibility Index, looking at LGBTQ representation in film. The 2016 report found that only 17.5 percent of films released from the major studios included LGBTQ characters.
“Major motion pictures have lapsed between television and streaming content,” says Ellis, adding that it has been “very exciting and inspiring” to see two major releases in two weeks include LGBTQ characters.
“They are small inclusions,” she says. “It appears that they are testing the waters and it is a step absolutely in the right direction. This is not the end game. We want to see better and more inclusion than we are seeing now. We have to start somewhere and this is a good place to start.”
She adds that it’s also heartening to see that “anti-LGBTQ extremists are getting no traction in terms of boycotting the films,” referring to calls to boycott the Beauty and the Beast live-action film because of LeFou’s storyline. The film set records on opening weekend and is the biggest ever opening for a PG title.
Ellis says that the studios are now “owning these storylines” and standing by LGBTQ inclusion. She says GLAAD has been lobbying Hollywood for 30 years, and that five years ago when they started reporting on the lack of inclusion they had evidence to back up their requests. For one, LGBTQ advocacy group asked studios to stop “using LGBTQ people as props in movies, as punching bags and punchlines,” and to start being inclusive.
The challenge they had with major studio films was the importance of how the film performed in the international box office. Ellis says studio heads worried that because being LGBTQ is still criminalized in so many countries, including LGBTQ characters could hurt the international box offices’ success.
But Disney didn’t edit out LaFou’s storyline in Russia and Malaysia, a move Ellis praises.
Ellis says the public has been pressuring Hollywood as well.
“They are hungry for this content,” she says, adding that this is evident in the online campaigns to give Elsa from Frozen a girlfriend or Captain America a boyfriend. “That’s kind of the public outcry saying, ‘We are ready for this.'”
While Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers have taken a step in the right direction, Ellis says she looks forward to continuing to see LGBTQ characters advance on film, as they have on television and in streaming content.
“What we want to build to is having a protagonist with a dimensional story about their LGBTQ life integrated into a movie as if it were anybody else’s life,” says Ellis. “We’re not there yet.”
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