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The independently produced Moonlight may have made history by becoming the first film built around a gay character to win the best picture Oscar, but when it comes to fair and accurate depictions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people on the big screen, the majority of Hollywood’s 2016 studio releases simply ignored such characters.
In its annual report card released Thursday, officially known as the GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index, the media-monitoring organization studied 125 films released last year by the major studios. It gave Disney, Sony and Lionsgate failing grades; Fox, Paramount and Warner Bros. rated as poor; and Universal received a grade of “insufficient,” a new grade introduced this year. No studio earned a grade of either good or excellent.
Of the 125 films, only 23 — 18.4% of the total — contained LGBTQ characters. That was an increase of nearly one percentage point from the 17.5% of films (22 out of 126) found to be inclusive in 2015.
In 10 of the 23 films, the characters received less than one minute of screen time. Only 20% of the LGBTQ characters were people of color, down 5% from last year. And only one film released by a major studio in 2016 had a transgender character — and that character was used as a punchline in Paramount’s Zoolander 2.
In introducing the report, Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD president and CEO, observed that “major releases continue to lag behind the groundbreaking stories we see in independent films (like Moonlight) and even further behind the LGBTQ stories on TV and streaming series like Sense8 and Steven Universe. Millennials aged 18 to 34 are more than twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ as older generations. If film wants to remain relevant and retain an audience that has more options for entertainment than ever before, the industry must catch up in reflecting the full diversity of this country.”
Among LGBTQ characters, gay men dominated, appearing in 83 of the inclusive films, an increase of six percentage points from the previous report. Thirty-five percent of the inclusive films included lesbians, an increase of 12% from the year before. And bisexuals appeared in 13% of the major studios’ inclusive films, compared to 9% in last year’s report.
While GLAAD tallied 70 LGBTQ characters among all mainstream releases in 2016, up from 47 in 2015, that number was somewhat inflated because of 14 characters who were part of a single musical number in Universal’s PopStar: Never Stop Never Stopping.
The racial diversity of LGBTQ characters decreased in films tracked in 2016 following another dramatic drop the previous year. In 2016, only 20% of LGBTQ characters were people of color, compared to 25.5% the year before and 32.1% in films released in 2014. Of the 70 LGBTQ characters counted, 48 were white (69%), nine were Black/African-American (13%), one was Latin (1%) and four were Asian/Pacific Islander (6%). Eight characters (11%) were non-human — in the animated movies Zootopia, The Angry Birds Movie and Sausage Party.
As has been the case each year since GLAAD began its report, comedies remain the most likely major studio films to be LGBTQ-inclusive. Of the 125 films tracked, GLAAD identified 39 films as comedies, of which 12 (31%) were inclusive. By comparison, GLAAD counted 44 films as genre films (action, sci-fi, fantasy/horror), of which seven (14%) films were inclusive. Additionally, two of 27 dramas (7%) and three of 15 animated/family films (20%) included LGBTQ characters.
But simple inclusivity didn’t earn a studio a good score. Paramount and Universal tied as the most inclusive, with five of Paramount’s 15 films (33%) including LGBTQ characters and five of Universal’s 17 films (29%) being similarly inclusive. While the report lauded Paramount for presenting Lieutenant Sulu as a gay man, part of a couple, in Star Trek Beyond, it criticized the “cheap jokes” of Zoolander 2 and, overall, rated the studio “poor.” Universal got a rating of “insufficient,” one notch up from “poor,” with the report noting that there was a handful of gay and lesbian characters in Bridget Jones’s Baby but “their stories largely come across as incredibly dated narratives we have seen before” and criticizing a subplot involving gay blackmail in Hail, Caesar!
At the lower-end of studio inclusivity, just two of Sony’s 21 films (The Angry Birds Movie and Sausage Party) were inclusive (10%), and Disney lagged further behind with just one (Zootopia) of 13 (8%).
In her intro, Ellis noted that 2017 has seen some improvements, with gay and lesbian characters appearing in mainstream movies like Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers even as other movies like CHIPS included humor rooted in gay panic. And she said that this summer, GLAAD will report on films how well movies depict LGBTQ characters as the movies are released, rather than wait for its annual report.
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