GLAAD President and CEO on How Hollywood Movies Treat Gays: "A Bleak Picture" (Guest Column)

Sarah Kate Ellis - S 2015
Courtesy of GLAAD

Sarah Kate Ellis - S 2015

"Hollywood's major studios seem to be operating in a time warp," says the advocacy group's Sarah Kate Ellis.

In its third annual report card, released today, GLAAD, the LGBT advocacy group, grades the major Hollywood studios on how they depict — or fail to portray — LGBT people onscreen. Sarah Kate Ellis, the group's president and CEO, calls for the studios to increase their depiction of gay people or risk losing audiences and money.

More inclusive portrayals of LGBT characters are being seen on television and through streamed content than ever before. But according to GLAAD’s third annual Studio Responsibility Index, released today, America’s major film studios lag far behind other media when it comes to nuanced portrayals of LGBT people. Indeed, LGBT characters are still rare, and those that make it to the screen are often very inconsequential and sometimes reduced to ugly caricatures used to set up cruel jokes or to perpetuate offensive and thoughtless stereotypes. 

While TV networks like MTV and ABC Family successfully court younger viewers with more diverse offerings that reflect the actual lives they lead, and huge audiences flock to smaller screens to consume groundbreaking stories that reflect the diverse world we actually live in, Hollywood’s movie studios seem to be operating in a time warp. 

Read more GLAAD Gives Failing Grades to Sony and Disney for Gays in Film

GLAAD’s new report documents the past year’s output by the largest-grossing mainstream studios, mapping the quantity, quality and diversity of images of LGBT people.

While there was some notable progress at a few studios, overall it’s a bleak picture. 

The majority of the LGBT depictions GLAAD identified in Hollywood film last year were very minor characters or blink-and-you-miss-them cameos. Audiences may not have been aware that they were even seeing LGBT characters if they didn’t read press coverage or know that a historical figure was LGBT. As great as it is to see gay characters in How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The Expendables 3, huge sections of the audience probably weren't even aware they were there.

Of the 114 releases that the major studios put their money and marketing muscle behind in 2014, only 20 films (17.5 percent) included characters GLAAD identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. There were no identifiable transgender characters in any major film releases despite a historic year for trans representation in other media. To even call these 20 films inclusive is a bit of a stretch: Ten of those movies contained less than five minutes of screen time for their LGBT characters — and several clocked in at less than 30 seconds.

Compared to 2013, we found there were fewer overtly defamatory depictions in mainstream film last year, though offensive representations were by no means absent with Exodus: Gods and Kings and Horrible Bosses 2 among the offenders. The 2014 film slate from Warner Bros. gave us some hope by representing the LGBT community more consistently than any other studio. Some progress to be sure. But under the heading of "one step forward, two steps back," Warner Bros. recently released Get Hard, one of the most retrograde comedies we’ve seen in years.

We know that movies — like other forms of media — can transform cultural dialogue at home and around the world and still be vastly entertaining and profitable. The power of the big screen to make us laugh, cry, think and feel cannot be overstated. But that power is diminished when it is used to defame, marginalize or render nonexistent members of the LGBT community.

At GLAAD, we are working hard to accelerate acceptance of the LGBT community through advocacy and direct engagement with content creators. We believe it’s high time to give the moviegoing public what they crave and deserve: realistic representations of all kinds of people. Other media is figuring that out, growing audiences and making money. We hope the studios can as well, and that we have better news to report in 2016.