Study: Hollywood LGBTQ Representation Reveals Absence of Trans Characters, Decrease in Racial Diversity

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A GLAAD survey of 110 major studio films released in 2018 indicated that the overall number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer characters increased by 5.4 percent.

Compared with the wide range of diverse characters represented in mainstream television and independent film, studio pictures are failing to depict those whose sexual preferences or gender identity offers something different to the standard state of affairs. 

In a new survey of 110 films released by major studios in 2018, the advocacy group GLAAD reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer characters appeared in only 20 films — just 18.2 percent of releases, or 20 of the 110 films. Yet this marks a significant increase from the previous year's study that indicated an all-time low of 12.8 percent, or 14 out of 109 films.

For the first time in the report's history, there were an equal number of films that included gay and lesbian characters, with 11 films counting gay men and lesbian characters, respectively. Bisexual representation remained historically low, with characters of this description appearing in just 3 of the films studied. 

The report also indicated a 15 percent drop from 2017 in racial diversity among LGBTQ characters. However, GLAAD counted six Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ characters in its pool, a spike from last year, when there were none. 

Queer Latinx LGBTQ characters dropped from 28.7 percent to just 7 percent, causing the advocacy group to urge Hollywood "to quickly move forward in telling stories of LGBTQ characters at the intersection of multiple identities." Characters of different religions and body types were mentioned as markings of diverse representation, along with those who exhibit disabilities. 

Transgender and nonbinary characters were entirely absent from the 110 major releases. GLAAD's Studio Responsibility Index, which measures representation using the Vito Russo Test criteria (inspired by the Bechdel Test) that analyzes how LGBTQ characters are used meaningfully within the narrative, went into further detail by noting that studio films are falling behind television and independent film in this aspect. In TV, Pose and Supergirl are leading the charge, while the independent film A Fantastic Woman introduced audiences to a dynamic trans character. 

While comedies and dramas were among the most inclusive, and genre films not far behind, at the other end of the scope was a complete lack of LGBTQ representation in animated, family and documentary films.

Putting all this in perspective, no studio was awarded a ranking of "excellent." 20th Century Fox was given the mark of "good," with Bohemian RhapsodyDeadpool 2 and Love, Simon among the films that passed the Vito Russo Test. Universal also earned that label, with Blockers and Green Book earning a "pass." Beyond that, Paramount and Warner Bros. were labeled "insufficient," and Lionsgate and Disney received the lowly "failing" grades. 

Among the seven-year history of the report, the 2018 figures signal the second highest percentage of inclusive films behind 2016's 18.4 percent. But despite the overall increase, the study found that more than half of all LGBTQ characters appeared in less than three minutes of screen time. 

In issuing the report, GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis highlighted specific films that were notably inclusive and well received by global audiences. "The successful releases of films including Love, Simon [which received the GLAAD award for outstanding film and had three teenage LGBTQ characters], Deadpool 2 and Blockers, brought fresh LGBTQ stories to audiences around the world and have raised the bar for LGBTQ inclusion in film," said Ellis. 

The activist went on to encourage the film industry to increase its diversity in areas that are typically underwhelming. "While the film industry should include more stories of LGBTQ people of color and transgender people, studios are finally addressing the calls from LGBTQ people and allies around the world who want to see more diversity in films."

Each studio concluded by giving a brief outline of future projects that emphasize diverse roles and queer inclusion in a multitude of genres, from comedies and musicals to animated films on streaming platforms and more: a clear acknowledgement that change, driven by education and thoughtfulness, is not only necessary but imminent.