3:05pm PT by Chris Gardner
Endeavor Content Commits to GLAAD's Inclusion Goal
Issue-oriented panel discussions almost always close with a rather typical wrap-up statement: “While significant progress has been made, there’s much more work that needs to be done.”
That is not how a Tuesday morning panel ended inside WME’s headquarters in Beverly Hills. At GLAAD, WME and Endeavor Content’s first-ever forum on LGBTQ inclusion in film — held in conjunction with the release of the LGBTQ media watchdog organization’s sixth annual Studio Responsibility Index — a surprise announcement was made by Endeavor Content senior agent Kevin Iwashina.
“We’d like to commit to GLAAD’s 20% inclusion by 2021,” Iwashina announced to the red-coated theater, which was packed with agents, media and industry professionals, some of whom were crowded against walls or sitting on the floor. “Oh, my gosh, thank you!” responded GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, who seemed pleasantly shocked by Iwashina’s offering. The senior agent added: “I know that all of our WME allies will help you participate in this cause as well.”
The statement was greeted with a huge round of applause and as guests made their exit from the theater, Iwashina told The Hollywood Reporter that the mandate came from Endeavor Content co-president Graham Taylor, who was moved to make the commitment while listening to remarks delivered during the forum. Featured speakers included Ellis and GLAAD’s director of entertainment research Megan Townsend, and panelists Ellis, producer Nina Jacobson, filmmaker Kay Cannon, writer Ben Cory Jones (Insecure) and actor Nico Santos (Superstore, Crazy Rich Asians). Los Angeles Times reporter Tre-Vell Anderson served as moderator. (Lena Waithe was scheduled to be a panelist but was unable to attend due to work conflicts.)
The commitment is in line with WME's earlier mandate to support the highly publicized Inclusion Rider that dominated headlines following Frances McDormand's best actress Oscar speech in March. And it’s exactly the commitment that GLAAD and its officials had called for in the 2018 Studio Responsibility Index, which was released just hours earlier on Tuesday. The results, as Ellis noted, were pretty “bleak.” In 2017, gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer characters appeared in only 14 studio films, adding up to 12.8 percent of total releases, which is a dramatic decrease from the previous year’s 18.4 percent. The 2017 figures are the lowest percentage of LGBTQ characters since GLAAD started issuing the annual report in 2012.
Ellis and Townsend each offered their own rundown of the report to kick off the forum, with the latter digging into specific details and data points and the former giving the broad strokes and the call to action. “We are here today because it’s time for lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and queer stories to be included in this conversation and in this movement,” Ellis said, referencing #MeToo, Time’s Up and the general call for gender equality and racial diversity equality across the business. “The good news is that we are already seeing some movement.”
Love, Simon; Annihilation; Blockers and Deadpool 2 were films Ellis singled out as positive steps forward. GLAAD also released how it examines LGBTQ characters, looking at it through the lens of the Vito Russo Test, which calls for characters "not solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity, comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight/non-transgender characters from one another, and must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect."
For her part, Cannon said she didn’t receive one single note from studio executives at Universal objecting to the lesbian storyline in her film Blockers. “They were incredibly progressive. I was really happy they didn’t push back,” said Cannon, the only straight panelist, who commented on how honored she was to be included. “I’m not surprised that they are the best-rated, though [overall] it’s still shitty.”
Jacobson, who came up in the ranks as a studio executive, said in order to change the statistics, creatives should question authority. “I was told that black movies don’t travel, and it’s somewhat self-perpetuating because, yes, if you make a very specific story that's about a very American subject. it might not travel, but that doesn’t mean that black movies don’t travel,” she said. “I was told girls will identify with a male protagonist and boys will not identify with a female protagonist. As a studio executive, we were being shown the ropes about really true ‘facts’ that you should know and it’s all just bias and self-reinforcing by the choices that get made.”
Anderson asked the panelists why television seems to be ahead of the curve in offering more depictions of LGBTQ characters and storylines. Jones had a simple answer. “There are more of us in those trenches trying to tell those stories,” he said.
The trenches at Endeavor Content have been filled with LGBTQ stories this year, even ahead of the division’s new commitment. In his opening remarks, Iwashina noted the number of films they have packaged that are due for release imminently: Hearts Beat Loud, An Ideal Home, Lizzie, Collette, The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Assassination Nation. The division also put together last year’s Call Me by Your Name. “The statistics may anger you and upset you, but hopefully motivate and energize you,” he said, “and inspire us to do the work, create and impact change.”