GLAAD has just released the first ever comprehensive study of the representation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in major studio films. GLAAD has, for years, been ranking television networks based on their inclusion of LGBT characters, but until now major studios were not subjected to the same scrutiny. The results of the study, unsurprisingly, are devastating.
Universal, Paramount, Sony, Warner Bros., Disney and Fox were all ranked. In all, only 14 movies out of 101 were found to have included LGBT characters at all. That number is even more disappointing, given the parameters of the study which counted even fleeting mentions of LGBT characters. For instance, out news anchor Thomas Roberts‘ brief cameo (as himself) in The Avengers counted in the study. The studios were then ranked. Studios named “adequate” were Universal (25% of its movies included an LGBT character), Paramount (21.4%), Sony (21.1&) and Warner Bros. (8.3%). Disney — which barely released one film with an LGBT “character” (The Avengers) — was given a 7.7% and Fox was given 0%; both were branded as “failing.”
From there, GLAAD got more serious, invoking the Vito Russo Test. The Vito Russo Test is adapted from the Bechdel Test and named for the author of The Celluloid Closet. The Vito Russo Test states that, in order for a film to be LGBT-inclusive, it must feature “a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender.” Further, that character must not be “solely defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity” and lastly, the “character must be tied to the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant impact.” Essentially, to pass, there needs to be an LGBT character who’s important to the plot and more three-dimensional than, say, any gay character to ever appear in an Adam Sandler movie. Of the 14 movies mentioned earlier, only six passed the Vito Russo Test: Pitch Perfect, The Five-Year Engagement, Katy Perry: Part of Me, Skyfall, Cloud Atlas and Rock of Ages.
“Film is in many ways quite behind the curve,” GLAAD’s associate director of entertainment media Matt Kane told The Hollywood Reporter. Six of 101. Not even 6% of the films made by major studios last year could be bothered to include an LGBT character who’s not a punchline or a gross stereotype. “Behind the curve” is an understatement.
But why is this so important? Certainly Casablanca is still a masterpiece, even though Sam wasn’t gay. The entertainment industry is, like it or not, perhaps America’s most stable. This summer, Disney lost $190 million on The Lone Ranger; the Monday after it came out, Disney’s stock fell only 29¢ per share. Millions of people (myself included) are dependent on the industry to make their living. To get the major studios to start backing films with positive portrayals of LGBT characters signals a major shift in the progress of actual LGBT people living in this country.
Besides, visibility matters. Each of us wants to see someone like us in movies and on TV. (Speaking of, don’t even bother to ask about representation of ethnically-diverse LGBT characters, it’s nearly nonexistent.) Additionally, films are one of America’s biggest exports and in a time where many countries are subjecting LGBT citizens to barbaric punishments, the world could stand to see some positive portrayal. I’m not saying Pitch Perfect 2 is going to get Russia to repeal its “gay propaganda” law, but it’s not going to hurt either.
You can see the full results of GLAAD’s study here.