Seeing more films pass the Vito Russo Test would be a great start, but as several of the films GLAAD tracked in 2014 prove, passing that test in no way guarantees a film won’t also be problematic or offensive in its portrayal of LGBT people. Here are some observations and additional recommendations GLAAD has for Hollywood film to both improve depictions of LGBT people and stop repeating the same defamatory mistakes.
- This year, we saw fewer overtly defamatory depictions in mainstream film compared to last year, though they were by no means absent. Among the worst were those in Exodus: Gods and Kings, Top Five, and Horrible Bosses 2, all of which fed into outdated, defamatory stereotypes. GLAAD also found significant defamatory content in films that we did not count as LGBT-inclusive, such as Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Other Woman.
- The majority of the LGBT depictions GLAAD found in Hollywood film this year were minor characters or even just cameos. Of the 20 films we found to be inclusive, half (10) of those contained less than five minutes of screen time for their LGBT characters, while three others contained less than ten. In the case of several of these films, the characters were onscreen for less than 30 seconds. We were surprised by how many LGBT depictions could have been removed from a film entirely with one small edit.
- In the case of some films like How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The Expendables 3, viewers may not have been aware they were watching gay characters unless they inferred as much from a single, ambiguous line of dialogue or read an interview with the filmmakers discussing the characters. While the inclusion of these characters in animated and action films, respectively, should be seen as a positive development, we do wish they had been more overtly defined within the film. In countries where the film will be seen with subtitles or dubbed voices, the few hints to their LGBT identities may be easily erased.
- Several films require the audience to know the sexual orientations of gay and bisexual characters' real-life counterparts to be seen as inclusive. Little Richard in Get on Up and Dumbledore in The Lego Movie are each relatively well-known figures, but how many audience members knew that important civil rights figure Bayard Rustin was also openly gay when they watched the few moments he appeared in Selma? Clearly, there is no simple solution for a potential lack of background knowledge, and we are still pleased to see them included, though we hope Bayard Rustin might get a scripted film of his own one day.
- Given the global popularity of genre films like comic-book adaptations and action franchises, these films must become more diverse and inclusive. These continue to be the areas where Hollywood film studios seem to commit the majority of their capital and promotional resources, but LGBT characters are still rarely seen in them.
- One of the most telling signs that Hollywood films lag heavily behind television in terms of depictions of LGBT people is the complete lack of transgender characters we found in the 161 films GLAAD tracked in this report from both mainstream and "art house" studios. Meanwhile, groundbreaking, award-winning series like Transparent and Orange is the New Black are attracting millions of viewers, critical acclaim, and remarkable media attention. The closest we found to transgender representation in mainstream film this year was a defamatory joke of a character in The Other Woman that would elicit viewer outrage if it appeared in a popular TV show today. The list of mainstream films that have depicted transgender people as multifaceted or even recognizable human beings remains tragically short.
- As noted before, most of the films containing LGBT characters this year were comedies, but there were also many comedies which simply contained LGBT-themed humor that wasn't always welcome. Characters in male-driven comedies like 22 Jump Street and Let's Be Cops were repeatedly compared to or mistaken for gay couples, while nearly every movie that comedian Kevin Hart appeared in last year (Think Like a Man Too, Ride Along, About Last Night) featured numerous gay jokes. We found far fewer defamatory slurs in these films than we've seen in past years, but with few exceptions, the jokes themselves typically ran the gamut from pointless to offensive. We urge more filmmakers to question the necessity of this type of humor, given how rarely it comes across as intelligent commentary or even as funny.