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Kids TV is getting queerer and queerer—but kids film isn’t

May 23, 2019

Today, GLAAD released its seventh Studio Responsibility Index, an annual report which catalogs LGBTQ representation in film. The report, which focuses on seven major studios, assigns studios a rating on a scale of “Failing” to “Excellent.” This year, two studios — 20th Century Fox and Universal — were awarded a rating of “Good.” 18.2% of all film releases from major studios being LGBTQ+ inclusive, which is the second highest percentage among all major studios releases since GLAAD began tracking films in 2012.

Despite general improvement, there’s still a multitude of areas of improvement. There were no transgender characters in any major studio releases in 2018; bi+ individuals are still vastly underrepresented on the big screen despite the fact that they make up the majority of the LGBTQ community. And while there are more and more LGBTQ characters in television shows like Steven Universe or She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, family films still desperately lack LGBTQ representaiton.

The 2019 SRI lists animated and family films as a key area of improvement. For the first time in the past five years, zero out of 18 animated/family film releases tracked in the report were LGBTQ-inclusive. Instances like LeFou’s "exclusively gay moment" in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast or the revelation that one of the main characters of Focus Features’ ParaNorman was gay seemed to be steps in the right direction. However, these seem to have been exceptions to the rule rather than the institution of a new standard.

There’s a notable discrepancy between this queer deficit in family films and the significant advances made in LGBTQ representation in all-ages television over the past few years. With series like Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe leading the charge, queer characters are becoming more and more commonplace in kids series like Andi Mack or Adventure Time. Testament to this is GLAAD’s establishment of the Outstanding Kids & Family Programming award at the 2018 GLAAD Media Awards. Now, not only are there enough instances of LGBTQ-inclusive kids shows to fill a category — there are enough that nominations are selective.

To be fair, LGBTQ inclusion in all-ages programming has always been somewhat of an uphill battle. It’s a fact that Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar acknowledged in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Speaking on her and her team’s efforts to bring LGBTQ characters to the screen, Sugar said, “when we started [making Steven Universe] in 2011 it was impossible and it has become possible over the last many years of working really hard to do this.”

Due in large part to the diligent efforts of creators like Sugar, LGBTQ representation in all-ages programming is rapidly advancing. Despite this, film still lags behind. It’s important that the progress made in films like Love, Simon, which was recently awarded the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film — Wide Release, extend past young adult or adult film to kids programming as well.

Yes, LGBTQ teens need movies like Love, Simon — but LGBTQ kids would greatly benefit from seeing themselves reflected on screen. And sure, while calls for Disney to make Elsa gay in Frozen 2 are contextualized within the reality that it’ll likely be a long few years before our first queer Disney heroine, the existence of a queer protagonist is one to push for.

While we may not see a queer Elsa come the premiere of Frozen 2 this November, it’s important that we continue to push for advancements in LGBTQ representation in family film. This year’s SRI makes apparent the work that major film studios have to do to catch up to television counterparts. Queer kids — and the queer kid in all of us — deserve it.

Palmer Haasch is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and recent graduate of the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities with a degree in English and Political Science. She served as an Entertainment Media Intern at GLAAD and is now a weekly columnist for the Minnesota Daily. Palmer serves as a Lead Junior Editor for GLAAD's digital platform, amp.

the voice and vision of a new generation