GLAAD finds historic low percentage of Hollywood films pass Vito Russo Test in fourth annual Studio Responsibility Index

This morning, GLAAD released its fourth annual Studio Responsibility Index (SRI), a report that maps the quantity, quality, and diversity of images of LGBT people in films released by the seven largest studios during the 2015 calendar year. After an improvement in our previous report, we found that racial diversity of LGBT characters drastically decreased and there remains a lack of substantial LGBT characters in mainstream films.

GLAAD found that of the 126 releases from the major studios in 2015, 22 of them (17.5%) included characters identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. This is no change from the 17.5%  of films (20 of 114) found to be inclusive last year. Transgender representation is shockingly low with only one character in the mainstream releases of 2015 – whose brief appearance served as a punchline to laugh at when her identity is revealed. The majority of LGBT characters GLAAD found in films from the seven biggest studios in 2015 were minor characters – in substance and screen time - or even just cameos. Of the 22 inclusive films, almost three quarters (73%) include less than ten minutes of screen time for LGBT characters. This lack of substantive characters is reflected in the historically low percentage of inclusive films (36%) which passed the Vito Russo Test.

"Hollywood's films lag far behind any other form of media when it comes to portrayals of LGBT characters," said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President & CEO. "Too often, the few LGBT characters that make it to the big screen are the target of a punchline or token characters. The film industry must embrace new and inclusive stories if it wants to remain competitive and relevant."

No studios received a rating of "Good" for their 2015 releases. 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate Entertainment, Sony Columbia Pictures, and Universal Pictures all received ratings of "Adequate", while Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Brothers all received a "Failing" grade for their portrayals of LGBT people. Beginning next year, GLAAD's SRI will implement a new grading system to more accurately report on LGBT representation in Hollywood. Instead of a four grade system, GLAAD will implement a five star scale, from one star ("Failing") to five stars ("Excellent").

For the second year, GLAAD examined the releases of four smaller affiliated studios (Focus Features, Fox Searchlight, Roadside Attractions, and Sony Pictures Classics) to draw a comparison between content released by the mainstream studios and their perceived "art house" divisions. Of the 46 films released under those studios’ imprints in 2015, GLAAD found 10 (22%) to be LGBT-inclusive. This is an increase from the 10.6% (5 of 47) of films from the same divisions in 2014, and a notably higher percentage of inclusive releases than the mainstream studios.

GLAAD's Observations & Recommendations:

·         The majority of LGBT characters in mainstream films remain minor characters, both in substance and screen time, or just cameo appearances. Of the 22 films GLAAD found to be inclusive, 16 (73%) include less than ten minutes of screen time for LGBT characters, with three quarters (12) of those clocking in at less than five minutes. LGBT characters are still too often included only in brief appearances, in service of punchlines or establishing an urban backdrop. Not only must there be a larger number of LGBT roles, but they must be built with substance and purpose.

·         Four studios received “Adequate” ratings for their 2015 slates (Lionsgate Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Sony Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures) while the remaining three (Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Brothers) were rated “Failing.” Both Paramount and the Walt Disney Studios completely excluded LGBT characters in their 2015 film slates. Additionally, this marks the first time a major studio has had zero inclusive films since the first year GLAAD introduced this report, which tracked the 2012 releases by six major studios including one with no content. That said, “Adequate” is no longer adequate. Beginning in next year’s fifth annual SRI, GLAAD will be holding studios to a higher standard to reflect the quality and quantity of LGBT representation we are now seeing in other media. Films must do better to include LGBT characters in roles directly tied to plot and which reflect the wide diversity of our community, including people of color, those living with disabilities, and a variety of geographical and ideological backgrounds.

·         The racial diversity of LGBT characters remains dismal across all media platforms, but film sadly took a step back this year with a near seven-percentage point drop in LGBT characters of color. Too often, these characters are isolated tokens, burdened with representing multiple communities through the view of one person, shutting down opportunities for unique storytelling which would allow a wider audience to see themselves reflected as a real and integral part of the world. There is not just one LGBT experience and there are plenty of diverse and groundbreaking stories about the LGBT community yet to be told. Creators must tell the stories of our large and diverse community through the eyes of more than one character, thereby creating opportunities for compelling storylines.

·         One of the most telling signs that Hollywood film is shockingly far behind other media in terms of depictions of LGBT people is the dearth of transgender characters. While there were no recognizable transgender characters in films tracked in 2014, the lone character found in the 2015 mainstream releases was not an improvement. Warner Brothers’ Hot Pursuit included a brief appearance by a transgender woman, who existed purely to give the audience something to laugh at when her identity is revealed. Filmmakers should examine what message they are really sending when they rely on thoughtless humor to exploit an already marginalized community.

·         This year, there was a noticeable resurgence of outright offensive depictions of LGBT people, which relied on gay panic and defamatory stereotypes for cheap laughs. Among the worst were the Kevin Hart-starring films Get Hard and The Wedding Ringer, which contain more blatant and incessant gay panic humor than we have seen in a Hollywood film in years. Significant defamatory content predicated on this type of humor was also found in the non-inclusive film Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Humor can be a powerful tool for holding a mirror up to society and challenging the norm, but when crafted without thought, it has much the opposite effect and bolsters ignorance and prejudice.

In 2012, GLAAD introduced the "Vito Russo Test", a set of criteria analyzing how LGBT characters are represented in a fictional work, in the first SRI and continues to judge films by these simple guidelines. Named after GLAAD co-founder and celebrated film historian Vito Russo, and partly inspired by the “Bechdel Test," these criteria represent a minimum standard GLAAD would like to see a greater number of mainstream Hollywood films reach in the future.

The Vito Russo Test criteria:

1.       The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT).

2.       That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another).

3.       The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character should matter.

Only 8 of the 22 (36%) major studio films that featured an LGBT character passed the Vito Russo Test in 2015, the lowest percentage in this study's history. This is down from the 11 of 20 (55%) inclusive films which passed the test in 2014, 7 of 17 (41%) in 2013, and 6 out of 14 (43%) inclusive films released in 2012. More films must pass this simple test. However, as several of the films tracked prove, passing this test in no way guarantees that a film is not problematic or offensive in its portrayal of LGBT people.

In 2015, GLAAD debuted a video titled "Hollywood Must Do Better" that highlighted a bevy of anti-LGBT moments in Hollywood films over the last five years. Use the hashtag #HollywoodMustDoBetter to let Hollywood that you want to see diverse representations of LGBT characters in film.

With this annual report, GLAAD will continue to track the industry’s progress. To view and download the report, click here.