GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index: Memorial Day Update: Paramount's 'Baywatch' opens summer blockbuster season with stale gay jokes

Last week, GLAAD released its fifth annual Studio Responsibility Index that looked back at the 125 films released by the seven major studios in the U.S. during the 2016 calendar year. The findings were disappointing: only 23 of those 125 (18.4%) films included characters who were identifiably LGBTQ and nearly half of those (10 or 43%) included less than one minute of screen time for those characters. Additionally, only nine of the 23 (39%) passed the "Vito Russo Test", a set of GLAAD-created criteria analyzing how LGBTQ characters are situated in a film. As part of that report, GLAAD announced that we would be changing how we report on films throughout the year.

“Instead of bringing the popular ‘Baywatch’ brand to modern day, the creators relied on outdated tropes that no longer appeal to mass audiences, and in the process sent a message about what sells – and what doesn’t - to the whole industry,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Creators of future films looking for a mass audience should take a page from blockbusters like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and include LGBTQ characters in ways that drive positive buzz, LGBTQ acceptance, and subsequent box office success.”

May is considered the kick off to the summer box office season. In examining the eight films released by the seven major studios this month, LGBTQ people remain nearly invisible or the outdated punchline.

Alien: Covenant

LGBTQ characters: 2
Vito Russo Test: PASS

Twentieth Century Fox’s Alien: Covenant was the only of the eight releases to actually include LGBTQ characters with the introduction of husbands Lope and Hallet, members of the crew of the U.S.S. Covenant which is en route to colonize a new planet. The couple likely had a slightly bigger impact on the fans who searched out the short prologue film, “The Last Supper,” which more clearly established their relationship and included a kiss between the two. More general audiences likely had no idea the men were a couple until after Hallet died and the camera zooms in on their clasped hands, their wedding rings pressed together, and Lope whispers “my love.” Lope himself, and nearly the entirety of the crew, later dies. The film squeaked by in passing the Vito Russo Test  as Lope’s death sets up the film’s finale, meaning that were he removed from the film the plot would have been significantly altered.

It is disappointing that the gay couple’s relationship was only made clear after death given the graphic sexual talk between straight couples and their repeated use of “my wife” to refer to their partner. The small confirmation of their relationship did not have nearly the same impact on the audience as it would have had the prologue been included in the film itself. Still, the inclusion of these characters in a major sci-fi action franchise, which opened in over 3,700 theaters, should be seen as positive development. We hope this small step will lead to more substantial depictions of LGBTQ characters in the future.

Covenant also included a scene where synthetic lifeform David, the returning villain played by Michael Fassbender, kisses a newer model synthetic and “brother,” Walter (also Fassbender). The moment is not a romantic one; David has realized that Walter disagrees with his plans for creating a perfect lifeform and so he must die. David leans in, tells Walter “no one will ever love you like I do” as a comment on their shared understanding of life as synthetic family, presses a kiss to his lips, and stabs him in the neck.

Baywatch

LGBTQ characters: 0
Vito Russo Test: FAIL

One film that did not include any LGBTQ characters, but did include many jokes relying on gay panic for cheap laughs, is Paramount’s widely panned Baywatch. The first meeting between the male leads, Matt (Zac Efron) and Mitch (Dwayne Johnson), includes a joke about Matt having a “mangina.” The film continues with  jokes about Matt’s hair product being “100% semen based,” how uncomfortable he was to ride on a jet ski behind Mitch while holding on to his waist, and an extended exchange at the morgue where Matt is tricked into touching the genitals of a dead man. Mitch takes a picture and threatens to post it online. Near the film's end, Matt envisions his female love interest kissing him as he is drowning. It turns out to be Mitch who is blowing air into his lungs, and Matt reacts with angry disgust.

However, most audiences no longer find two guys kissing or touching to be inherently weird or worthy of laughter.

Later, Matt and Mitch decide to go undercover to infiltrate the kitchen of a resort they believe is involved in selling drugs. When they meet up, Mitch is dressed in a chef’s outfit, while Matt – rather than wearing a matching uniform - is dressed as a woman (in what is possibly the restaurant's women's server uniform) for no apparent plot reason. The entire joke then becomes a visual gag based on a man dressed like a woman, furthering the idea that someone in a dress who looks masculine is just a joke to be laughed at.

Juvenile comedies tend to play to the lowest common denominator of what a studio believes an audience will find amusing. Creators – and executives – must learn that appealing to one demographic does not mean the project must belittle or insult another audience. Baywatch has received overwhelmingly negative reviews with a current 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and flopped at the box office in its opening weekend. This might be a good time for the studio to reassess what type of content it stands behind before moving forward with a possible sequel, which producers spoke with press about.

The film's poor box office and poorer word of mouth suggest that audiences get these jokes - they just don't find them funny anymore.

Snatched

LGBTQ characters: 0
Vito Russo Test: FAIL

Twentieth Century Fox’s comedy Snatched included “platonic best friends,” Barb (Joan Cusack) and Ruth (out actor and comedian Wanda Sykes), who are vacationing together and meet the leads at the Ecuadorian resort where they are all staying. The two have a background in security, Ruth shares that Barb used to be in special ops and is now mute after cutting out her own tongue post-retirement so she could never be tortured for information. The film’s implication is that the two are a committed couple, up until the “platonic best friend” line. We wish Snatched would have just gone all the way and let them be a couple.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

LGBTQ characters: 0
Vito Russo Test: FAIL

Disney kicked off the month with the release of Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Director James Gunn was asked during the film’s red carpet premiere if he would consider including a gay character in the franchise and he responded, “We might have already done that. I say watch the movie. Check it out. See what you think,” hinting that there would be some kind of noticeable queer content in the film. After fans and critics struggled to find any LGBTQ characters, Gunn clarified, “You know, somebody asked me will there be any gay characters in Marvel movies, and what I meant was there’s a lot of characters in the MCU and very few of them have we delved into what their sexualities are - whether it’s gay or straight or bisexual. We don’t really know. So, I imagine there are probably gay characters in the Marvel Universe, you know. We just don’t know who they are yet.” Gunn has already confirmed there will be a Guardians 3. This is a prime opportunity to include telepath Moondragon and her girlfriend Phyla-Vell in the new film. Both women had major roles in the source material for the MCU films.

Since beginning our Studio Responsibility Index five years ago, the sum total of representation that GLAAD has found in Disney’s Marvel films are seconds-long cameos of out news anchor Thomas Roberts appearing as himself in The Avengers and Iron Man 3. Similarly, our most recent report found that Warner Brothers’ Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice was only counted as inclusive for cameos by out commentators. It does not look much better in other major comic book films. Fox’s Deadpool was confirmed as pansexual in outside press though most of the film’s references to this are in service of proving how outrageous his character is, and Warner Brothers’ Suicide Squad completely erased Harley Quinn’s bisexual identity.

Marvel recently screened footage of the upcoming Black Panther film for press, which included a scene between two women that many outlets read to be romantic. One of the characters in question, Ayo, is actually the lead in the book World of Wakanda that centers specifically on her relationship with another member of the all-women Dora Milaje who guard their country’s king. Yet, Marvel issued a statement saying the relationship seen in the film’s clip is not romantic and “that specific love storyline […] was not used as a source.” Only time will tell if the film erases Ayo’s queer identity all together, but the studio’s rush to disclaim a lesbian relationship does not bode well.

There are so many strong LGBTQ-inclusive comics that this year GLAAD extended the number of nominees in the GLAAD Media Awards’ Outstanding Comic Book category from five to ten in recognition of the quantity and quality of stories we are seeing. On the television side, superhero shows like Supergirl, Jessica Jones, Legends of Tomorrow, and Arrow regularly include LGBTQ characters and have been a hit with fans. Marvel recently announced an upcoming TV adaptation of The Runaways where a lesbian hero and her shapeshifting partner will make the jump to the small screen. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore that LGBTQ people remain almost completely shut out of Hollywood's big budget comic book films that have dominated the box office over the past several years.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword - Everything, Everything -

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales -

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

LGBTQ characters: 0
Vito Russo Test: FAIL

Other May releases included Warner Brothers’ King Arthur: Legend of the Sword that included a one-off joke about the brothel where Arthur is raised. After Arthur hits a law official, the man complains to his supervisor, “He touched me!” The supervisor tells him he should feel lucky, as “most people need to pay for that.” Another WB film, Everything, Everything, is based on a novel of the same name that included a minor gay character as a friend of the male lead who was cut from the big screen. Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Fox’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul did not include any LGBTQ content.

Mainstream film continues to lag behind the groundbreaking LGBTQ stories we see thriving in other forms of entertainment media; everywhere from television and digital series to comics to video games to novels to music. The fact that film has remained clumsy and inconsistent in its portrayal of LGBTQ lives makes the medium look more dated with each passing year. If the industry wants to remain relevant and retain younger generations as box office ticket buyers when they so many options for entertainment, Hollywood must catch up in reflecting the full diversity of the world those young people know as those aged 18 to 34 are more than twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ as older generations.

You can read the full 2017 Studio Responsibility Index now. Follow GLAAD on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with our work as we continue to hold Hollywood accountable for who they are – or are not – representing.

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