GLAAD's fifth Studio Responsibility Index shows LGBTQ people nearly invisible in major Hollywood films

This morning, GLAAD released its fifth annual Studio Responsibility Index (SRI), a report that maps the quantity, quality, and diversity of images of LGBTQ people in films released by the seven largest Hollywood studios during the 2016 calendar year. In the same year that Moonlight (distributed by independent studio A24) made history as the first film led by an LGBTQ character to win the Oscar for Best Picture, nearly half (43%) of the LGBTQ-inclusive films released by the seven major studios included less than one minute of screen time for their LGBTQ characters.



GLAAD found that of the 125 releases from the major studios in 2016, only 23 (18.4%) included characters identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer. This is an increase of nearly one percentage point from the 17.5% of films (22 of 126) found to be inclusive from the same studios in 2015. The overwhelming majority of LGBTQ characters in major studio releases are minor, in both screen time and substance. Nearly half (10 or 43%) of the 23 films GLAAD found to be inclusive include less than one minute of screen time for their LGBTQ characters. Transgender representation remains abysmally low, with only one transgender character counted, the same number as the previous report, and once again the character was used a punchline in Zoolander 2. This lack of substantive characters is reflected in the incredibly low percentage of inclusive films (9 of 23, 39%) which passed GLAAD’s Vito Russo Test.

Though 2017 has seen highly buzzworthy LGBTQ moments in films like Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers, the forecast for the summer blockbuster season is a continuation of LGBTQ invisibility.

“With many of the most popular TV shows proudly including LGBTQ characters and stories, the time has come for the film industry to step up and show the full diversity of the world that movie audiences are living in today instead and end the outdated humor seen in many films,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Films like Moonlight prove there is a huge opportunity to not only tell LGBTQ stories worthy of Oscar gold, but to open the hearts and minds of audiences here and around the world in places where these stories can be a lifeline to the people who need it most.”

GLAAD also found that racial diversity among LGBTQ characters in mainstream film again dropped drastically year over year. In 2016, only 20% of LGBTQ characters were people of color, compared to 25.5% in 2015 and 32.1% in 2014. Of the LGBTQ characters counted, 48 were White (69%), nine were Black/African American (13%), four were Asian/Pacific Islander (6%), and one was Latinx (1%). Eight characters (11%) were non-human.

Based on the overall quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ representation, a grade was then assigned to each studio: Excellent, Good, Insufficient, Poor, or Failing. This is a change to GLAAD’s previous four step grading scale. This new, expanded grading system will allow GLAAD to more accurately report on the state of LGBTQ representation in mainstream film, and will hold Hollywood studios to a higher standard reflective of the LGBTQ inclusion that is thriving in other forms of media. No studios received grades of ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good.’ Universal Pictures was the only studio to be rated ‘Insufficient.’ 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Brothers were rated ‘Poor.’ Lionsgate Entertainment, Sony Pictures, and Walt Disney Studios were all rated ‘Failing.’ No studios have ever received an ‘Excellent’ rating.

For the third year, GLAAD separately examined the releases of four smaller affiliated subsidiary studios (Focus Features, Fox Searchlight, Roadside Attractions, and Sony Pictures Classics). This was done to compare the quantity and quality of LGBTQ representation in these perceived “art house” divisions directly to their parent companies. Of the 41 films released under those studio imprints in 2016, we found seven to be LGBTQ-inclusive (17%). This is down from the 22% (10 of 46) of films from the same divisions that we found to be inclusive in 2015, but still up from the first year of counting these studios when we counted only 10.6% (five of 47).

GLAAD’s Observations & Recommendations:

  • The overwhelming majority of LGBTQ characters in mainstream films are still minor, in both screen time and substance. Of the 23 mainstream films that GLAAD found to be LGBTQ-inclusive, 10 (43%) included less than one minute of screen time for their LGBTQ characters. While some of these were positive moments of inclusion like Sony Pictures’ Storks and Disney’s Zootopia, many of these characters only existed to be punchlines or establish urban authenticity. Many audiences likely missed several of these characters altogether. This brevity remains standard for LGBTQ inclusion. Studios must do better to not only include more LGBTQ characters, but to construct LGBTQ roles that are directly tied to the plot.
  • Comedy films (the genre most likely to include LGBTQ characters) continued to include out-and-out defamatory portrayals of LGBTQ people. The jokes around these characters relied on gay panic and defamatory stereotypes for cheap laughs. Dirty Grandpa and Central Intelligence were two of the most egregious offenders, and the non-inclusive films The Brothers Grimsby and Ride Along 2 also included offensive humor based in the idea that two men touching each other is inherently strange. Comedy can be a powerful tool in challenging existing norms, but when crafted without thought, these jokes have the opposite effect by signaling that anti-LGBTQ attitudes are acceptable. Creators need to learn that appealing to one audience does not have to mean insulting other audiences.
  • The racial diversity of LGBTQ characters remains a problem in all forms of media, but mainstream film is particularly dismal after a five-percentage point drop in LGBTQ characters of color. This is the second straight year with a significant decrease of LGBTQ characters of color; our previous report found a near seven-percentage point drop in 2015 films from the year before. Successful and critically acclaimed films that include central LGBTQ characters of color like Moonlight, Star Trek Beyond, Pariah, and Lilting should send a message that there is an audience and a hunger for these stories. Creators need to reflect the full diversity of our community, and tell those stories through the eyes of more than one character that allows for new and unique stories that audiences have not yet seen.
  • Hollywood film most notably falls behind other forms of media in its portrayal – or lack thereof – of transgender characters. For the second year, GLAAD found one trans-inclusive mainstream film and, again, the character existed solely as a punchline. Paramount’s Zoolander 2 included Benedict Cumberbatch as All, a cartoonish portrayal of someone who is non-binary, who only exists to mock people who don’t perform traditional gender roles as strange and “other.” Several other mainstream films, which did not have transgender characters, nevertheless included so-called humor rooted in trans panic. There was one film from the smaller subsidiary studios, Fox Searchlight’s Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, which included transgender characters. Again, the character’s identities were treated as punchlines and one was a last minute reveal. Filmmakers should question what they are really communicating to audiences when they use thoughtless “humor” targeting an already marginalized community.

In 2012, GLAAD introduced the "Vito Russo Test", a set of criteria analyzing how LGBTQ characters are situated within a narrative, 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 LGBTQ 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 nine of the 23 (39%) major studio films that featured an LGBTQ character passed the Vito Russo Test in 2016. This is a slight increase from 36% in 2015 (the lowest percentage in the study’s history), but still lower than 2014 (55%), 2013 (41%), and 2012 (43%). 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 LGBTQ 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.

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