Studio Responsibility Index | End of Summer Update: LGBTQ people are practically invisible at the box office

LGBTQ people are still nearly invisible in the films released by the seven major studios over this summer. Of the 25 major studio films released between June 1 and September 1, only two films (Sony’s Rough Night and Lionsgate’s Hazlo Como Hombre) actually included queer characters. A handful of other films came close to including a character or set up the opening for an out character to be featured in future installments, but overall, the picture looks grim. The LA Times reports this summer to be the worst attended summer movie season in 25 years. Studios who are hoping to get audiences in to the theater should take a lesson from their competitors on the TV side - viewers are flocking to series which are inclusive of the diverse world we live in.

In May, 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.

Shortly after, we released our first box office snapshot examining the eight films released by major studios in May, the kick off to the summer box office season. That report found that LGBTQ people remain nearly invisible or outdated punchlines. Sadly, things do not look much better for LGBTQ characters in the 25 films released by the seven major studios from June 1 – September 1 with only two films including LGBTQ characters.

This summer’s lackluster box office – Variety reported at the beginning of August an 11% drop from 2016, and the August 25th weekend was the lowest box office take in three years – should send a message to studios. Audiences have become bored with the formulaic stories hitting the big screen, and they are increasingly turning to where they can see themselves represented – on television and streaming services. If Hollywood wants to remain relevant and win those viewers back to the box office, they need to begin producing new stories, with diverse and complex characters that audiences can identify with. The critical and financial success of films like the Oscar-winning Moonlight, Get Out, The Handmaiden, Hidden Figures, and The Imitation Game (which was the highest grossing indie film of the year it was released) should prove that outdated formulas and assumptions about what type of characters an audience will welcome are worth breaking.

While there may be a sense of film fatigue right now, major releases do still matter. Film was one of the first mass cultural experiences Americans had, and it remains one of our largest cultural exports as these films express our values to a global audience. However, the picture largely remains incomplete when Hollywood doesn’t reflect the full diversity of our nation – which includes women, LGBTQ people, people of color, people with disabilities, of different ages, religions, economic backgrounds, and people who live at the intersection of several of those identities.

WARNING: This post contains spoilers.

Rough Night

LGBTQ characters: 4
Vito Russo Test: PASS

Sony’s comedy Rough Night was one of the two summer releases to actually include LGBTQ characters, and the only to actually do so in a positive way. The film follows a group of five friends who reunite for a bachelorette party and accidentally kill a man, and the drama and comedy that ensues. The film’s core cast featured former college girlfriends Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) who, over the course of the movie, realize they are still in love. They get back together in the film’s climax, saying “I love you” and holding hands after being threatened at gun point. It is notable that their romance was given just as much screen time as their straight counterparts, and they got a happy ending and an onscreen kiss - something LGBTQ couples are often denied in film. It is also worth mentioning that the film avoided other problematic tropes we still see too often with queer women’s stories. Their relationship is never played for the male gaze; they actually explicitly tell a man off for objectifying their relationship in an early scene.

Despite some small missteps with transactional hookups, the film was a pleasant surprise for the raunchy comedy genre. The inclusion of LGBTQ main characters - especially women of color - is almost unseen in mainstream film today. While our report found comedies are the most likely film to include LGBTQ characters, they are often treated as a reductive punchline. Rough Night demonstrated that humor and inclusion can co-exist without playing into the outdated and harmful stereotypes that so many comedy films continue to rely on.

Hazlo Como Hombre (Do It Like an Hombre)

LGBTQ characters: 4
Vito Russo Test: Pass

The Spanish-language film Hazlo Como Hombre or Do It Like an Hombre from Lionsgate/Pantelion feels like a film decades out of date. The entire plot centers on the gay panic of lead character Raúl after his best friend, Santiago, comes out as gay and breaks off his engagement to Raúl’s sister. Raúl then spends nearly the entire film disgusted by his friend’s orientation, obsessing over anal sex and the idea that his friend might be attracted to him (including several painfully drawn out “jokes” about rape and dropping the soap in the shower ), and researching harmful so-called conversion therapy programs. By  film’s end, Raúl finally “accepts” Santiago for who he is, but continues to use anti-gay slurs throughout.

The filmmakers likely had good intentions and hoped to make a point about bigotry existing everywhere, but acknowledging prejudice in a “humorous” way is not the same as actually challenging the idea or subverting an expectation in order to further progress. The film’s script does nothing to make Raúl a complex character, and the audience is left to suffer through over an hour of homophobic diatribes. Overall, this movie contained so much anti-gay language and sentiment played for laughs, that Raúl coming around is barely consequential.

While this film did pass the Vito Russo Test by including an LGBTQ character who was significant to the plot and had the same sort of unique personality traits as non-LGBTQ characters, it does not stop the film from being incredibly offensive.

Hazlo Como Hombre flopped at the box office in its opening weekend, making only $1.4 million over four days as part of one of the worst Labor Day weekend box office takes in many years.  Reams have been written about the money Latinx consumers (especially young consumers) spend on entertainment, and Latinx filmgoers continually “oversample in tickets sold relative to their shares of the population.” If studios want to reap those rewards, they should keep a close eye on the message they are sending to young Latinx viewers about how “hilarious” it is to be homophobic.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

LGBTQ characters: 0
Vito Russo Test: Fail

The newest super hero film, Spider-Man: Homecoming (Sony, co-produced by Marvel), shows a different side to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as the film focuses on Peter Parker as a teenager and how he balances being an undercover superhero with school, friends, and his crush.  The film has received praise for making a world more reflective of reality by introducing central characters of color in Peter’s friend group at his Queens, New York high school. Sarah Finn, the MCU’s casting director, said, “There’s a lot more work to do. We still need to see Latino leads, Asian leads, women, women over a certain age, people with disabilities.… It does matter, and I hope this is just the beginning.”

Finn is entirely correct that Hollywood desperately needs to include more stories focused on people of color, on women, on people of different ages and backgrounds, on people with disabilities. One thing she didn’t mention is that major studio films – and comic book films in particular – are nearly completely lacking in LGBTQ characters. Homecoming actually included a scene that seemed to set up for the introduction of an LGBTQ student at Peter’s school. In the scene, Peter’s love interest Liz is playing F*ck, Marry, Kill listing the men of the Avengers with a boy and a girl friend of hers. The boy (J.J. Totah) responds, “But what about Spider-man?” The film seemed to be setting up that they were playing the game together, but ultimately did not follow through on what could have been as simple as replying with anything that indicated his own interest in the male Avengers. As it stands, the sum total of LGBTQ representation that GLAAD has found in Disney’s Marvel films since the SRI began in 2012 are seconds-long cameos of out news anchor Thomas Roberts appearing as himself in The Avengers and Iron Man 3.

Marvel has many LGBTQ characters in the source comics, and two of their upcoming films have prime opportunities to include those characters. NewNowNext has reported that this November’s MCU film Thor: Ragnarok will include the character Korg, a member of the alien warrior group known as the Warbound who in the Hulk comics was dating another man named Hiroim, as a friend of Thor. There is not yet any details on whether Hiroim will also be in the film or if the film will at all address Korg being gay, but we would like to see Marvel include their relationship on-screen rather than leaving it up to the outside knowledge of those who’ve read the books or press coverage.

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 now-cancelled 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.

Wonder Woman

LGBTQ characters: 0
Vito Russo Test: FAIL

Warner Brothers hit DC Comics film Wonder Woman won well-deserved critical acclaim and has seen record-breaking success at the box office. The film follows Diana aka Wonder Woman, Princess of the Amazonian island Themyscira, as she grows up and leaves her home behind to protect humankind during World War I. While the movie makes coy references to the fact that the Amazons - an immortal group of women who have lived together in isolation for thousands of years - were involved in romantic relationships with each other, it never commits to having an actual character. In the comics’ current run, writer Greg Rucka confirmed that Diana is canonically bisexual, saying, “the answer is obviously yes” that Diana has been in love and had serious relationships with women. While this run of comics began after principal shooting for the film had already finished, we want to see DC pull from this storyline as they work on the film’s sequel.

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore that LGBTQ people are all over the pages of the source comics and are even making the small screen jump, but remain almost completely shut out of Hollywood's big budget comic book films that have dominated the box office over the past several years.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

LGBTQ characters: 0
Vito Russo Test: FAIL

Based on the popular book series, Captain Underpants follows best friends and fourth grade class pranksters George and Harold as they accidentally turn their principal into the superhero Captain Underpants. In the twelfth and final book of the series, there is a flash-forward to the future, where the audience learns that Harold is married to a man and he and his husband have adopted two children. While the flash forward did not occur in this film, the ending did leave open the possibility of a sequel film. Hopefully, a future installment of the franchise will include Old Harold and his husband.

Transformers: The Last Knight - 3 Idiotas – The Mummy – Cars 3 – The Big Sick – Baby Driver – All Eyez on Me – Despicable Me 3 – The House – War for the Planet of the Apes – Girls Trip - Dunkirk – An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power – Mubarakan - The Emoji Movie - The Dark Tower – The Glass Castle – Annabelle: Creation – The Hitman’s Bodyguard - All Saints

LGBTQ characters: 0
Vito Russo Test: Fail

The fifth film of Paramount’s Transformers series, with two more films in the series already scheduled, included a joke about lesbians. In one scene, the female lead Vivian is being questioned by her family on whether she has met a man, her aunt adds as she is flicking through newspaper personals, “or a woman. Women seeking women, here we go.” Lionsgate’s The Big Sick includes a similar line in the final scene when Kumail spots his ex at a comedy show, pretends not to know her, and asks her who she came to see. (“Have you seen him – or her – I don't know what your deal is.”) Universal’s Despicable Me 3 included a performance scene where three of the minions dress in drag which is played for laughs, and Lionsgate’s 3 Idiotas included several jokes about a woman character who other characters believed to be a man. Warner Brothers’ The House included a mid-credits blooper scene where, while Will Ferrell is threatening a card counter, he adlibs “I’ll lick your dick” instead of the line which went into the film - a threat to dismember the man.

Universal’s Girls Trip counted a few one-liners including one about asking a man if he is gay over his fashion sense, and a character pitching her new gossip scoop to her editor as “Caitlyn Jenner pregnant by Tiger good!" In another scene, while drunk, one of the women gropes the chest of another. Paramount’s documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power includes an interview clip from MSNBC where one might assume the subject is speaking to out anchor Thomas Roberts by the screen’s lower third. However, as the audience only sees the back of the interviewer’s head, we are not inclined to count the moment. Sony’s Bollywood farce Mubarakan included a scene where someone accidentally believes the male lead to be gay, saying, “Could he be one of those? Too-friendly?” after being told that all the man’s friends are men.

Universal’s The Mummy, Disney’s Cars 3, Sony’s Baby Driver, Lionsgate’s All Eyez on Me, FOX’s War for the Planet of the Apes, Dunkirk (Warner Brothers), Sony’s The Emoji Movie, The Dark Tower (Sony), Lionsgate’s The Glass Castle, Warner’s Annabelle: Creation, The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Lionsgate), and All Saints (Sony) 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. Those aged 18 to 34 are more than twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ as older generations, and they are simply not seeing themselves represented in mainstream film. The industry has to do better.

You can read the full 2017 Studio Responsibility Index now and our Memorial Day update here.

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