Studio Responsibility Index Finding: LGBTQ People are Nearly Invisible or Outdated Punchlines in Major Studio Film Releases

May 25, 2017

Matt Goodman
Associate Director of Communications, GLAAD
(646) 871-8028

Lionsgate Entertainment, Sony Pictures, and Walt Disney Studios given ‘Failing’ ratings and 20th Century Fox, Paramount, and Warner Brothers receive ‘Poor’ ratings in Studio Responsibility Index

GLAAD’s annual film report finds only 23 out of 125 films tracked from 2016 contain LGBTQ characters; notable drop in percentage of LGBTQ characters of color

NEW YORK, Thursday, May 25 – GLAAD, the world’s LGBTQ media advocacy organization, today released its fifth annual Studio Responsibility Index a report that maps the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ people in films released by the seven largest motion picture studios and their subsidiaries during the 2016 calendar year.

GLAAD found that of the 125 releases from major studios in 2016, only 23 of them (18.4%) included characters identified as LGBTQ. Gay men are still by far the most represented group within the LGBTQ community with 83% of inclusive films featuring gay male characters. Lesbian portrayals rose from 23% in 2015 to 35% of inclusive films featuring lesbian characters. Bisexual representation appeared in 13% of LGBTQ-inclusive films. At the same time, Harley Quinn’s bi identity, which is front and center in the comic books that inspired the film, was completely erased in the ‘Suicide Squad’ film. Transgender representation remains abysmally low, with only one transgender character counted, the same number as the 2015 report, and once again the character was used a punchline in ‘Zoolander 2.’

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to step up and show the full diversity of the world that movie audiences are living in today instead and end the outdated humor seen in many films,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.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 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.

Several films still require the audience to have read press coverage or have outside knowledge such as ‘Deadpool,’ where the director confirmed the lead to be pansexual but did not address this character trait in the film or the appearance of real life out news commentators including Anderson Cooper in in ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.’

th 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.

GLAAD included recommendations for the film industry which will be part of GLAAD’s ongoing advocacy efforts:

  • 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. This brevity remains standard for LGBTQ inclusion. Studios should not only include more LGBTQ characters, but to construct LGBTQ roles that are directly tied to the plot.
  • 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. Successful and critically acclaimed films that include central LGBTQ characters of color like ‘Moonlight,’ ‘Star Trek Beyond,’ and ‘Pariah’ show there is an audience for these stories.
  • 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. Several other mainstream films, which did not have transgender characters, nevertheless included trans issues as a reason to scoff. The film studios should join their audiences, who have mostly moved passed merely laughing at the existence of transgender people.
  • Comedy films (the genre most likely to contain LGBTQ characters) like ‘Dirty Grandpa’ and ‘Central Intelligence’ included characters who were primarily used as the punchline in jokes based outdated stereotypes for cheap laughs.

In 2012, GLAAD introduced the "Vito Russo Test", a set of criteria analyzing how LGBTQ 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 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 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.