2017 rating

Poor

Poor
2016 rating
Failing
2015 rating
Adequate
2014 rating
Failing
2013 rating
Adequate
2012 rating
11
Films released theatrically in 2017 under studio & official imprints
2
Total number of LGBTQ-inclusive films
18%
Percent of LGBTQ-inclusive films of studio total releases
1
Films that pass the Vito Russo Test

With its origins dating back to the founding of the Famous Players Film Company in 1912, Paramount Pictures was formed in 1916 when the company merged with two others. In 1994, Paramount was purchased by the Viacom Network, and it remains under that banner. Paramount is most known for big budget franchises such as Indiana Jones, Transformers, and Mission Impossible.

Paramount released several LGBTQ-themed or LGBTQ-inclusive films starting in the mid-nineties, which included Home for the Holidays (1995), Clueless (1995), The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), Brain Candy (1996), Kiss Me Guido (1997), Election (1999), The Talented Mister Ripley (1999), The Next Best Thing (2000), and The Hours (2002). On the negative side, Paramount also recently released Zoolander 2 (2016), which included transphobic jokes and harmful stereotypes about bisexual people.

One of the most significant LGBTQ films made by Paramount is the 1997 comedy In and Out which received substantial press for a kiss between Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck. The film was a hit at the box office, and joins The Talented Mister Ripley and The Hours (2002) as three of the top 10 highest grossing LGBTQ films per Box Office Mojo. In 2016, Paramount released Star Trek: Beyond, the third film in the new Star Trek franchise, which showed that the character Hikaru Sulu had a husband and daughter. The inclusion of a gay character of color in such large franchise was a huge step in the right direction for representation.

In 2017, Paramount released 11 films, two of which included appearances by LGBTQ people, amounting to 18%. One of these films passed the Vito Russo Test.

Baywatch

Fails Vito Russo Test

Widest theatrical release: 3,647 theaters

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 and Mitch, 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.

In another scene, Matt and Mitch decide to go undercover to infiltrate the kitchen of a resort. 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 an 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 do not find them funny anymore. Other comedies in this same genre – such as Blockers (2018) and Neighbors 2 (2016) – managed to include queer characters without making them the punchline and saw box office success. The producers should look to their example.

Downsizing

Fails Vito Russo Test

Widest theatrical release: 2,668 theaters

This sci-fi drama follows the founder and residents of a new world where people are able to be shrunk down, and live in a seeming utopia where their wealth is increased as money is able to spread farther. Little Ronni, the first child to be “born small,” appears in a few brief scenes and is described as a “dumb, good-looking Norwegian guy goes around the world having sex with everyone – women, men hermaphrodites, dogs, goats, monkeys – he’ll be the first small baby to die of syphilis.” Ronni himself has no agency and is never seen with any kind of love interest – he exists only as a plot device. It remains far too common for LGBTQ characters to be included only in service of another character’s development, rather than as full and nuanced characters themselves.

Ghost in the Shell

Fails Vito Russo Test

Widest theatrical release: 3,440 theaters

While this adaptation of a famous manga (Japanese comic) of the same name has been extensively critiqued for its whitewashing of lead Mara Killian/Major Motoko Kusanagi, the film also cut a kiss between Major and a presumed sex worker that was included in one of the film’s early trailers. As Major begins questioning her memories and humanity after her consciousness is uploaded to a synthetic body, she goes upstairs with a woman she meets on the streets. Major touches the woman’s face, specifically caressing her lips, and asks how it feels. In the actual film, it does not go any further, but an earlier trailer included a kiss between the two. Overall, the scene had no real impact on the plot and GLAAD did not count either character in our final tally as the scene on-screen read more as Major trying to connect with the first available human rather than any romantic interest in the woman.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Fails Vito Russo Test

Widest theatrical release: 4,132 theaters

The fifth film of Paramount’s Transformers series included a throwaway joke about lesbians. In one scene, the leading lady 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.” It is disappointing that the only references to queer people in this franchise are baseless jokes, especially given that in the IDW Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye comics, there are couples confirmed to be queer.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

Passes Vito Russo Test

Widest theatrical release: 3,651 theaters

While this Vin Diesel-fronted lowbrow action film is definitely outdated in its dialogue and treatment of women, it is significant that his team of mercenaries includes queer sniper Adele Wolff (played by out actor Ruby Rose). Adele gets the call to join Cage’s team while she is shooting tranquilizer darts at poachers in the African safari. Adele immediately hits on the woman overseeing their mission – though her lines, like the rest of the film, leave something to be desired in execution. She also has a moment with the group’s tech guru, Becky, after Becky compliments her weapon skills, saying that Adele really knows what she is “doing down there.” Adele coyly replies, “That’s what she said.”

It is disappointing that Adele never gets a real romantic moment, especially considering all the hookups between Cage and a variety of women. Still, when queer characters are so often relegated to subtext or included as plot devices in service of others, it remains noteworthy for a film to let a character be out on screen. We expect to see more studios take this step and move forward in future.

Most importantly, xXx performed spectacularly at the foreign box office, opening at number one in many markets, and more than half of the film’s total box office came from China. Studios that have tried to justify LGBTQ exclusion by citing fears of foreign returns should learn from this example.

OPPORTUNITIES AHEAD

Paramount has announced a film version of Nickelodeon series The Loud House, which earned a GLAAD Media Award nomination, set for 2020. The series includes interracial gay couple, Howard and Harold, as parents to one of the main characters, Clyde McBride, as well as Luna Loud, the rocker daughter of the titular family who has a crush on her close friend, Sam. Paramount should seize their opportunity here to break new ground – while television has recently become much more inclusive of LGBTQ characters in kids and family programming (so much so that GLAAD created a GLAAD Media Award category to recognize these outstanding projects), film continues to lag behind. Paramount recently announced two new Star Trek films in development. We hope to see Sulu’s story explored further after 2016’s Beyond included his husband and daughter.

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