2019 rating

Insufficient

Failing
2018 rating
Failing
2017 rating
Failing
2016 rating
Adequate
2015 rating
Adequate
2014 rating
Adequate
2013 rating
N/A
2012 rating
20
Films released theatrically in 2019 under studio & official imprints
5
Total number of LGBTQ-inclusive films
25%
Percent of LGBTQ-inclusive films of studio total releases
5
Films that pass the Vito Russo Test

Lionsgate was founded in 1997 by Frank Giustra. In its slightly over two decades, Lionsgate has produced and distributed major blockbusters including the Twilight, Hunger Games and John Wick franchises, and acquired studios including Summit Entertainment and Pantelion, which focuses on films for a Latinx audience. 

The first film Lionsgate released was 1997’s The Pillow Book, in which Ewan McGregor plays a bisexual man. Other LGBTQ-inclusive films from the studio include Gods and Monsters (1998), But I'm a Cheerleader! and Urbania (2000), Lost and Delirious and All Over the Guy (2001), Happy Endings (2005), Precious (2009), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), American UltraFreeheld (2015), and Un Padre No Tan Padre (2017).

In 2019, Lionsgate released 20 films, five of which included appearances by LGBTQ people, amounting to 25%. All five films passed Vito Russo Test.

Anna

Widest theatrical release: 2114 theaters

Vito Russo Test: Pass

This thriller follows the titular Anna, a Russian spy recruited by the KGB. There is a period in the film where Anna is undercover in Paris as a model, and she begins dating fellow model Maude, who is unaware of Anna’s real identity. Though Anna never tells Maude the whole truth, it does not seem that she is dating her for any reason besides enjoying her company. Anna also has sexual relationships with men in the film and her bisexuality is never discussed - simply presented. It is refreshing to see, in a genre where bisexuality is far too often employed as a transactional plot device, that Anna’s relationship with Maude was genuine and separate from her undercover work.

Bombshell

Widest Theatrical Release: 1721 theaters

Vito Russo Test: Pass

This GLAAD Media Award-nominated drama follows the sexual assault allegations against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. The film uses several characters from real life and others that are fictional amalgamations of Fox News employees. Two of the fictional characters are Kayla Pospisil and Jess Carr (out actress Kate McKinnon). The two end up sleeping together early on in the film. Jess is clear about the fact that she is a lesbian, and Kayla replies that she is not and does later go on a date with a man. Kayla’s character is presented as a Christian worker at Fox News, and sleeps with a woman, yet the contrast of her sexuality clashing with the ideals of her workplace is not brought up. Jess, however, does discuss how she cannot jeopardize her status at Fox News or with Ailes, and that she fears possible job discrimination, reduced opportunities, or worse as a lesbian.  Though the film could have gone further in depicting the complexity of queer women in the workplace subjected to sexism and homophobia, it was good to see that neither Kayla or Jess was ashamed of their queerness.

Cold Pursuit

Widest Theatrical Release: 2630 theaters

Vito Russo Test: Pass

This action movie follows a gang war that begins when protagonist Nels Coxman’s son dies of a forced overdose, and he seeks revenge against the cartel who killed his son. The villain of the film, Viking, has two key henchmen revealed in the film’s third act to be in a relationship, Dexter and Mustang. After Viking murders Dexter, Mustang chooses to seek his own revenge, betraying Viking by working with another faction in a move that ultimately leads to Viking’s death. In a film with such a high body count where nearly every member of the gang war is killed, it is noteworthy that Mustang survives the movie’s climax. It is interesting to note that the final scene of the film leaves some room for interpretation by the audience as Mustang is left alone in a room with a gun.

Five Feet Apart

Widest Theatrical Release: 2866 theaters

Vito Russo Test: Pass

Based on the novel of the same name, Five Feet Apart is a romantic drama about Stella and Will, two teens with cystic fibrosis who are be closer than five feet together to reduce the risk of cross-infection. They are both friends with Poe, another patient with Cystic Fibrosis, who is gay, and talks about some of his ex-boyfriends, including his most recent ex, Michael, though the audience does not ultimately see him. Unfortunately, Poe dies midway through the movie, right before he had planned to get back together with Michael and introduce him to his mother.  Poe’s death propels other parts of the plot, primarily Stella and Will’s romance and their realization of how short life is.

It is unfortunate that this film introduced a vibrant character, who was gay, Latino, and living with a disability, only to have him eventually die to further the plot of the central straight white characters. While the film’s finale hints at Will’s eventual death, Poe is the only one of the central characters to die on-screen. When there is only one gay character in a project – whose story culminates as a plot device for a straight romance – it does not send a positive message to audiences for that character to then also die. This is just one more example of Hollywood’s decades-long “Bury Your Gays” trope.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

Widest Theatrical Release: 3850 theaters

Vito Russo Test: Fail

The third film in the John Wick franchise introduces The Adjudicator, a representative The High Table, sent to hunt John Wick. The Adjudicator is played by non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon, who uses they/them pronouns. In the film, no pronouns are used for The Adjudicator. Though Dillon has referred to the character as non-binary in the press, nothing in the film itself indicates that The Adjudicator is non-binary to the audience.

Given that there are John Wick sequels in development, there is an opportunity to bring back The Adjudicator and establish them as non-binary on screen, potentially, with a moment where they share their pronouns, discuss their being non-binary or similar. As it stands now, however, GLAAD did not count this character in its tally based on the content of the film itself.

Perfect Strangers

Widest Theatrical Release: 132 theaters

Vito Russo Test: Pass

Based on an Italian film of the same name, Perfect Strangers is set in Mexico City where friends at a dinner party decide to play a game where everyone puts their phones in the middle of a table, and the entire group reads every message and answers every call. Over the course of the game, it is revealed that one of the group, Pepe, is gay and has a boyfriend. However, he had traded phones with his friend, Ernesto, to help Ernesto hide his infidelity from his wife. When the group begins to believe Ernesto is gay after seeing the phone’s messages and contents, the friends become incredibly homophobic, saying offensive things, and using anti-gay slurs. This continues to such an extent that when Pepe reveals the phone switch and outs himself, he tells the group that he did not confide in them as he wanted to protect his partner from judgement or rejection. It is also revealed that Pepe was fired from his job at a local school when his bosses learned he was gay.

At the end of the film, the audience sees that the game did not actually happen after the guests had refused, and everyone’s secrets are still hidden, meaning that Pepe is still closeted.

There was an opportunity here to tell a refreshing coming out story. Instead, this central gay character’s sexuality was regarded as a huge, damaging secret and source of conflict in the story. In 2019, Guinness World Records named the original Italian film as the most remade film in movie history with 18 different versions existing of the movie. We wish this version had attempted to separate itself by telling a more nuanced story.

OPPORTUNITIES AHEAD

It was reported in January 2020 that Lionsgate is in final negotiations to adapt the GLAAD Media Award-nominated horror graphic novel Memetic as a feature with Seth Rogen attached to produce. The book was written and created by out bi writer James Tynion IV. Memetic centers on a weaponized meme image that turns people into killers, but college student Aaron finds out he is immune because he is colorblind. He and his boyfriend Ryan go on a journey to discover what is happening, and to find a way to save themselves and their friends and family. A horror film with a queer lead is still incredibly rare to see – even more so a horror film with a queer character with a disability (Aaron also uses hearing aids). Lionsgate has a unique opportunity to be a leader for the rest of the industry.

Other adaptations in the works at Lionsgate include Erin Morgenstrern’s best-selling novel The Night Circus, which includes two queer characters of color, Chandresh who is gay and Tsukiko who is a lesbian. It is essential that they and their queer identities remain in the film, showing LGBTQ people as an integral part of the fantasy genre. A new franchise coming from Lionsgate is Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Chaos Walking, a dystopian young adult trilogy. In the novels, two men, Ben and Cillian, raise protagonist Todd in a dystopian world where there aren’t any women. Author Patrick Ness has confirmed that their relationship is a romantic one. Both these men are listed as cast in the film adaption (played by Demián Bichir, Kurt Sutter). Their relationship should be a part of the story when it is translated into film, and hopefully expanded upon with more depth. The film has been delayed several times, but is currently set for an early 2021 release. Lionsgate announced in 2017 an English adaptation of its 2013 Spanish-language hit Instructions Not Included. As GLAAD spotlights in the 2014 SRI, a new version of this film would do well to update the story of the lesbian characters and to eliminate the wildly offensive transphobic gag.

The feature Ride, a biopic of famous queer astronaut Sally Ride, is in development at Lionsgate from out director Joey Soloway (Transparent creator). Ride was with her partner, Tam, for 27 years before Ride passed away in 2012. Hopefully, the film delves into this relationship as well as highlighting Ride’s astounding career. Lionsgate is also set to adapt the popular video game Borderlands. The Borderlands franchise has featured several LGBTQ characters including Athena, Sir Hammerlock, and more. It would be a huge opportunity for Lionsgate to include these LGBTQ characters that fans know in the film’s world.

In 2019, Roadside Attractions released nine films, two of which included appearances by LGBTQ people, amounting to 22%.

Founded in 2003 by Howard Cohen and Eric d'Arbeloff, Roadside Attractions specializes largely in independent films. In 2007, Lionsgate bought a portion of the company. Notable LGBTQ-inclusive films previously released by the studio include I Love You Phillip Morris (2010), Dear White People, The Skeleton Twins (2014), Hello, My Name is Doris (2016), and Whitney (2018).

Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles

Widest Theatrical Release: 77 theaters

This documentary is an in-depth reflection on the hit musical Fiddler on the Roof. Cast, fans, and creatives involved in the production speak extensively about the late Jerome Robbins, a gay man who directed and choreographed the original production. The documentary briefly chronicles Robbins’ involvement and testimonies during the McCarthy Trials, and his decision to share names for fear he would himself be outed and lose his career.

One talking head interviewed is out actor and writer Harvey Fierstein, who played Tevye in a 2004 revival of Fiddler. The film also delves into how the themes in the musical are meaningful and relevant to so many people, including LGBTQ people. Out actor Adam Kantor additionally talked about how the show can be read as an allegory for the LGBTQ rights movement.

Judy

Widest Theatrical Release: 1627 theaters

In this film that chronicles the final years in the life of icon Judy Garland, homage is paid to the gay fans that loved her. The film explores Garland’s relationship with her gay fans through a London couple, Stan and Dan, who attended all her shows, and even hosted her for dinner one night. At their apartment, Dan talks about how Stan had been imprisoned for being gay before the laws were changed, and Garland sympathizes with him, saying “to hell with them.” Later on, when Judy falters on stage during a show, Dan and Stan begin singing to her, causing the entire audience to sing along in a climactic overture.”

Considering Garland was so beloved by gay fans, and is still decades later, it was important that this aspect of her life be portrayed in this film, and that these details be handled with great respect. Judy was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.

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