Observations & Recommendations

GLAAD offers the following insights on how studios can both improve depictions of LGBTQ characters and stop repeating mistakes.

One repeated issue that GLAAD has called out in several editions of this report is the lack of screen time for LGBTQ characters in mainstream films. In each of the last two years, more than half of LGBTQ characters appeared for less than three minutes of total screen time in scenes that audiences could have entirely missed. In a surprising change, this year saw a majority of LGBTQ characters clocking more than ten minutes of screen time at 10 of the 20 (50 percent) LGBTQ characters. Six of 20 or 30 percent tallied under one minute. While some films like The New Mutants, Freaky, Fantasy Island, and The Broken Hearts Gallery used that expanded screen time to tell more developed or nuanced queer stories, often with more than one queer character, more time did not equate to quality across the board. While it was a welcome change to finally have canon confirmation of Harley Quinn’s bisexuality in Birds of Prey, the confirmation moment was incredibly quick and there were no further allusions in the rest of the film – a missed opportunity, as a good chunk of her story was focused on her life after breaking up with long-term boyfriend, The Joker. The Gentlemen and Buddy Games both clocked more than ten minutes but were entirely offensive in their handling of their gay characters. There remains a huge opportunity existing in the spectrum between these models for meaningful LGBTQ storytelling - and for unambiguously marketing and promoting those movies.

GLAAD recorded zero transgender characters in the 44 major studio films released in 2020 – this is a finding consistent with the previous three years of this report. Factually, that is zero transgender characters across a total of almost 400 film releases tracked by this report since January 2017. The last transgender character GLAAD counted was an offensive caricature in the 2016 film Zoolander 2, a non-binary model named All portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. In that same time, TV has seen amazing progress in telling transgender stories and empowering trans writers and actors to lead those efforts with FX’s history making Pose, television’s first trans superhero on The CW’s Supergirl, Brian Michael Smith’s historic casting on FOX’s 9-1-1: Lone Star, and more. While recent years did include transgender and/or non-binary actors in a handful of major releases, none of those films established those characters as transgender or non-binary within the film’s world. For this report, GLAAD did not count those characters in its tally based on what was on screen, in the same way that LGB characters are not tallied unless their story is made clear on screen. We are pleased to see trans actors being cast in roles that are not explicitly written as transgender and hope to see this continue. We also hope to see more films which explicitly tell the stories of transgender characters, representation that is crucial to understanding discrimination and liberating trans people. Polls show that approximately 20 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender, compared to nearly 90 percent who know someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. We’d like to see film catch up to TV in leading change and accelerating acceptance by sharing and uplifting the experiences of trans people. GLAAD and 5050by2020’s TRANSform Hollywood, a free, in-depth digital guide offering tips and best practices for collaborating with trans storytellers and fostering a more trans-inclusive production environment, is a first step resource available for productions beginning this work. GLAAD is also available as a trusted and proven resource, as well as a connection to find amazing transgender storytellers and actors to hire. Creators should also screen Disclosure, a new and Certified Fresh documentary available on Netflix, which explores and contextualizes the last 100 years of trans representation in TV and film and the impact of those stereotypical portrayals on how society views trans people and how trans people view themselves. It is essential viewing for everyone, but especially anyone creating stories with transgender characters.

This year, only a single major studio release film counted in GLAAD’s report included a bisexual character (Harley Quinn, Birds of Prey). This is a decrease from the previous year when three films included a bi+ character – a finding equal to the report before it. Bi+ people make up the majority of the queer community at 52 percent per UCLA’s The Williams Institute. Though Harley is undisputedly the lead and title character of her film, the movie is far from a significant bisexual story and the wonderful romance with Poison Ivy playing out in the GLAAD Media Award-nominated animated series, Harley Quinn. Also in the superhero world, once again the Wonder Woman sequel made the choice not to depict Wonder Woman’s bisexuality from the comics in her film counterpart. The continued minimalization and erasure of bi+ stories have a real impact on bisexual+ people who are less likely to be out of the closet than gays or lesbians and report higher levels of minority stresses. Hollywood has an opportunity to lead and drive cultural change by better reflecting reality, which includes telling compelling stories about fully developed bisexual+ characters and ending portrayals which cause active harm.

GLAAD counted only one inclusive film in the animated and family film genre (Pixar’s Onward), down from two in the previous year. Queer content in this category lags behind the boom happening in all-ages television in recent years. In a finding consistent with the previous year, their screen time was very minor. Onward’s Officer Spector (voiced by out actress Lena Waithe) clocked under two minutes of screen time, though the character did notably set up the penultimate police chase of the two leads. Though this was a nice moment of casual inclusion, as the character made a nod to her girlfriend affirming that queer “people” exist in all families and all worlds, studios should learn from the successes of queer and trans representation in television with LGBTQ characters in significant roles on series including Arthur (PBS), She-Ra and The Princesses of Power and Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts on Netflix, Steven Universe on Cartoon Network, Disney’s The Owl House and more. So much so that GLAAD recently introduced a second GLAAD Media Awards category in the Kids and Family genre to recognize inclusive content for younger audiences. LGBTQ families and parents are part of the world and should be integral to movies they see with their families. And LGBTQ youth, who are coming out at younger ages as cultural acceptance continues to grow, deserve to see age-appropriate, positive, affirming, and truthful representations of themselves in film. The small moments seen in studio films must become bigger, significant moments with meaningful LGBTQ characters and stories.

While it is wonderful to see increased inclusion of LGBTQ characters in films from the major studios, it is worth noting that much of this inclusion is still in the midbudget films rather than major tentpoles. The disruption to U.S. theatrical operations since March 2020 from the COVID-19 pandemic caused several LGBTQ-inclusive films planned for theatrical release to be delayed or moved to streaming, either with a streaming service owned by the studio themselves or sold to a streaming service or another on-demand video provider. This report tracks releases by distributor, meaning that if those films were distributed by a digital platform in the U.S. – like Happiest Season and The Craft: Legacy, both originally slated as Sony theatrical releases prior to COVID – those films are not part of this year’s count of the studio who may have produced or initially acquired the work. Acknowledging the studios need to survive this global pandemic, many of these midbudget projects were sold to bring in cash while theaters were closed, while larger budget tentpoles were held for summer/fall 2021 and beyond. As the industry examines different release and distribution patterns and models, we hope to see LGBTQ characters included in all genres and at all budget levels. GLAAD will remain a committed partner.

The results: Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, STX Films, United Artists ReleasingUniversal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros.