When GLAAD released its annual Studio Responsibility Index report on May 22, the numbers did not look good.
Assessing the level of LGBTQ inclusion in films released during 2017 by the seven major Hollywood studios, the report found that only 14 of the 109 titles featured queer characters. That’s only 12.8% – the lowest number since GLAAD began compiling these reports six years ago.
There was better news for racial diversity among queer characters, with 57% people of color (black or Latinx) – but males outnumbered females more than two-to-one, and there were no transgender or non-binary characters at all. There was also no representation for Asian/Pacific Islanders or any other racial group.
At an event to discuss these findings held at the offices WME/Endeavor talent agency in Los Angeles, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis stressed that, although the numbers in the report are low, there is reason to hope things are getting better.
“We are already seeing some movement. So far this year, major studio films like ‘Love, Simon,’ ‘Blockers,’ and ‘Deadpool 2’ have opened in thousands of theaters across the country and included central queer characters. Unfortunately, these films are still the exception,” she said.
To encourage a greater effort by Hollywood to include LGBTQ characters and stories, GLAAD is calling on the seven major film studios to make sure that 20% of annual major studio releases include LGBTQ characters by 2021 and 50% by 2024.
“It’s not just about doing it—it’s also about doing what’s sustainable,” Ellis said, coupling the MPAA’s recent statistic that the 18-39 demographic make up 30% of frequent moviegoers in the US and Canada with GLAAD’s Accelerating Acceptance report finding that 20% of Americans aged 18-34 identify as LGBTQ.
“If Hollywood wants to remain relevant to these audiences, they must create stories that are reflective of the world that we live in today.”
A panel, led by Los Angeles Times reporter Tre’vell Anderson, with Ellis, writer/producer Ben Cory Jones, studio executive Nina Jacobson, actor Nico Santos, and writer/producer/director Kay Cannon discussed the shifting dynamic caused by pressure on the studios for more LGBTQ representation. They also underscored the importance of artists being the driving force behind inclusion by making it a part of their work.
A telling moment occurred when Anderson asked the panelists when they had first seen an on-screen character with whom they could identify. Most of them were hard-pressed to come up with a response.
Ellis talked to the Los Angeles Blade about the findings. The scores are at an all-time low, she says, but they don’t tell the whole story. The pressure toward inclusion—which has been stoked by movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, as well as by the continuous efforts of GLAAD and other advocacy groups—has only heated up within the last couple of years, and movie-making takes time.
“There’s a lag time in studio releases,” she says. “There’s a two-year pipeline and we’re only just starting to see some of that influence in the projects coming out now.”
Ellis is particularly annoyed at the poor inclusion record of movies based on comic books. Last year’s “Thor: Ragnorak,” for instance, erased the sexuality of a character originally written as LGBTQ from the film version.
“The comic book industry has always been a place that has been inclusive and as it moves onto the big screen, it’s becoming ‘pink-washed.’ There’s such an enormous opportunity there to respect the work as it was originally crafted, as an artist should, and to get to audiences all over the world,” Ellis says.
Ellis is skeptical about the reasoning behind such exclusion—the conventional wisdom that studios can’t risk losing foreign markets, that films with LGBTQ storylines—along with any featuring non-white, non-male narratives—“don’t travel.”
“I’ve never seen the science or the methodology behind that and I think if they ever did those studies, they probably did them decades ago,” Ellis says “There are these false narratives that live within the entertainment community that we all buy into and we’ve all taken them on as the truth. We debunked two of them this past year, with ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Wonder Woman,’ in a massive way.”
Ellis believes it’s more crucial than ever for the LGBTQ community to see positive representations.
“We’re in a culture war right now and Hollywood has always been a cultural leader,” she says. “I can sense an obligation and a responsibility from the leadership in Hollywood to make sure that they’re being a cultural leader in this time when marginalized people are under attack like we’ve never seen in this country in our lifetime.”
Ellis offers tips on how the LGBTQ community can contribute to the fight.
“Support the films that do include us—make sure you’re out there on opening weekend. As we all know, opening weekend is the litmus test for success or failure, from a box office perspective,” she says. “There have also been movements on social media about big Hollywood films, about where people want to see LGBTQ people represented—things like ‘Make Captain America Gay,’ or ‘Give Elsa a Girlfriend.’ Email us if you’re doing one, because we’ll put it out there.”
Ellis also highly recommends joining GLAAD. “We send out alerts. We keep people informed on ways that they can support these films,” she says.
The complete Studio Responsibility Index report can be found here.