Gay Cinema 2018: LGBTQ Characters in Decline in Mainstream Hollywood

Hollywood celebrated Call Me By Your Name and its two boyfriends at the most recent Oscars, where James Ivory won best screenplay Oscars, studio movies actually turned away from depicting LGBTQ characters in 2017.

In a new survey of the 109 films released theatrically by the major studios last year, the advocacy group GLAAD reports that gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer characters appeared in only 14 films, just 12.8 percent of the total releases, a dramatic drop from the 18.4 percent of the studio features that were judged to be inclusive in 2016. In fact, that is the lowest percentage of films containing LGBTQ characters since GLAAD began issuing its annual report in 2012.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

A lot of the gay appearances in 2017 films were also fleeting. Of the 14 films that included LGBTQ characters, in half of them those characters had less than five minutes of screen time, the study found.

The only positive development was that with characters like Betty Gabriel’s Georgina, who appears to have a lesbian past in Get Out, diversity increased, with people of color representing 16 of the 28 characters identified in 2017’s studio films. They represented 57 percent of the total characters, as opposed to 2016, when people of color comprised just 20 percent of the LGBTQ characters.

In issuing the report, GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis called for the major studios to include LGBTQ characters in 20 percent of their releases by 2021 and in 50 percent of their films by 2024.

The report also pointed out that gay men were the most represented on film, making up 64 percent of the inclusive films presenting gay male characters in 2017. And while lesbian representation has remained steady and bisexuals increased slightly, there were no trans characters, of any race or ethnicity, in the films studied.

Examining how LGBTQ characters were treated in its annual Studio Responsibility Index, the study found no studio deserved an “excellent” or even a “good ranking.” Fox, with a gay couple amid the crew in Alien: Covenant, and Universal, even though the lesbian character Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) is relegated to the sidelines in Pitch Perfect 3, ranked highest with an “insufficient.” Disney, Paramount and Sony were deemed “poor.” and Warners and Lionsgate got “failing” grades. ‘

Warners’ CHiPs was a movie that include gays only to treat them as punchlines.  That film’s gay panic jokes “reinforce outdated ideals of masculinity and project the false idea that in order to appeal to one demographic, the film must insult another audience.”

It also faulted movies like Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok and Warner’s Wonder Woman for failing to include queer characters that exist in their source material.

GLAAD claims that 20 percent of 18-34-year-old Americans and 12 percent of those 35-51 identify as LGBTQ.  Ellis noted, “If Hollywood wants to remain relevant with these audiences and keep them buying tickets, they must create stories are reflective of the world LGBTQ people and our friends and family know.”

The report did not include the LGBTQ representation in the films released by the studio’s specialty labels — like Sony Pictures Classics, which handled Call Me By Your Name, and Fox Searchlight, which released Battle of the Sexes.

As for Universal’s Focus and Lionsgate affiliate Roadside Attractions, the numbers tell a more inclusive story. Of the 40 films those companies released in 2017, 11, or 28 percent, contained LGBTQ character, up from 17 percent in 2016.