Is LGBTQ Representation on the Big Screen Getting Better? By Frankie Wallace.
As time goes on, evolution usually follows — but when it comes to LGBTQ representation in films, Hollywood is going backward. According to GLAAD, there were 109 films released from major studios in 2017, yet only 14 of them had characters who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. This is down 5.6% from films in 2016. While LGBTQ representation went down overall, though, four studios increased representation. Focus, Roadside, Searchlight, and Sony Classic had a 17% increase in movies containing LGBTQ characters from 2016 to 2017.
While some films have gotten LGBTQ representation right, many have seriously missed the mark, reminiscent of a time when LGBTQ characters were shunned from films during the AIDS crisis. Media purposely didn’t touch the topic because it was so taboo, despite there being so many misconceptions about it. This association with AIDS and HIV created a bad perception of the LGBTQ community, making it more difficult for the film industry to bridge that gap. Today, GLAAD is attempting to reverse the trend by incentivizing studios to use LGBTQ characters.
The Studio Responsibility Index
The GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index (SRI) tracks the diversity, quality, and quantity of LGBTQ characters in films. While it doesn’t map each and every film released, it does cover movies from seven major studios (and four of their subsidiaries): 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony, Universal, Disney, and Warner Brothers. Viewers who want to see movies with accurate and fair LGBTQ representation can refer to the SRI to choose which films they watch. The idea is that the SRI will act as an incentive to studios that want to get a perfect score in order to appeal to a broader audience.
The Vito Russo Test
The Vito Russo Test was developed by GLAAD as a way to analyze how well a film handles LGBTQ representation, or if it handles it at all. To pass the Vito Russo Test, a movie has to have an identifiable LGBTQ character who isn’t entirely defined by being LGBTQ. The character must also be significant to the movie’s plot. The Vito Russo Test is similar to the Bechdel Test, which a film can only pass if it has two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
Movies That Got it Wrong
Try as they might, some movies just can’t get LGBTQ representation right. Negative attitudes toward the LGBTQ community doesn’t simply hurt feelings, they can be dangerous, too. For example, social stigma can cause people to refuse AIDS and HIV treatment, which can cause an increased rate of infection. In terms of LGBTQ representatio, these movies failed even when they had the chance to succeed.
Hail, Caesar!: In Hail, Caesar!, two characters reveal that they climbed the Hollywood ladder by sleeping their way to the top. Viewers feel that this type of portrayal of a gay character is outdated and that predatory characters who bribe or pressure men into sex isn’t just offensive, but overdone by this point.
Thor: Ragnarok: Superhero movies are not known for portraying LGBTQ characters, but audiences hoped it would be different with Thor: Ragnarok. Instead, much of Valkyrie’s bisexual character didn’t make it to the film’s final version, other than a short flashback that hinted at her sexual identity.
Zoolander 2: Maybe it’s because the sequel to Zoolander came more than a decade after the original, but the LGBTQ humor in Zoolander 2 seems dated, not to mention offensive and silly. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s characters can’t stop talking about All, the movie’s non-binary character, and wondering what type of genitalia All has. While comedy has its place in movies with LGBTQ characters, the jokes in Zoolander 2 were seen as cheap and mocking.
Some movies go in expecting to showcase LGBTQ characters one way, but then change their mind during filming or editing. Other films, though, seem to purposely portray these characters in a way that’s harmful to society.
Movies That Got it Right
It’s not all bad news. Some movies got it right, realistically portraying LGBTQ characters and relationships without turning them into caricatures or stereotypes.
Battle of the Sexes: Emma Stone played Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes, representing the character during a time when King was still in the closet. While her marriage, her affair with her hairdresser and coming to terms with her feelings played a major role in the movie and were handled maturely and sensitively, King’s sexual orientation wasn’t central to the plot.
Call Me By Your Name: The budding relationship in Call Me By Your Name was handled with care by everyone involved – the characters involved with each other as well as the main character’s parents and even girlfriend. Viewers watched everyone in the movie acknowledge and embrace the story that played out in front of them, no matter how unexpected it was.
The Kids Are All Right: It’s common for movies with lesbian characters to be shown through the male gaze, but in The Kids Are All Right, a long-term lesbian couple depicts a comfortable, lived-in type of relationship. The movie perfectly showcases the love between a same-sex couple while also touching on many issues that any married couple faces. The characters are complex, and the plot is captivating and emotional.
Young audiences want to see LGBTQ representation in films, and movie studios that want to stay relevant need to deliver. Audiences want movies to be reflective of real life, and a majority of Americans feel that society should be accepting of LGBTQ people, a sentiment that increased by 14% between 2006 and 2016. The hope is that major studios will want to pass the Vito Russo Test or make it onto the SRI. While it’s important for independent movie studios to embrace LGBTQ characters (and many of them have), it’s even more important for major studios to reach the masses with supportive messages.
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