Disney Studios’ big screen contribution to LGBT visibility in 2012
This morning GLAAD releases it’s first ever Studio Reponsibility Index which examines the LGBT-inclusiveness of 101 films released in 2012 by the “Big Six” top Hollywood studios: 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Sony Columbia, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros.
GLAAD has previously released annual Network Responsibility Index reports on LGBT visibility in television, but this marks the first time they’ve provided an analysis of movie studios. And what they found in this first report is not good.
While gay representation in television has come a long way in the past few years, we seem to be going in the wrong direction on the big screen. Of the 101 major studio releases encompassed in GLAAD’s Index, only 14 had any gay characters at all. And, some of the “characters” being credited are exceedingly minor. For example, out MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts had a very brief cameo as himself in The Avengers (the camera pans across a monitor which displays him reporting on an alien invasion). The GLAAD report rightly points out that filmgoers might have no idea that Roberts is gay, but he’s still counted as one of the 14 LGBT characters in the report. In fact, according to the report he was the only gay character in a Walt Disney Studios film in 2012. That is exceedingly depressing.
No surprise, but GLAAD gives Disney a failing grade for LGBT movie visibility in 2012. The other five studios have little to brag about either. They were graded only as “Adequate.”
It is fantastic that GLAAD is looking more closely at LGBT representation in film, and GLAAD National Spokesperson Wilson Cruz certainly throws down the gauntlet with the movie studios when he says, “Until LGBT characters are depicted in these films in a substantial way with more regularity, there will remain the appearance of LGBT bias on the studios’ part. “
But we worry GLAAD might not have as much influence on movie studios as they seemed to have had over the years with television networks. Foreign box office receipts have grown dramatically relative to domestic gross. According to Moviefone, foreign receipts now account for 70% of a typical Hollywood movie’s box office.
Can major Hollywood studios afford to make big budget films that positively represent the LGBT community when a huge market like Russia makes it a crime to “promote” homosexuality? Sadly, Russia’s anti-gay law and similar laws in other countries might have an impact on what we see on our movie screens here in the U.S.
You can find GLAAD’s full report at http://glaad.org/sri and you’ll find the full text of their press release from this morning below. GLAAD also has an open letter to Hollywood studios urging them to produce more movies with gay characters. You can read it and add your name to here.
GLAAD INTRODUCES ’STUDIO RESPONSIBILITY INDEX,’ REPORT ON LGBT IMAGES IN FILMS RELEASED BY ’BIG SIX’ STUDIOS
14 out of 101 tracked films contained LGBT characters; less than half pass new GLAAD test measuring character impact
Universal Pictures leads studios in 2012 LGBT-inclusive theatrical releases
Los Angeles, CA, August 21, 2013 – GLAAD, the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy organization, today released its first annual Studio Responsibility Index (SRI), a report that maps the quantity, quality and diversity of images of LGBT people in films released by the six major motion picture studios during the 2012 calendar year.
To view the report visit http://glaad.org/sri
GLAAD found that of the 101 releases from the major studios in 2012, 14 of them included characters identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The vast majority of these characters were no more than cameos or minor roles. None of the films tracked contained transgender characters.
As part of the inaugural SRI, GLAAD also introduced the “Vito Russo Test,” a set of criteria analyzing how LGBT characters are represented in a fictional work. Named after GLAAD co-founder and celebrated film historian Vito Russo, and partly inspired by the “Bechdel Test,” these criteria represent a standard GLAAD would like to see a greater number of mainstream Hollywood films reach in the future.
The Vito Russo Test criteria:
- The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT).
- That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another).
- The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline; the character should matter.
Less than half (six) of the 14 major studio films that featured an LGB character managed to pass the Vito Russo Test.
GLAAD also releases the annual Network Responsibility Index (NRI), which analyzes the quantity and quality of LGBT characters on primetime television. Following release of the report, GLAAD meets with networks to advocate for increased LGBT inclusion in their programming. Based on results of SRI, GLAAD plans to meet with film studios in a similar manner.
“As a major influence in American culture and one of our nation’s largest media exports abroad, the lack of LGBT characters in big-budget films needs to change,” said GLAAD’s Wilson Cruz. “Until LGBT characters are depicted in these films in a substantial way with more regularity, there will remain the appearance of LGBT bias on the studios’ part. Whether it’s an action hero or a supporting character, moviegoers should be able to see LGBT people as integral players in the stories told by leading Hollywood studios.”
- Out of the 101 releases from the major studios in 2012, 14 of them contained characters identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Not one of the releases contained a transgender character.
- More than half of those inclusive films (55.6%) featured gay male characters, while another 33% featured lesbian characters and 11% contained bisexual characters. Male characters represented 63% of LGBT images on screen, while female characters made up just 37%
Of the 31 different characters counted (some of whom were onscreen for no more than a few seconds), 26 were white (83.9%), 4 were Black/African American (12.9%) and 1 was Latino (3.2%). There were no Asian-Pacific Islander or recognizably multi-racial LGBT characters counted.
- The most common place to find LGBT characters in the major studios’ 2012 releases was in comedies, where nine of the 24 comedies released (37.5%) were inclusive. By comparison, 34 genre films (action, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.) made up the majority of the 2012 releases, though only three (8.8%) of those included any LGBT characters. Additionally, only one of 21 dramas (4.7%) and one of four documentaries (25%) were inclusive, while there were no LGBT characters in any animated or family-oriented films from the ’Big Six.’
GLAAD recommendations to studios:
- Genre films like comic-book adaptations and action franchises are where major studios seem to commit the majority of their capital and promotional efforts, but they remain very reluctant to include LGBT characters in them. Among the three inclusive genre films counted by GLAAD, one (Cloud Atlas) was initially created outside the studio system and another (The Avengers) included an appearance by an out gay news anchor, Thomas Roberts, that was so brief it was likely missed by many viewers.
- LGBT characters need to not only appear with greater regularity in a range of film genres, but also in more substantial roles. The question of whether a major studio would ever depict a protagonist of an action franchise as anything other than straight remains.
- In the absence of substantial roles for LGBT characters, filmmakers should at the very least include them in the world their film is depicting. When LGBT people or couples are made part of a larger ensemble or even featured in brief, casual manner, at the very least it reminds the audience that LGBT people are a part of the same society and present a more accurate portrait of that society.
- As it does in many other areas of narrative-based entertainment, diversity continues to be an area in which the entertainment industry needs to improve. Not only should there be more LGBT people depicted on screen, but those depictions should not be uniform in race, gender, socio-economic background, religion, or even age.
- Transgender characters are rare, even in independent cinema, much less major Hollywood productions. Not only does the lack of transgender representations reinforce the marginalization of the transgender community, it must also be seen as a missed opportunity by studios and screenwriters to tell fresh stories and better flesh out the worlds they create. GLAAD has advocated for and observed a noticeable increase in media coverage of the transgender community in recent years, demonstrating that the public interest is there.
“Entertainment media consumers are seeing diversity depicted on the small screen and LGBT-inclusive TV shows have consistently been among the most popular shows with audiences and critics,” said Cruz. “By being more inclusive, the Big Six studios can attract an audience that expects to see a diverse cast of characters.”
GLAAD’s 7th annual Network Responsibility Index (NRI) will be issued in the coming weeks. This report will analyze the LGBT inclusive images presented by the five broadcast networks and 10 cable networks during the 2012-2013 broadcast season. The next edition of the Studio Responsibility Index will be released in 2014.
GLAAD amplifies the voice of the LGBT community by empowering real people to share their stories, holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively. By ensuring that the stories of LGBT people are heard through the media, GLAAD promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality. For more information, please visit www.glaad.org.