The LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD released a report Thursday that found that nearly a quarter of major studio films in 2020 included LGBTQ characters, but no transgender or nonbinary characters were included in those wide-release films.
According to GLAAD’s “Studio Responsibility Index,” 10 of the 44 major studio films in 2020 had LGBTQ characters — including “Like a Boss,” “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” “Fantasy Island,” “Valley Girl,” “Freaky,” “The New Mutants” and “Birds of Prey” — representing a 4.1% increase to 22.7%.
Three years ago, GLAAD challenged the film industry to include LGBTQ characters in 20% of major studio releases by the end of 2021 and 50% by the end of 2024.
Despite surpassing the challenge and reaching 22.7% in 2020, LGBTQ characters were in less movies than they were in 2019, which GLAAD attributed to a limit in the number of movies released due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a critical time of transformation for Hollywood — challenged to redefine business lines and practices during a global pandemic, driven by an increased demand from consumers hungry for new content and rocked by the rightful reckoning and pressure for these studios to create more meaningful substantive change in representing and investing in marginalized communities,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.
“This transformation represents a great opportunity to swiftly accelerate acceptance of LGBTQ stories, break new ground and invest in queer and trans talent and stories that audiences are eager to watch. Hollywood and the business of storytelling must be more nimble, more creative, more open than ever before.”
The racial diversity of LGBTQ characters also increased, with 40% of them being people of color, an increase of 6% from 2019. Of the 20 LGBTQ characters in 2020, 11 were white, three were Asian-Pacific Islander, two were Black, two were Latino/a and one was Indigenous. The most diversity for LGBTQ characters on screen occurred in 2017, when 57% were people of color.
Screen time for LGBTQ characters also rose, with half of them being on screen for 10 minutes. GLAAD praised “The New Mutants,” “Freaky,” “Fantasy Island” and “The Broken Hearts Gallery” for using LGBTQ characters’ expanded screentime to tell nuanced queer stories, but it critized “The Gentleman” and “Buddy Games” for giving more than 10 minutes each to LGBTQ characters but using it to further stereotypes.
While LGBTQ representation in major studio movies increased, GLAAD reported that for the fourth consecutive year, no transgender or nonbinary characters were represented in major studio films. Characters with HIV and LGBTQ characters with a disability were also not represented in any of the films.
GLAAD also reported a decrease in bisexual representation. Of the 10 LGBTQ-inclusive films released in 2020, 10% of them had a bisexual character, down from 14% last year.
“We know that LGBTQ audiences are a powerful and invested audience — and a quickly growing one — as we see more and more people empowered to live their authentic lives. The power, passion and growth of LGBTQ audiences proves that if studios wish to be successful in retaining and expanding fans, they must tell meaningful queer and trans stories,” said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis.
“As the industry looks towards a changing future, it is clear that LGBTQ characters need to be part of stories across all platforms of distribution, and prioritizing offering fan engagement experiences provides even greater opportunity for representation and inclusion. Sincerely engaging LGBTQ audiences can only benefit the studio’s bottom lines.”
The Studio Responsibility Index maps the quantity, quality and diversity of LGBTQ characters in films released by Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, STX Films, United Artists Releasing, Universal Pictures, The Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros.
The films are also assessed based on GLAAD’s Vito Russo Test, which uses the following criteria:
— the film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer;
— that character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity, and instead is composed of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight or non-transgender characters from one another;
— the LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect, and they are not there to provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity or set up a punchline.
In 2020, 90% of the LGBTQ-inclusive films passed the Vito Russo Test, with only “Buddy Games” failing.
In 2019, 73% passed the Vito Russo Test; in 2018, 65%; in 2017, 64%; in 2016, 39%; in 2015, 36%; in 2014 55%; in 2013, 41%; and in 2012, 43%.