2017 Was a Bad Year for Lesbian Visibility in Movies

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As a writer, sometimes you write things that are very, very quickly shown to be false. Case in point: in May, I offered the argument that although we have recently been given “gay but only off-screen characters” and “blink and you missed it” gay moments in movies, perhaps—taking a VERY charitable view—we could see the silver lining as being that Hollywood is dipping its toe into the water for greater representation. Surely Hollywood had to be doing something right…right? But the same day the article posted, GLAAD released its 2018 Studio Responsibility Index and the only possible way to respond to that is some kind of angry gif like this one:

via GIPHY

Superficially, Hollywood seemed to have done better in 2017. After all, we had “Atomic Blonde,” “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” “Battle of the Sexes,” and “A Fantastic Woman” on the big screen, not to mention a significant uptick in representation on TV. But…apparently that’s basically all we had. When it comes to representation in movies from Hollywood’s seven biggest film studios using their official studio banners and imprints, the results of the 2018 SRI should make you not only mad, but completely furious at Hollywood’s disingenuous lip service to LGBT visibility:

  • There were only 60% as many LGBT-inclusive movies distributed in 2017 (14) compared to 2016 (23), a loss of nine movies. 2017 had the lowest percent of LGBT-inclusive films of all mainstream releases since GLAAD started tracking numbers five years ago (14 of 109, or 12.8%).
  • Of the 14 movies that had LGB characters, only nine movies (64%) passed the Vito Russo Test. While this is the highest pass rate since 2012, in the last five years the number of films that have passed has only ranged from six to 11.
  • There were 28 total LGB characters in 2017.  For comparison, in 2016, there were 70 LGBT characters (although 14 came from one musical number in one movie alone, inflating the number) and 45 in 2015, a clear decrease in the absolute number of characters. Women were 29% of the LGB characters in 2017, or a total of eight characters.
  • Of the 14 films, half included less than five minutes of screen time for their LGB characters, with the majority totaling fewer than three minutes. Which means that LGB characters had more than five minutes of screen time in only seven films.

What this report boils down to is that out of 109 major studio films released in 2017, which cumulatively included thousands of characters, there were only eight lesbian or bisexual female characters. Period. (Going through the movie synopses in the SRI, I only count five named lesbian or bisexual characters: Adele Wolff from “XXX: The Return of Xander Cage” (Paramount Pictures); Frankie and Blair from “Rough Night” (Sony Pictures); and Cynthia Rose from “Pitch Perfect 3” and Georgina from “Get Out’” (Universal Pictures). I don’t know who the missing three are.

GLAAD should really include a matrix in the appendix showing its characters and their coding at the end of its report.) And let’s be honest: Georgina doesn’t count as an LGBT character. She’s Rose’s grandmother Marianne occupying the body of someone who maybe got catfished by Rose or maybe was Rose’s heterosexual bestie, for all the viewers know. Of the five characters I just identified, only two got a kiss: Frankie and Blair, meaning that Hollywood’s seven biggest film studios, using their official studio banners and imprints, avoided all female same-sex kisses but for 0.92% of its movies. One in 109.

GLAAD also examined the releases of four smaller, affiliated studios—Focus Features, Fox Searchlight, Roadside Attractions, and Sony Pictures Classics—to compare content released by the mainstream studios and their perceived “art house” divisions. Of the 40 films released under those studio imprints, 11 were LGBTQ-inclusive (28%, or more than double their parent studios). This is up from 17% (seven of 41) in 2016 and 22% (10 of 46) in 2015, and substantiates the hypothesis, at least for 2017, that studios are more comfortable showing LGBT content in “art house” films rather than under the official studio banner.

The movies with lesbian and bisexual characters were “Atomic Blonde” (Focus Features), “Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight), and “Norman: The Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” and “Novitiate” (Sony Pictures Classic”). GLAAD further noted a few other releases from non-affiliated studios: “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” (Annapurna Pictures), “Thelma” (The Orchard), “Three Generations” (The Weinstein Company), “Princess Cyd” (Wolfe Releasing), and “Lovesong” and “A Woman, A Part” (Strand Releasing).

 

It is infuriating that as Hollywood gets better about representation on TV, it continues to exhibit absolutely marginal representation in its major studio films. GLAAD highlighted two other points:

  • In 2017, 57% of LGBTQ characters were people of color (POC), compared to 20% in 2016 and 25.5% in 2015. While it’s fantastic that Hollywood is showing more LGBT POC, particularly given that minorities are approximately 39% of the US population, POC are technically overrepresented among LGBT characters by 50%. This is a bad thing because it suggests that Hollywood is trying to superload its minority quotient in a “two birds, one stone” approach: have one Latinx, disabled, lesbian character, for example, rather than having three unique minority characters.
  • GLAAD noted that despite studios’ claims that they can’t show LGBT content because it will hurt foreign box offices, “XXX: The Return of Xander Cage” performed well internationally, with more than half of its revenue coming from China alone. China, it should be noted, is one of the countries specifically identified by pundits as being an LGBT content no-go area. So basically, Hollywood is dramatically overstating the impact on foreign sales of having LGBT characters. If China is good with Ruby Rose, it can handle a bisexual Admiral Holdo in “Star Wars.”

This year’s SRI is discouraging, to say the least. Despite chatter in the news about needing more diversity on screen, Hollywood is relegating its diversity to “art house” studios and consciously cutting gay and lesbian content (Valkyrie in “Thor: Ragnarok,” for example) for its major studio releases. It is also over-inflating the poisonous effect of LGBT characters on its international box office in order to justify its continued decision to avoid representation.

GLAAD’s response to its own findings was to call on the seven major studios to up their LGBTQ content to 20% of their annual releases by 2021 and 50% by 2024. To reach 20% is only an increase of about 8 movies from the current number, or one more per studio. As GLAAD notes, in its latest “Accelerating Acceptance” report, 20% of Americans age 18-34 identify as LGBTQ. Eight lesbian or bisexual characters to represent that massive US demographic is unacceptable. It’s 20gayteen. Come on, Hollywood. Step it up.

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