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In a first, major studio films include more queer women than men, report finds

GLAAD’s annual Studio Responsibility Index also found studio films falling far behind TV in transgender representation.
Birds of Prey World Premiere - London
From left: Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie and Ella Jay Brasco attending the world premiere of Birds of Prey in London on January 29, 2020.Matt Crossick / PA via Getty Images file

Amid major disruptions to Hollywood’s release schedule caused by the coronavirus pandemic, only 10 mainstream movies included LGBTQ characters in 2020, but in a first, queer women outnumbered queer men for the first time, according to a new report from the media advocacy group GLAAD.

With just 44 films released by the eight largest film studios, according to the organization’s Studio Responsibility Index, that means roughly 23 percent of all films contained LGBTQ characters, including “Like a Boss,” “The Valley Girl,” “The New Mutants” and “Birds of Prey.”

That’s an increase of 4.2 percent from 2019’s 18.6 percent, but it represents fewer actual movies (10 out of 44 compared to 22 out of 118 films), due to so many films halting production and distribution.

Released Thursday, the ninth annual index charts the quantity, quality and diversity of LGBTQ representation in films released by Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, STX Films, United Artists Releasing, Universal Pictures, The Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. (Universal Pictures is owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.)

Among all major studio releases in 2020, GLAAD counted 20 LGBTQ characters — a decrease from 50 in the 2019 report, once again largely due to the reduced number of films released. 

Of those 20, 11 were female-identified and nine were male, marking the first time queer women have outnumbered men on the big screen since the report was launched in 2012. 

The racial diversity of LGBTQ characters also saw an increase: Of the 20 LGBTQ characters seen in 2020 releases, eight of them or 40 percent were characters of color — including Barrett (Billy Porter) in “Like a Boss,” Nadine (Phillipa Soo) in “The Broken Hearts Gallery” and Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) in “Birds of Prey.”

One character, Officer Specter in Disney’s animated “Onward” (voiced by Lena Waithe) is a nonhumanoid purple cyclops. But her brief mention of a girlfriend was enough for the film to be banned in several Middle Eastern countries.

The amount of screen time devoted to LGBTQ characters also increased notably from 2019: Of the films cited, 80 percent included queer characters with more than 10 minutes on screen. In the past two reports, fewer than half of all LGBTQ characters clocked more than three minutes in front of the camera. 

“While this record-high percentage is exciting, there must be consistent growth as the number of films theatrically released by the studios begins to rise again,” the report stated.

Only one character — Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) of “Birds of Prey” — was presented as bi. The report criticized “Wonder Woman 1984,” another DC Comics adaptation, for omitting the Amazon superheroine’s bisexuality, addressed in the comic books. 

And, for the fourth year in a row, there were no transgender or nonbinary characters in any major theatrical release. 

“This remains one of the more glaring ways mainstream studios continue to lag behind other forms of entertainment media,” the report stated. On Tuesday, the transgender actor Mj Rodriguez received an Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for her role in “Pose” on FX.

Given the massive disturbance in the normal theatrical releasing schedule, GLAAD refrained from issuing its normal grades to the studios, but renewed calls "for film distributors to urgently prioritize active development and theatrical release of stories featuring transgender characters and LGBTQ characters living with HIV.”

This year’s report found none of the LGBTQ characters in the 10 mainstream films released had a disability or were living with HIV, which disproportionately affects the gay and transgender communities. 

By and large, 2020 films centered on the LGBTQ experience either came from indie releases such as “Ammonite” (Neon) and “Supernova” (StudioCanal) or were those released by streaming services, such as “Uncle Frank” (Amazon) and “The Prom” (Netflix).  

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis acknowledged the pandemic had prompted a transformational period in Hollywood.

“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,” she said in a statement. “Hollywood and the business of storytelling must be more nimble, more creative, more open than ever before.”

The Studio Responsibility Index did grade releases based on GLAAD’s Vito Russo Test, a set of criteria named after co-founder Vito Russo that requires films to contain an identifiable LGBTQ character crucial to the plot but is not “solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.” 

The index found that 9 out of 10 LGBTQ-inclusive films released last year passed the test, the highest percentage in the report’s history. 

The lone failure, the report stated, was Paramount Pictures’ “Buddy Games,” Josh Duhamel’s gross-out comedy about a group of men who gather annually to compete in extreme challenges. 

One buddy, Zane (James Roday Rodriguez), ”shows a tattoo he has of the actor Zac Efron" and makes comments "that show in a very stereotypical way that he is gay,” according to GLAAD’s description. 

“While it is nice that Zane being gay is accepted by his friends, the character of Zane himself is built on nothing except lazy jokes about his sexual orientation.”

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