Earlier this year, Moonlight made history when it became the first LGBTQ-themed movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Barry Jenkins’ stunning underdog of a film was a game-changer and, for many, a turning point for representation when it came to race and sexual orientation. Unfortunately, according to GLAAD’s fifth annual Studio Responsibility Index, which was released today, Moonlight was an exception in what continues to be an industry that scandalously underrepresents LGBTQ people.
The Studio Responsibility Index (SRI) measures the quality and quantity of LGBTQ representation in films from seven major studios (20th Century Fox, Lionsgate Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Brothers) and four of their subsidiaries. (Moonlight, distributed by indie studio A24, would not have been considered.) Of the 125 films released in 2016, the study found that only 18.4% (23 films) featured any LGBTQ characters at all.
While that seems low, it gets worse. 43% of those 23 films gave their LGBTQ characters less than one minute of screen time, and only 9 of the 125 films passed what’s known as the Vito Russo Test. In order to pass the Vito Russo Test (inspired by the Bechdel Test), films must meet three criteria: 1) the film must feature an identifiably LGBTQ character, 2) the character cannot be defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 3) their character must matter, i.e. “they are not there to simply provide, colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline.”
What’s more, the films that did include LGTBQ characters were heavily skewed towards men. Of the movies deemed inclusive, 83% featured gay male characters. Just 35% featured lesbians, and 13% featured bisexual characters. The only transgender character and non-binary character in any major motion film last year was Benedict Cumberbatch’s cringeworthy All from Zoolander 2, which GLAAD describes as “a completely cartoonish portrayal of a non-binary person.”
And when it comes to LGBTQ characters of color, Hollywood continues to fail. Only 20% of the LGBTQ characters featured were people of color. Nine were black, one was Latinx, and four were Asian/Pacific Islander.
While a few major films in 2017 have featured LGBTQ characters like Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers, it’s clear that Hollywood definitely has its work cut out for it.