The representation of LGBT characters in both film and television is often depressingly one-dimensional, with LGBT people often serving exclusively as a convenient punchline for a joke or a lackluster and misguided attempt to show the studio is "inclusive." Consequently, LGBT characters are rarely given the chance to blossom into a fully formed, complex personality, and can help to perpetuate damaging stereotypes. That is, if they are present at all — which isn't often.
Each year GLAAD (formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) conducts a report to grade studios on their representation of LGBT characters and below is a roundup of their findings, including what totally hit the mark, certificates for decent effort, and those attempts to represent LGBT people that we would rather never speak of again.
LGBT Characters As A Whole
Of all the major releases in 2015, only 17.5 percent featured an LGBT character at all. This means there was absolutely no positive change from 2014.
Sexuality And Gender
Gay men were most likely to get on-screen representation, with transgender characters being the least likely to make an appearance.
How Many LGBT Characters?
In one of the more refreshing statistics, GLAAD counted 47 LGBT characters among all mainstream releases in 2015. This might not seem like much, but it is a big jump from 28 last year. If you look at the stats by gender, there were 36 male LGBT characters and 11 female.
Ethnicity And LGBT Characters
The racial diversity of LGBT characters drastically decreased in 2015, with 25.5 percent of LGBT characters being people of color compared to 32.1 percent the year before.
How Was The Data Measured?
Along with simply counting the amount of LGBT characters appearing in movies, GLAAD also wanted to quantify its qualities as meaningful additions to the movie as opposed to simply being "set decoration."
In order to do this it devised the Vito Russo Test, which is designed to work like The Bechdel Test does for female characters by examining how valuable their input to the plot is as characters. It reads as follows:
1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender.
2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. they are comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight/non-transgender characters from one another).
3. 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 must matter.
Although these guidelines might seem like simple targets for studios to meet, only eight out of the 22 movies that actually included LGBT characters managed to pass the Vito Russo Test. This was huge drop from the previous year when just over half of the inclusive films passed.
Lionsgate And Its Sister Studio Roadside Attractions
You Might Know Them For: The Hunger Games franchise, Precious, John Wick, Juno, The Cove.
How Many Movies Included LGBT Characters: Thirty-three percent of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions movies featured LGBT characters.
How Many Movies Passed The Vito Russo Test: Three of the movies on Lionsgate's slate aced the test.
Standout LGBT Movies: Freeheld featuring Ellen Page and Julianne Moore, a movie that is actually about the fight for gay rights in America. It was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award, although it reached a small audience as it was only released in 148 theaters.
Other notable movies on Lionsgate's 2015 slate include American Ultra — which positioned a gay CIA agent as the film’s moral center — an incredibly rare move where generally LGBT characters in positions of power (especially in the spy genre) are depicted as treacherous.
Sony Columbia And Sony Pictures Classic
You Might Know Them For: Charlie's Angels, A Knight's Tale, Panic Room, Spider-Man (co-produced with Marvel Enterprises), Men in Black, 22 Jump Street, Whiplash.
How Many Movies Included LGBT Characters: Nineteen percent of Sony Columbia and Sony Pictures Classic's 2015 slate included LGBT characters.
How Many Movies Passed The Vito Russo Test: Sadly, despite the relatively high percent of movies containing LGBT characters, only one was a fully fleshed character.
Standout LGBT Movies: Ricki and the Flash starring Meryl Streep was pegged as one of Sony Columbia's most positive offerings in 2015, although GLAAD did point out that the way the movie promoted bisexuality as a coverup for being gay instead of as legitimate sexuality on its own could be damaging.
Universal Pictures And Focus Features
You Might Know Them For: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Furious 7, Minions, The Grinch, Bruce Almighty, Jaws, The Bourne Ultimatum, Gladiator.
How Many Movies Included LGBT Characters: Nineteen percent.
How Many Movies Passed The Vito Russo Test: Two of Universal Pictures' offerings passed the test for presenting more developed and significant LGBT characters.
Standout LGBT Movies: Surprisingly, Tom Hardy's Legend was one of the standout movies from Universal's slate, due to the fact that Ronnie Kray's sexuality was explored in a sensitive way that was in no way linked to the fact he suffered from schizophrenia (many movies have a history of linking LGBT sexuality to mental illness in damaging ways), and using homophobic slurs in an appropriate manner to help guide the audience into disliking a particular group.
Focus Features also produced The Danish Girl, which told the story of Lili Elbe, one of the first people to seek gender reassignment surgery. Although many people were disappointed that this role was not portrayed by a transgender person (although it is worth remembering that much of the film occurs when Lili is still identifying as male), GLAAD also pointed out the positive feature that it was almost certainly exposing a new audience to trans issues. Most of the people who went to see The Danish Girl on its opening weekend were over 40 and almost all TV and movies that feature trans issues (such as Orange is the New Black) are aimed at younger audiences.
Middle Of The Road
20th Century Fox And Fox Searchlight
You Might Know Them For: The first two Star Wars trilogies, Ice Age, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Maze Runner, X-Men, Die Hard, Home Alone, Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, Night at the Museum, Power Rangers.
How Many Movies Included LGBT Characters: Twelve percent.
How Many Movies Passed The Vito Russo Test: Two of Fox's offerings conquered the Vito Russo Test.
Standout LGBT Movies: None of Fox's 2015 crop stood out enough to provide anything of note for the LGBT community, but it should be pointed out that they released The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975, which contain some of the earliest significant transgender characters. Although the depictions are sensationalized and theatrical, it was still an important cinematic step and was in keeping with the general tone of the movie.
You Might Know It For: Harry Potter, The Dark Knight, American Sniper, The Hobbit, Inception, Gravity.
How Many Movies Included LGBT Characters: Twenty percent, although Warner Bros. is being classed as middle of the road because a lot the characters were gay panic stereotypes.
How Many Movies Passed The Vito Russo Test: One of Warner Bros.' slate passed the test.
Standout LGBT Movies: None for 2015, although GLAAD did praise the decision to include a lesbian couple and their children in the Batkid Begins documentary, as gay families are often so underrepresented in the media.
You Might Know It For: Titanic, Transformers, Forrest Gump, Iron Man, Star Trek, Beverly Hills Cop, Interstellar.
How Many Movies Included LGBT Characters: Zilch. There were no LGBT characters in Paramount's entire 2015 slate.
How Many Movies Passed The Vito Russo Test: Yep, you guessed it, none.
Standout LGBT Movies: There were no standouts to speak of this year, but GLAAD did point out that Paramount is responsible for In & Out, Mister Ripley and The Hours, which are three of the 10 highest-grossing LGBT-orientated movies in America.
You Might Know It For: Frozen, Toy Story, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, Inside Out, Zootopia, The Incredibles, Tangled.
How Many Movies Included LGBT Characters: A big fat zero.
How Many Movies Passed The Vito Russo Test: An even fatter zero.
Standout LGBT Movies: None. GLAAD advises Disney to look at award-winning animations that feature LGBT characters such as the Oscar-nominated ParaNorman and Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe for inspiration about how LGBT people can fit into all-ages programming. GLAAD also urged Disney to use the Star Wars franchise as a vessel to help it improve its image within the LGBT community and pointed in the direction of gay and lesbian characters in Star Wars novels.
Do you think movie studios need to do more to improve the representation of LGBT people?