Movies Are Less Gay-Friendly Than TV

by Rachel Simon

It's long been known that Hollywood isn't the most progressive when it comes to addressing minorities, but recently, TV shows like Orange is the New Black and The Fosters have been making huge strides by featuring complex, three-dimensional LGBT characters. This year alone, The Bridge, Ray Donovan, Under the Dome, and Scandal all have LGBT characters who thankfully avoid stereotype. Yet those thinking that Hollywood's had a change of heart recently might want to take a look at a study recently released by GLAAD, which showed the disturbing discrepancy between the progress being made regarding LGBT characters on TV and the pitiful state of LGBT characters in the movies.

The GLAAD study, called "The Studio Responsibility Index," examined the 2012 releases of the top six studios: 20th Century Fox, Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros., Sony Columbia, and Walt Disney. Of the 101 films released by the "Big Six," as they're often called, GLAAD found that only 14 of them contained lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters, and of these 14, only 4 featured them in major roles. Not a single Big Six movie had a transgender character, a figure the study laments as "20 years behind the curve."

For the movies that did feature LGBT characters, the study used "The Vito Russo Test," named after GLAAD co-founder Vito Russo, to determine the significance of the roles. Modeled after The Bechdel Test, which is used to examine the frequency and importance of women in film, The Russo Test says that, in order to pass, a movie must feature an LGBT character who is not solely defined by their sexual orientation/gender identity and has a substantial role. Only 6 of the 14 Big Six movies with LGBT characters passed the test.

The study examined each Big Six studio in depth, and the results are unfortunate, if not surprising; Universal led the pack, with four films featuring LGBT characters, two of which passed the Russo Test, Sony had four films, only one of which passed, Paramount had three, with one passing, Warner Bros. had two, with both passing, and 20th Century Fox and Disney both failed dramatically: Disney had one (only via a cameo from real-life openly gay anchor Thomas Roberts in The Avengers), but it didn't pass, and Fox had zero films featuring LGBT characters.

The results of the GLAAD study are frightening. The Big Six studios constitute over 75 percent of the movies released theatrically each year, and so it's incredibly disturbing to realize just how far from inclusive the film industry is in 2013. Progress is being made — the study highlighted the successes of the LGBT-friendly Pitch Perfect and Cloud Atlas, for instance — but overall, Hollywood still has a long way to go before LGBT characters are given the prominence and respect they deserve in the movies.

The study did reveal one silver lining, though: The Big Six may be failing, but the indies are more inclusive than ever. GLADD studied the releases of independent studios such as Focus Features and The Weinstein Company, and concluded that in 2013, these companies released an impressive amount of movies with LGBT characters. Between Fox Searchlight's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Weinstein Company's Bully, Sundance's How to Survive a Plague, and Lionsgate's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the indies proved that all hope is not lost when it comes to the portrayal of LGBT characters onscreen.

Image: MGM/Columbia