Amid major disruptions to Hollywood’s release schedule caused by the coronavirus pandemic, only 10 mainstream movies included LGBTQ characters in 2020. According to the annual Studio Responsibility Index Report by media advocacy group, GLAAD, with regards to representation, queer women outnumbered queer men for the first time, but not one movie included a disabled LGBTQ character, no one living with HIV, or even a single transgender or non-binary character.
The report is GLAAD’s ninth annual look at how major Hollywood studios represent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in their films. The most startling statistic in the index is that for the fourth year in a row, there were zero transgender characters and no non-binary characters in the major studio films released, amid a hostile political climate with a historic number of anti-transgender bills and laws across the country, as Forbes.com has reported.
Of the 44 films released by these eight major studios in 2020, GLAAD says it counted 10 movies, or 22.7 per cent, that featured LGBTQ characters. These included Like a Boss, The Broken Hearts Gallery, Fantasy Island, Valley Girl, Freaky, The New Mutants, and Birds of Prey. While this was an increase of 4.1 per cent over 2019, it was a decrease of 12 films from the prior year, in which there were 22 movies with LGBTQ characters out of a total of 118 films. GLAAD says it counted 20 LGBTQ characters among all major studio theatrical releases in 2020, a decrease from 50 characters in the previous report, blamed squarely on the much-reduced sample size of films released in 2020. Of those 20 LGBTQ characters, 11 are women and nine are men, making this the first time in the Studio Responsibility Index’s nine-year history that queer female-identified characters outnumbered the male-identified characters.
There was a significant boost to racial diversity of LGBTQ characters, according to this year’s index. Of the 20 LGBTQ characters counted, eight, or 40 per cent, were characters of colour, an increase of six per cent from 2019. This is still 17 per cent lower than the record high of 57 per cent characters of colour in 2017.
Of the 20 LGBTQ characters, 11 or 55 per cent were white, three or 15 per cent were Asian-Pacific Islander, two or 10 per cent were Black, and the same number, two, were Latinx. Only one character, or five per cent was Indigenous.
While there was a significant increase in the screen time of LGBTQ characters found in major studio releases in 2020, this year’s report found a decrease in bisexual representation, and an increase in lesbian representation. Of the 10 LGBTQ-inclusive films released in 2020, five films or 50 per cent contained a lesbian character, up from last year’s 36 per cent, but that’s still a decrease from the 55 per cent of films with lesbian characters in 2018. Representation of gay men decreased from 68 per cent to 60 per cent this year, while bisexual characters decreased from 14 per cent to 10 per cent: only one film contained a bi+ character.
Of the 20 LGBTQ characters in this report, GLAAD found zero characters living with HIV, and also zero LGBTQ characters with a disability. GLAAD began counting LGBTQ characters with disabilities in its 2020 Studio Responsibility Index, with just one character tallied in 2019.
The head of the LGBTQ media advocacy organisation cited the significant impact of COVID-19 on the industry in its report while calling on filmmakers to find ways to be more inclusive. “This is a critical time of transformation for Hollywood—challenged to redefine business lines and practices during a global pandemic, driven by an increased demand from consumers hungry for new content, and rocked by the rightful reckoning and pressure for these studios to create more meaningful substantive change in representing and investing in marginalized communities,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “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. Hollywood and the business of storytelling must be more nimble, more creative, more open than ever before.”
This year’s report does not include grades for the studios, given the impact of the pandemic, and instead centered its analysis on 2020 films from eight studios, selected based on the highest theatrical grosses from films released in 2019, as reported by the box office database Box Office Mojo: Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, STX Films, United Artists Releasing, Universal Pictures, The Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros.