GLAAD’s 2021 box office report card has been handed out and the results are…mixed.
The media advocacy organization released its 10th Studio Responsibility Index, an annual study that tracks “the quantity, quality and diversity” of LGBTQ characters in films released in a calendar year by seven distributors, per data from Box Office Mojo. The studios: Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, United Artists Releasing, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros.
Of 77 films theatrically released by those studios last year, 16, or 20.8 percent, contained LGBTQ characters. Those films included Our Ladies, Licorice Pizza, Dear Evan Hansen, Eternals, West Side Story and In the Heights. That represented an increase of six films but follows 2020, which saw theatrical releases plummet due to the pandemic.
Those films featured a total of 28 LGBTQ characters, an increase of eight characters from 2020. Of those 28 characters, 19 are men and nine are women. For the first time in five years, GLAAD counted a transgender character in a major studio theatrical release: Anybodys from Disney’s West Side Story, a transgender man. There were no trans women or nonbinary characters in 2021, the report stated.
Racial diversity of LGBTQ characters dropped slightly year over year to 39 percent, marking a decrease of one percent. Of the 28 LGBTQ characters, 17 were white, five were Black, two Latinx, two Asian/Pacific Islander, one multiracial and one was Middle Eastern. This showing falls short of 2017’s record high of 57 percent LGBTQ characters of color.
This report found a decrease in lesbian representation. Of the 16 LGBTQ-inclusive films, 11, or 69 percent, featured gay male characters, up from 60 percent last year. Four, or 25 percent, included lesbian characters, a marked decrease from 2020’s 50 percent, while two included a bisexual character, and one included a transgender character.
Also on the decline is screen time. Seven of the 28 LGBTQ characters logged more than 10 minutes on screen with the majority of those, 17 of 28, clocking under five minutes. Six snagged less than one minute.
Of note: GLAAD also assigned scores like excellent, good, insufficient, poor and failing to the studios based on an investigation of the “quantity, quality and diversity” of LGBTQ characters as well as actions from the studios or parent companies that either supported or harmed the community. None received top grades of excellent or good while Lionsgate and Paramount both were given failing grades for not featuring any LGBTQ characters in their films.
“After a decade of this report, we’ve seen exponential growth in LGBTQ representation in film driven by our study. Yet there still remains so much work to be done in Hollywood,” said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s director of entertainment research and analysis. “There are so many parts of our community — bisexual+ people, those living with HIV, LGBTQ characters with disabilities and transgender people, to name a few — that have yet to see themselves fully reflected on the big screen. As we look to the next 10 years, these stories must become a priority if studios want younger and more diverse generations to continue to support and engage with their storytelling.”
The Studio Responsibility Index also evaluates LGBTQ stories in films based on GLAAD’s Vito Russo Test, named for the film historian and GLAAD co-founder. For a film to pass, it must contain a character who identifies as LGBTQ, that character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity, the character must be tied to the plot in such a way that the character’s removal would have a significant effect, and that person’s story must not be outwardly offensive.
Of 2021’s 16 LGBTQ-inclusive films, GLAAD reports that nine passed the Vito Russo test, a decrease from the previous year’s 90 percent. The full report can be found here.