Culture

Activists find dearth of LGBT roles in movies

Studio Responsibility Index praises 'Skyfall' and 'ParaNorman,' scolds others

A view at the pre-party for the 2012 premiere of Focus Features' "ParaNorman," which was praised by GLAAD's 2013 Studio Responsibility Index.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

We may be seeing more prominent gay and lesbian characters on television, but the movie industry lags well behind the small screen, an advocacy group finds in a new report, the 2013 Studio Responsibility Index.

In its first study of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) roles in major studio releases, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) found that compared with TV, where there has been a significant shift over the past decade, "major (movie) studios appear reluctant to include LGBT characters in significant roles or franchises."

In its report, released Wednesday, GLAAD found that of the 101 releases from Hollywood's six major studios in 2012, just 14 -- such as "Skyfall" and "ParaNorman" -- included characters identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Most were no more than cameos or minor roles, it said -- and none of the films tracked had transgender characters.

"Until LGBT characters appear more regularly in these studio films, there will be the appearance of bias," said Wilson Cruz, GLAAD's national spokesperson. He added that his organization will be meeting with studio executives to discuss the findings.

'Skyfall'

There were some bright spots in 2012, and some questionable choices, the group said. For example, "Skyfall," a hugely successful installment of the James Bond franchise, featured a main villain, played by Javier Bardem, who was apparently bisexual.

"It was great to see an LGBT character in such a significant role," said Matt Kane, associate director of entertainment media at GLAAD. "But, unfortunately, the character was also devious, psychotic and untrustworthy -- it fell into that trap."

Genre films like comic book adaptations consume much of the studios' capital and promotional efforts, the report says, and such films have a striking lack of LGBT characters. In "The Avengers," it notes, there is a gay news anchor, but his appearance is "so brief it was likely missed by many viewers."

The report rates each of the six studios according to the number of LGBT-inclusive films they released. Faring worst were 20th Century Fox and Disney, which each received "failing" grades; the other four -- Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. -- were designated "adequate."

Asked for responses Tuesday afternoon in advance of the report's release, the studios had no immediate comment.

"It was great to see an LGBT character in such a significant role," said Matt Kane, associate director of entertainment media at GLAAD. "But, unfortunately, the character was also devious, psychotic and untrustworthy -- it fell into that trap."

'ParaNorman'

As part of its index, the group developed criteria to measure the quality of LGBT roles. They included whether a character was identifiably LGBT; whether or not the character was solely or predominantly defined by his or her sexual orientation or gender identity; and whether it was tied into the plot in such a way that its removal would have a significant effect.

One of the best examples of an LGBT-inclusive film in 2012, according to GLAAD, was, interestingly, an animated family movie: "ParaNorman," about a misunderstood boy who can communicate with the ghosts of dead people.

In the film, which came from the Portland, Ore.-based studio Laika, Norman's cheerleader sister asks the hunky football hero Mitch for a movie date. He casually makes a reference to his boyfriend.

The film's writer and co-director, Chris Butler, said the filmmakers, while determined to include the scene, had worried that it would cost them a PG rating and bump the film's classification up to PG-13. In the end, they got their PG rating.

Butler said he was disappointed with some negative commentary about the scene.

"I was surprised at all the fuss," he said. "But on the flip side was the positive reaction." The movie was the first animated film nominated for a GLAAD award.

As a filmmaker, Butler said he was not optimistic that there would be an inevitable wave of more LGBT characters in movies as time goes on and society changes, as has occurred on TV.

"It's a mistake to assume it's inevitable," he said. "The only way to make change is to do something about it. It takes hard work.

"We are moving in the right direction. But not nearly quick enough. It's not enough."

Kane, at GLAAD, said the new report would help reinforce its longtime claims that Hollywood studios need to do more.

"Over the years, we have met with studios, and it's always a point we make," Kane said. "Now we have the numbers to take to them."

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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