Culture

Activists find dearth of LGBT roles in movies

Studio responsibility index praises ‘ParaNorman,’ scolds others

GLAAD’s 2013 studio responsibility index praised Focus Features’ “ParaNorman” for its inclusion of a major gay character, a hunky football hero.
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 said in a new report, the 2013 studio responsibility index.

In its first study of LGBT roles in major studio releases, the Gay and 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 film 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 spokesman. 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, features a main villain, played by Javier Bardem, who is apparently bisexual.

"It was great to see an LGBT character in such a significant role," said Matt Kane, the 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 said, and such films have a striking lack of LGBT characters. In "The Avengers," it noted, 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 before the report's release, the studios had no immediate comment.

‘It was great to see an LGBT character in such a significant role. But, unfortunately, the character was also devious, psychotic and untrustworthy. It fell into that trap.’

Matt Kane

associate director, entertainment media, GLAAD

‘ParaNorman’

As part of its index, GLAAD developed criteria to measure the quality of LGBT roles. They included whether a character was identifiably LGBT, whether a character was solely or predominantly defined by his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and whether a character was tied to the plot in such a way that his or her 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 Norman, a misunderstood boy who can communicate with ghosts.

In the film, which came from Laika, a studio based in Portland, Oregon, Norman's cheerleader sister asks hunky football hero Mitch to go out to a movie. 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, 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.

He said he was disappointed by 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 Media Award.

As a filmmaker, Butler said, he was not optimistic that there would be an inevitable wave of more LGBT characters in movies as 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 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," he said. "Now we have the numbers to take to them."

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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