For the third year in a row, there were zero trans characters in Hollywood studio films. Racial queer diversity also plummeted.

By Nick Romano
July 16, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
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David Appleby/Paramount Pictures; Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Pictures; Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros.

It's that time of year again when GLAAD, the world's largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, releases its annual report card for Hollywood which analyzes queer representation in the previous year's studio releases. It shouldn't come as a surprise that there are still major problem areas, despite a major milestone.

According to GLAAD, which looked into all the movies released through the eight major studios, 2019 saw a record high in overall LGBTQ visibility. Out of 118 movies that dropped during the calendar year, 22 included characters that identified as a member of the community. The quality of that representation, however, is questionable.

GLAAD's Studio Responsibility Index findings operate with the Vito Russo Test, which looks to see if LGBTQ characters are solely defined in entertainment by their sexual orientation or gender identity, and whether they are essential to the plot and not just slipped in for tokenism. Of those 22 films mentioned, only 16 of them actually passed the Vito Russo Test.

Furthermore, racial diversity among the represented characters plummeted in 2019 compared to previous years. In 2018, 42 percent of LGBTQ characters in Hollywood movies were people of color. Last year, that percentage dropped to 34. And, for the third year in a row, there were zero trans characters in a Hollywood studio release.

Some wins mentioned in the report include Taron Egerton's Golden Globe-winning performance as Elton John in Rocketman, Antonio Banderas' leading role in Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory, Kaitlyn Dever's star-making performance as Amy in Booksmart, and Bill Hader as Richie in It: Chapter Two — though GLAAD took issue with the graphic opening scene of the Andy Muschietti-helmed feature.

Some failures include Avengers: Endgame, which failed the Vito Russo Test. Co-director Joe Russo appeared as a man talking about going on a date with another man during a therapy session led by Captain America (Chris Evans). "While the scene itself with no outside context is a nice moment of inclusion, it is ultimately another blink-and-you-might-miss-it moment, inconsequential to the plot, with the character on screen for less than one minute," the GLAAD report reads. The same determination goes for the two women kissing in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, another Disney release. Despite good intentions from the filmmaker, GLAAD states "this kind of moment feels behind the times when compared to the strides that TV and indie film have made."

GLAAD also deemed movies like Hustlers and John Wick: Chapter 3 — which featured trans and non-binary actors, respectively — as failures in the eyes of the Vito Russo Test. On Hustlers, the report notes how Trace Lysette plays "one of several fringe ensemble members, and the character does not have a developed backstory." GLAAD also did not count Lysette's character in its tally of LGBTQ characters since she was not identified as trans in the film. In John Wick, Asia Kate Dillon played The Adjudicator, but "nothing in the film itself indicates that The Adjudicator is non-binary to the audience."

"Film has the power to educate, enlighten, and entertain audiences around the world and, in today's divisive political and cultural climate, we must prioritize telling LGBTQ stories and the stories of all marginalized people,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement.​ “Despite seeing a record high percentage of LGBTQ-inclusive films this year, the industry still has a long way to go in terms of fairly and accurately representing the LGBTQ community."

GLAAD points to a number of opportunities for films in 2020 to better LGBTQ representation, and yet Hollywood's landscape this year has been shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Among other notable titles, The New Mutants, the long-delayed X-Men spin-off, is currently scheduled for theaters in August with a same-sex love story at the heart of it; Marvel Studios' The Eternals, with a prominent gay character, was bumped from 2020 to 2021; and Happiest Season, from director Clea DuVall, plans to bring a queer rom-com to screens in November. Recently, Netflix released Disclosure, a documentary on trans representation in media that explains the significance of visibility. GLAAD's Nick Adams and Alex Schmider both worked on the film.

"If film studios want to stay relevant to today's audiences and compete in an industry that is emphasizing diversity and inclusion," Ellis says, "then they must urgently reverse course on the diminishing representation of LGBTQ women and people of color, as well as the complete absence of trans characters."

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