Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hollywood Still Way Behind LGBT & Racial Representation

Description: Screenshot from GLAAD study that reads: Transgender
representation was merely one character in "Zoolander 2". The
character, played by Bennedict Cumberbatch, was used as the punchline
to a joke.
Two years ago, GLAAD released a video titled "Hollywood Must Do Better" that  was basically a supercut of the most egregious anti-LGBT moments from major Hollywood films from the past few years. It was a companion piece to studies the group releases every year that rate major Hollywood films on a "social responsibility index" that looks at the representation of racial minorities as well as LGBT characters. "Moonlight" won an Oscar this year, so that must mean things are pretty great now, right?

Wrong. As this year's study shows, Hollywood is still way behind when it comes represention people that aren't white, straight, or male. in a study of 125 major film releases from major film studios, only 23 films included LGBT-identifying characters. That's just 18 percent.

Of those 22 films, 19 had a gay male character. Lesbian characters went from 23% in 2015 to 35% in 2016. 3 films had a bi character. Transgender representation in major Hollywood films last here clocked in at exactly one: a character played by a cis male actor as the butt of a transphobic joke.

Racial diversity in onscreen characters declined as well. From the LGBT characters of the last year, 48 of them were white (69%), nine were Black/African American (13%), four were Asian/Pacific Islander (6%) and one character was Latinx. Eight LGBT characters were identified as non-human.

The study also outlines a great thumbnail guide in looking at LGBT characters in films called the Vito Russo Test. A  film passes the Vito Russo test if:

  • The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
  • That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. they are comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight/non-transgender characters from one another).
  • The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect, meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character must matter.
Similar to the Bechdel Test, it's a fairly low bar to clear. Sadly, even the above reasonable standards aren't met by most films. As the study says:

Only 8 of the 22 (36%) inclusive major studio films passed the Vito Russo Test this year, the lowest percent­age in this study’s history, compared to 11 of 20 (55%) inclusive films released in 2014, 7 of 17 (41%) in 2013, and 6 out of 14 (43%) inclusive films released in 2012. This is a significant drop from the previous year when just over half of the inclusive films passed. There is clearly much room for industry improvement. More films need to include substantial LGBT characters that pass this simple test.

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