In 2013, The Williams Institute at UCLA published a study surveying 5,692 union members and revealed that there is still discrimination against LGBT actors from casting directors, directors, and producers in Hollywood. A year later, a similar study from the think tank revealed the same harsh conditions. It’s now 2016 and even though strides still need to be made in receiving equal treatment, one would think that the LGBT community would at least get a healthy amount of representation on the big screen. As it turns out, they aren’t.
According to GLAAD’s fourth annual studio report card, which grades Hollywood studios on how well they included LGBT characters in their films, not one studio received a marking of “Good.” Out of the 126 films released in 2015, only 22 (which amounts to 17.5%) included LGBT characters, the same percentage recorded in 2014. Lionsgate, Sony, Universal, and Fox received “Adequate” ratings, but Warner Bros., Paramount, and Disney all earned “Failing.”
The report stated regarding The Mouse House, which it calls perhaps “the most recognizable”:
For the first time since beginning this report, GLAAD did not find any LGBT-inclusive content among Disney’s yearly slate of films. As recent successful animated films and TV programs have shown (Oscar-nominated ParaNorman, Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe), LGBT people appearing in “all-ages” programming – animated or not – is not the impossible notion it once was. LGBT people are already part of families and communities around the world, and film of all genres should reflect that.
Harvey Milk by way of Sean Penn’s performance in MILK said, “They’ll vote for us 2 to 1 if they know one of us,” which in essence is why the lack of representation is so egregious. While the LGBT in America seemingly have marriage equality, there are still instances of government officials refusing to administer marriage licenses. Worse still, we are now in the age of discriminatory religious freedom and bathroom bills. Many Hollywood studios, including Disney, have spoken out against them, but the fact of the matter is that visibility also goes a long way in furthering acceptance.
The geek community has also had a tumultuous history in embracing LGBT and, more publicly, women (i.e. #GamerGate) in fan circles, which is why it’s interesting that GLAAD’s report also touches upon the lack of representation in the sci-fi genre.
As sci-fi projects have the special opportunity to create unique worlds whose advanced societies can serve as a commentary on our own, the most obvious place where Disney could include LGBT characters is in the upcoming eighth Star Wars film. 2015’s The Force Awakens has introduced a new and diverse central trio, which allows the creators opportunity to tell fresh stories as they develop their backstory. Recent official novels in the franchise featured lesbian and gay characters that could also be easily written in to the story.
Again, Warner Bros. and Paramount performed just as poorly, and they also hold the reins to some major franchises, including the DC cinematic universe, Harry Potter, Transformers, and Star Trek. But Disney has both Marvel (which includes the entirety of the Avengers films), Lucasfilm (including Star Wars and Indiana Jones), Pixar, and Disney Animation. As we hopefully learned through backlashes to such films as Gods of Egypt, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ghost in the Shell, and now Doctor Strange, racial diversity matters. But that’s not the full extent of diversity.