GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index Reveals Queer Women Basically Don’t Exist In Movies

With the number of queer female TV characters increasing at an astronomical rate these days, it’s easy to forget how terrible things are on the big screen. Yesterday GLAAD released its third annual Studio Responsibility Index, which tracks LGBT representation in films made by Hollywood’s major studios, and whooo boy, it is bleak. Let’s discuss what GLAAD’s report reveals, look at some pretty charts I made, and talk about why movies still matter.


 

The Numbers

If you’re into it, you should really read GLAAD’s full report. These things are always comprehensive, statistical masterworks. I read the whole thing three times, though, and I’m going to shake it down to the bottom line so you can see how grim it is. Here we go:

+ Major Hollywood studios released 114 films in 2014.

+ Of those 114 films, 20 included queer characters.

+ Of the 20 films that included queer characters, only seven included women.

+ Of the 20 that films included queer characters, ZERO included transgender characters.

That looks like this:

glaad-sri-3

Actually, though, it gets worse. Of the 20 movies that included queer characters, only seven included queer characters who were on-screen longer than it takes to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks — and the majority of those meager seven films tripped over tired cliches and damaging stereotypes.

Inspired by the Bechdel Test, GLAAD created The Vito Russo Test (named after the lauded film critic/GLAAD co-founder). To pass the Vito Russo Test, the following criteria must be true:

+ 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 made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight 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 should “matter.”

Here’s how 2014’s 20 LGBT movies fared in the quality arena.

glaad-sri-4

Yep, that’s right. Out of 314 major Hollywood film releases, one single film — Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy — passed the Vito Russo test with queer female characters.

 


 

How Tumblr Does It

The 2015 Studio Responsibility Index numbers are depressing, for sure, but so is the depth GLAAD had to dig to even find some of the gay characters in the report.

+ In Mas Negro Que La Noche, the character called Pilar is probably a lesbian “based on several longing looks” she gives another woman and because someone remarks on her “very ‘lesbian’ tattoo.”

+ In The Lego Movie, the one-second appearance of Dumbledore counts as gay, right? Because Dumbledore is gay. Right?

+ A minor character in How to Train Your Dragon 2 says, “This is why I never married. That, and one other reason.” So we should infer that “the other reason” is that he’s gay.

+ In Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, some of Gustave’s prison friends call him a “real straight fellow,” to which he responds: “Well I’ve never been accused of that before, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

+ In Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, “Twice, Octavius is also shown to be quite taken with the appearance of the knight Sir Lancelot, remarking about how handsome he is and his ‘huge sword and hypnotic blue eyes.'”

I’m not clowning on GLAAD. This report is important stuff. It’s just that there were so few legitimately queer characters on the big screen for any length of time in 2014, GLAAD was forced to sift right to the bottom of the barrel to squeeze any sign of gayness out of some the characters they evaluated. It’s like if you tilt your head just right and stare long enough at a Tumblr GIF set, you can come away thinking nearly anyone is gay.


Why It Matters

GLAAD opens its Studio Responsibility Index by reminding everyone that what happens on the Hollywood big screen still matters quite a lot. Sure, queer women can save a buck and watch hundreds of queer characters on their TVs from the comfort of their homes. And honestly, that’s what many of us do. Our representation on TV is incomparably better than what’s at the theater. No contest. However, Americans still spend billions of dollars every year consuming major blockbusters, and what they see on the big screen effects their perception of gay people. GLAAD has proven that fact over and over. Plus, Hollywood blockbusters are one of the United States’ main exports, and the way that most other cultures are exposed to our own. Damaging tropes and stereotypes reverberate around the globe when they are unleashed in movies produced by major studios.

Sadly, Hollywood continues to drag its feet and trail decades behind the pace of the rest of American entertainment. In February, Variety reported that even though female-fronted films like The Hunger Games, Maleficent, Divergent and Tammy had huge box office success last year, women “comprised a paltry 12% of protagonists in the top-grossing films of 2014. Over the past decade, the situation has gotten worse, not better. The latest figures represent a drop of three percentage points from 2013 and a fall of four percentage points from 2002.”

NPR’s Linda Holmes did some fascinating number crunching two summers ago about the movie theaters within ten miles of her home and concluded that on any given Friday:

Of those 617 showings, 561 of them — 90 percent — are stories about men or groups of men, where women play supporting roles or fill out ensembles primarily focused on men … Of the seven movies about women or balanced groups, only one — the Israeli film Fill The Void — is directed by a woman, Rama Burshtein. That’s also the only one that isn’t about a well-off white American … If I were limited to multiplexes, as people are in many parts of the country, the numbers would be worse. In many places, the number [of movies with female leads] would be zero.

If Hollywood still isn’t willing to put up the money to produce movies with female protagonists — despite the repeated, billion dollar successes of those films, and the fact that women comprise 50 percent of the population — how much less willing are they going to be to champion films with significant queer characters?

For now, Hollywood blockbusters are a straight white man’s game, and there’s no end to that paradigm in sight.


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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Heather has written 459 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. Thumb up 23

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    I crave media with strong, queer female characters SO MUCH.

    It seems to be a running joke in the queer community that we’re willing to watch any crappy show as long as there is some meager mention of lady gays. And it’s true. Because we’re starving.

  2. Thumb up 21

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    i can’t even imagine a world in which queer women showed up in major studio films. it seems like lately you can find us if you look — on cable, on streaming sites like netflix, indie films, film festivals — but if you’re not looking, it’s not hard to avoid us.

  3. Thumb up 10

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    Oh hai, I’m actually gonna ramble some more.

    I’d also like to mention the lack of partnered women parents in shows or movies. Despite evidence that gay women are much more likely to be raising children than gay men, I’ve really only seen gay male parents as reoccurring characters.

    It would be nice to see queer women as multidimensional humans with families, and deep committed relationships.

    But I guess that sort of gets in the way of straight men’s desires to see us as fun sexual sideshows, or a laughable butch stereotype.

    • Thumb up 6

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      “I’d also like to mention the lack of partnered women parents in shows or movies. Despite evidence that gay women are much more likely to be raising children than gay men, I’ve really only seen gay male parents as reoccurring characters.”

      Well, we had “The Kids Are All Right”, from self professed lesbian who IIRC claimed that being just into women “is so narrow”, and which action focused on gay mom lustfully f*cking donor dad, while her wife was resorting to watching gay male porn.

      I think that after that movie lots of filmmakers and showrunners began feeling excused for, as you said, fulfilling “straight men’s desires to see us as fun sexual sideshows”.
      Lots of incredibly lesbophobic tv storylines and movies came after that, with critique always countered by pseudo open minded people, including lesbian identified women who see in it validation of their identity.

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        I loathed ‘The Kids are Alright,’ rargh. Coming from a whanau with lots of parents (and also fractured aspects, and not speaking parents) it just felt like they ignored a potential chance to show the development (preferably not sexual at all..) of a non-nuclear family, and instead went with the status quo.

        I understand that the intention was the show that a lesbian household could raise children without the need for the sperm donor or any father figure to be involved, but he can not be involved and still be a relationship figure for the adult kids. My step mum was adopted and met her birth mother later in life and the relationships between family members are anything but simple or straightforward, but they certainly do not have to erase each other.

  4. Thumb up 0

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    I am wondering how they / this statistical data set is defining queer exactly. Where i live alot of people define queer very differently. Since it is a statistic I am assuming they have a strict definition. Thanks.

  5. Thumb up 6

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    We are so hungry for queer female lead characters in movies and tv.

    There are so many film versions that could be made:

    – On the relationships of real life people:

    Alice Walker and her female partner
    Bea Arthur and her? female partner
    Rural lesbians
    Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West
    Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis
    Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas
    Frida Kahlo and her female partner
    Sappho ffs
    Patricia Highsmith and her female partner
    Katherine Hepburn and her harem
    The world of 1920’s -1930’s Paris/Berlin lesbians

    The Lesbian Hollywood Mafia ie Jennifer Beals/Jodie Foster/ Alexandra Hedison/ Ellen DeGeneres/Ilene Chaiken and her minions- there is an our chart to be explored there…

    I am looking forward to watching at some stage:
    The Price of Salt – Patricia Highsmith
    The movie made about Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo

    I would like to see movies with main lesbian characters in them, showing women living and getting on with living.

    Books that scream to be made into movies:

    The mists of Avalon
    Animal Dreams
    Hothead Paisan
    Dykes to watch out for
    Ellen DeGeneres this is your life (and exes)

    Actresses that I need to see in a lesbian movie:

    Tilda Swinton
    Frances McDormand
    Marianne Jean-Baptiste
    Lorraine Toussaint
    Uzo Aduba
    Tig Notaro
    Catherine O’Hara
    Carrie Brownstein
    Cate Blanchett
    Kate Winslet
    Cameron Diaz
    Jennifer Beals
    Lucy Liu
    Kate Mulgrew
    Danielle Cormack.

    This is my wish list 🙂

      • Thumb up 0

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        I have a wonderful modern day Love story – (not a historical or true event) – but it would cost less money to produce since it’s not a period piece. It has gotten fantastic response from everyone who has read it: “WHEN IS THIS MOVIE COMING OUT???”
        I think you might really like it too…

    • Thumb up 5

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      Yo, do check out “portrait of a marriage” from ye olde 1980s (90s?) bbc which deals with Vita and Violet. Aimee and Jaguar showcases a bit of Weimar Berlin if I remember right, but I agree more should be done!! Parisian expats etc too. Is there nothing about Stein?! That’s awful…

      In fact in that vein “they” (we!?) Should do a film about the lesbo-orgy-fest that was 1930s Hollywood. Dietrich, Garbo, deAcosta, Isadora Duncan… the list goes on!

      I’m also wildly excited about the film of Carol/Price of Salt. Like i am in shock that it’s being made, especially with Blanchett in the lead. Oh, Reaching for the Moon about Elizabeth Bishop is really good. Totally unknown gem, glad you’d heard of it.

      Mists of Avalon was made into a TV miniseries I believe? Julianna Margolis and Angelica Houston starred. Right up your street if you like Angelica too!

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      How would you feel about Diane Lane and Robin Wright in a Lesbian love story? They are my first choices in a script I recently wrote called LOVE BLIND MONEY. I am SO excited about making this movie – I can NOT believe how underserved the Lesbian audience is in features and I believe this film will appeal to a wide Indie audience like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and MONSTER. More movies like this will be made when ALL people embrace ALL kinds of characters – the kind of characters that exist in ALL walks of life. And of course it’s all about the money. If studios see that these movies actually do well and make a profit – we will get to make more!

  6. Thumb up 4

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    In my head lately there’s a sci-fi movie forming with castaway aliens who look very humanoid but chromosomes and reproductive parts yo. And maybe a bit of sexual dimorphism you could argue because the “female sex” is kinda robust and the “male sex” kinda gracile.

    They come from a galaxy with caste-like society that their parents tried to over-throw with a revolution and failed. Rather than a martyr making public execution the revolutionaries and their relations got “exiled” instead. Exile being put on a ship with no supplies or agricultural capabilities and sent into a wormhole.

    The heroines are 2 women and the planets in that galaxy they came from are quite sunny so uh they’re both well melaninated. One is an MOC woman and misses the days of old when warriors had long hair and fierce braids. And the other is a femme of center and what we’d call a transwoman who is aggravated frequently and those aren’t warrior braids you dolt they’re cornrows and she’s very melaninated.
    The villain is member of their species whose mother was way not a part of her husband’s revolutionary activity and raised her son with supremacist beliefs thus why he’s trying to take over the world, again.

    I wish I could write worth a damn and some would make it into a film because it would be so much fun. A buddy cop/sometimes lovers always friends confusing to straight people queer lady relationship in it to save the world from an over grown stupid little boy megalomaniac jerkface action movie.
    Usually my fertile as the Neolithic Levant imagination imagines things in comicbook format but lately with all the Avengers and Star Wars hype I guess my brain has been craving a queer sci-fi world saving action-y movie.

  7. Thumb up 15

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    I want to print this out and throw it at the next friend of mine who gasps in shock when I casually mention I don’t watch a lot of movies. Like, why would I spend my money go where I don’t feel I’m wanted or even acknowledged as a human being?

    I mean, obviously just because a movie doesn’t have queer characters doesn’t mean I won’t like it at all or it’s not a good movie, but damn it I want a steak dinner and they’re offering me peanuts like it’s the same damn thing.

  8. Thumb up 11

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    One of the sad things is that there are writers, producers and film markers trying to produce content that feature queer women. I’m one of them. I have an animated pilot, a sitcom and several comedy, action and drama features with leading queer characters. The problem lies with the investors for the most part. Investors still see LGBT films as “alternative” or for a “niche audience”. I do understand where they’re coming from, they want the biggest return for their investment (Most of the time it’s the Horror genre), but times are changing, too bad the ones with the cash don’t see that.

    • Thumb up 4

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      Not just queer – they make distinctions between lesbian and bisexual characters. I remember that in the last report about situation in television, they presented Margot from Hannibal as glowing example of lesbian representation (the same Margot that was made to have sex with a man and was portrayed to enjoy it).

      I wonder how they counted Amy from Faking It. After all, back then, it was before Season 2 where she said that men turn her body into Sexual Hulk, and the actress stated that her character is a lesbian who’s not interested in men.

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    I was watching the Lego movie yesterday while looking after my very young brother. While I liked the film, I couldn’t help but try to see if it met even the basest characteristics for a representation of the wider ‘world,’as while there are contextual reasons for films to display few characters or a type of group, this wasn’t one of them.
    It didn’t include one conversation between two female characters(not even a conversation about a relationship with a man,) and it all felt so standard to expect every mainstream film you see to include a all male white cast with one women and one character of colour, particularly where those two characters are there to provide support, a love interest and legitimation for a lead male character ‘proving his worth.’
    Then looking at the credits the same issue was reflected in the direction, writing and management roles.

    I don’t even expect the bare minimum of representation for women(50% of the population,) or women of colour especially, so any queer, trans or nuanced representation seems nothing more than a pipe dream, or something I am actively afraid will exploit us.

    Having a younger brother grow up in that environment and media, I can’t help but see how that influences and forms his behaviour, from a relatively innocent lack of knowledge about women as friends, leaders or scientists, to not knowing what it means to be trans or queer, to very damaging knowledge like making racist and homophobic remarks in a family that blends queer sexualities and different ethnicity groups.

    It makes me feel very exhausted, because on the one hand it’s ‘just media’ people say focus on the big issues, but then this supposed entertainment shapes so deeply how we go about our lives. It cuts even deeper when I think about the push towards STEM and science for my brother, but us older girl children having to deal much more closely with family relationships, child-rearing and trauma. There are a lot of other issues obv, but to see another representation of a male protagonist working through schoolyard bullying, leaving the friendzone, or finding his self worth, just felt superfluous. It would be fine it is was one story or group of stories, but so many other stories need telling, and we really expect so little that when even that is not met, or actively suppressed, it feels ridiculous.

  10. Thumb up 1

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    The movies we’d like to see start with a good script containing lesbian characters. And you’ll find several feature specs on our website, all looking for producers. If you know of other writers with female-driven screenplays, please let them know about filmsprings.com. There’s no cost to publicize a project, either. Thanks.

  11. Thumb up 0

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    Re. the Vito Russo Test for 2014 Films infographic, should it say “2014 films with LGBT characters…” rather than 2015?

    I would also be interested to know how many of the bisexual women are actually supposed to be bisexual and how many are supposed to be lesbians who also have sex with men.

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