Is LGBT representation in film getting better?

It depends on who you ask. In general, no. When GLAAD’s annual report on LGBTQ representation in film became public in 2017, it painted a rather gloomy picture. Overall, representation of gay, lesbian, queer, or transgender characters was slightly better in 2016 compared to the previous year. GLAAD reported that around 20% of the industry’s top 125 films featured a LGBTQ character. More than four-fifths of them were gay men, however.

In 2016, statistics show that racial diversity in films representing the LGBTQ community decreased, with characters played by black people down from 32.1 percent in 2014 and 25.5 percent in 2015 to 20 percent.

Other sources paint a more optimistic picture. For example, Brokeback Mountain grossed almost $180 million when it was released in 2005, showing that movies portraying gay people could make money and people wanted to see them. However, the gay community itself wasn’t that impressed because they thought the actors were “acting too straight,” barely had sex, and seemed to have trouble accepting who they were.

Gay Cinema and its Legacy

Gay filmmakers have managed to create a vibrant underground cinema. Back in the ‘90s, a studio called New Queer Cinema and filmmakers such as Alexis Arquette, Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes, Cheryl Dunye, Gus Van Sant, Jennie Livingston, and John Waters used heavy irony and were starkly opposed to the naturalistic style popular in film in those years. The realism of their stories was destroyed by the use of a meta-narrative, where the actors admit they’re in a movie, and through the use of music, animation, and very dynamic identities.

As a movement, New Queer Cinema eventually faded as being gay entered the mainstream. However, it left behind an indisputable legacy – gay film festivals are held across the globe. There are 8 such in Canada alone.

After 2017

Looking into more recent tendencies, things aren’t looking up. Blockbusters like 2017’s Lady Bird and the award-winning Call Me By Your Name featured LGBTQ characters. However, according to GLAAD, Call Me wasn’t released as widely as it should have been albeit being directed by a gay man (Luca Guadagnino) and telling a beautiful gay romance story. The movie was only released in 914 theaters by Sony Pictures Classics, compared to Spider-Man: Homecoming, which the same studio released in more than 4,000 theaters.

In their reports, GLAAD only includes releases by major studios like 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Sony Entertainment, Walt Disney, Warner Bros., and Lionsgate Entertainment, in which LGBT representation is rather poor.