Film

LGBT star roles dim in Hollywood

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

A study has shown that only a fraction of the major studio films last year featured gay characters, most of whom were painted in a bad light.

'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' has been hailed for its positive portrayal of LGBT characters.

A study by the United States gay rights campaigning organisation Glaad has found that only 17 of the 102 movies from major studios last year featured lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters in significant roles and, of those 17, the majority were offensive and defamatory portrayals.

“The lack of substantial LGBT characters in mainstream film, in addition to the outdated humour and stereotypes, suggests large Hollywood studios may be doing more harm than good when it comes to worldwide understanding of the LGBT community,” said Glaad chief executive and president Sarah Kate Ellis.

“These studios have the eyes and ears of millions of audience members and should reflect the true fabric of our society rather than feed into the hatred and prejudice against LGBT people too often seen around the globe.”

Sony Pictures was the only studio to come out of the study with a “good” rating, for its positive gay characters in films such as street-dance movie Battle of the Year and big-budget fantasy The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, described as “perhaps being the most inclusive mainstream film release of 2013”. Universal’s Kick-Ass 2 and Walt Disney Pictures’s Delivery Man were also singled out for praise.

Paramount and Warner Bros, however, were issued with “failing” grades for including no positive portrayals of LGBT characters in any of their films. Pain & Gain and We’re the Millers were accused of “gay panic” story elements, and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street was criticised for its gay butler character, seen having an orgy.

“Whatever minor narrative purpose this character serves is completely overshadowed by the sense that it’s also one more example of the main character’s outrageous behaviour the audience is invited to take delight in watching.”

Taking inspiration from the Bechdel test, which judges films on whether they have women talking to each other about a subject other than a man, Glaad has pioneered the Vito Russo test, named after the late LGBT activist and film historian.

To pass it, a film must feature an LGBT character “not solely or ­predominantly defined by their ­sexual orientation or gender identity” and who, if removed from the film, would significantly affect the plot. Only seven of the 17 films with LGBT characters passed the test.

Transgender characters only appeared in two films – more than none at all in 2012, but all were tiny roles and none were in a positive light.

Perhaps the starkest fact is that than none of the films, not even the ones praised by Glaad, featured a gay character in a lead role. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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