NEW YORK - We may be seeing more prominent gay and lesbian characters on TV shows, but the movie industry lags well behind the small screen, an advocacy group reports.
In its first study of LGBT roles in major studio releases, GLAAD found that compared with TV, where there has been a significant shift over the past decade, "Major studios appear reluctant to include LGBT characters in significant roles or franchises."
In its report released Wednesday, GLAAD, formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, found that of 101 releases from Hollywood's six major studios in 2012, just 14 included characters identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Most were no more than cameos or minor roles, it said - and none of the films tracked had transgender characters.
This film image released by Focus Features shows the animated character Mitch, voiced by Casey Affleck, in a scene from 'ParaNorman.' The character Mitch in the 2012 “ParaNorman” was revealed at the end to be gay. The GLAAD advocacy group says that movie was an exception in a year that showed Hollywood’s major studios are reluctant to include LGBT characters in important roles in their films.
"Until LGBT characters appear more regularly in these studio films, there will be the appearance of bias," said Wilson Cruz, GLAAD's national spokesperson, in an interview. He added that his organization will be meeting with studio executives to discuss the findings.
There were some bright spots in 2012, and some more ambiguous ones, the group said. For example, "Skyfall," the hugely successful installment of the James Bond franchise, featured a main villain, played by Javier Bardem, who was apparently bisexual.
"It was great to see an LGBT character in such a significant role," said Matt Kane, associate director of entertainment media at GLAAD, also in an interview. "But unfortunately the character was also devious, psychotic, and untrustworthy - it fell into that trap."
As genre films like comic book adaptations consume much of the studios' capital and promotional efforts, the report says, such films have a striking lack of LGBT characters. In "The Avengers," it notes, there is a gay news anchor, but his appearance is "so brief it was likely missed by many viewers."
The report - called the 2013 Studio Responsibility Index - rates each of the six studios according to the LGBT-inclusive films they released. Faring worst: 20th Century Fox and Disney, which each receive "failing" grades; the other four - Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. - receive grades of "adequate." But Universal fared best, with four of its 16 releases considered LGBT-inclusive.
Studios had no comment on the study as of Wednesday afternoon.
As part of its index, GLAAD also developed criteria to measure the quality of the LGBT roles. They included: whether a character was identifiably LGBT; whether it was not solely or predominantly defined by its sexual orientation or gender identity; and whether it was tied into the plot in such a way that its removal would have a significant effect.
One of the best examples of an LGBT-inclusive film in 2012, according to GLAAD, was, interestingly, an animated family film: "ParaNorman," about a misunderstood boy who can communicate with the ghosts of dead people.
In the film, which came from the Portland-based studio LAIKA, Norman's cheerleader sister asks the hunky football hero Mitch for a movie date. He casually makes a reference to his boyfriend.
The film's writer and co-director, Chris Butler, said the filmmakers, while determined to include the scene, had worried that it could cost them a PG rating and get them a PG-13 instead, which would have been inappropriate for the movie. In the end, they got their PG rating.
Butler said he was disappointed with some negative commentary about the scene - including one viewer's online review that praised the film for its anti-bullying message of inclusion - but said it ruined matters by making a character gay.
"I was surprised at all the fuss," Butler said. "But on the flip side was the positive reaction." The movie was the first animated film nominated for a GLAAD award.
As a filmmaker, Butler said he was not optimistic that there would be an inevitable wave of more onscreen LGBT characters as time goes on and society changes, as on TV.