The Heartbreak of LGBT Representation

As featured in COLORBLOCK Magazine, February 2016

There’s a lot of diversity in entertainment nowadays. Or is there? To say there’s “lots of diversity” in the media is to at once tell the truth and to lie. While the amount of non-white faces has increased in television and that the biggest movie of 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, had a good portion of its cast played by non-white actors, the fight for diversity still wages on, and not just “diversity” in a racial sense. There’s also the fight for LGBT characters and relationships to be shown with as much regularity as straight characters and their relationships.
To get a good look at how LGBT characters and LGBT relationships have fared on the TV and film, let’s take a look at some of the stats GLAAD has compiled between 2012 and 2015.

LGBT TV STATS

Taking a look at the stats from the 2012-2016 GLAAD reports, television has done much better job of showcasing LGBT lives and love than the movies. However, when you take a look at the actual numbers, the truth is that television has done a better job of showcasing the lives of gay white men rather than all members of the LGBT community.

The biggest trend across the reports is that on the whole, gay white men make up half or more than half of the LGBT characters portrayed on television. Meanwhile, lesbian characters specifically usually make up half or less than half of LGBT characters; bisexual characters make up a paltry amount usually in the single-digit or barely double-digit numbers, but still more than transgender characters, who usually comprise about 2% of the LGBT character population.

On the whole, LGBT characters still comprise a small amount of the overall television character landscape. With a usual 96% straight character representation on television, only about 4% is comprised of LGBT characters.

EMPIRE: Jamal (Jussie Smollet, L) and Ryan (guest star Eka Darville, R) chat in the "Sins of the Father" episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, March 11 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: FOX Chuck Hodes/FOX
EMPIRE: Jamal (Jussie Smollet, L) and Ryan (guest star Eka Darville, R) chat in the “Sins of the Father” episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, March 11 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: FOX Chuck Hodes/FOX

The regularity to which LGBT characters are shown in relationships seems to be increasing, what with shows like Modern Family, Rosewood, Empire, Transparent, How to Get Away with Murder, Orange is the New Black and The 100, among others, showing gay relationships in a wide spectrum of emotion and depth. Overall, it seems television has shied away from the idea that LGBT people are the butts of jokes; increasingly, these characters are finally being portrayed with the same nuance that their straight counterparts have been for given for decades.

However, there’s still  lot that needs to be done. Bisexual, transgender, and lesbian relationships still aren’t shown at the rate that gay male relationships are, and if they are shown, they’re typically relationships featuring white individuals. Rosewood, Empire, and How to Get Away with Murder are some of the standouts for their portrayals of non-white or interracial LGBT relationships, featuring LGB and T characters.

ROSEWOOD: L-R: Gabrielle Dennis and Anna Konkle in the "Policies and Ponies" episode of ROSEWOOD airing Wednesday, Nov. 4 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: John P. Fleenor/FOX.
ROSEWOOD: L-R: Gabrielle Dennis and Anna Konkle in the “Policies and Ponies” episode of ROSEWOOD airing Wednesday, Nov. 4 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: John P. Fleenor/FOX.

 

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!
colorblock-february-2016
 

 

LGBT FILM STATS

Film, on the other hand, has been lagging behind television. Seriously. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of films featuring LGBT characters is only 51 out of 317. That’s quite staggering. On top of that, the representation has been skewed; much like in television, the focus shifts primarily to gay white men, with lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender characters, not to mention any LGBT person who is also a person of color, are criminally underrepresented.

To go along with that, most LGBT characters are still found in comedies instead of other genres of film. This could be because LGBT characters have historically been reduced to stereotypical farce as a way to “other” them against the straight, normalized characters. However, Tangerine, a film featuring transgender characters played by transgender actors and featuring complex love and friendships (particularly the friendship between Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez’s characters Alexandra and Sin-Dee), has been critically acclaimed. It has also been confirmed that Deadpool will be 20th Century Fox’s first film starring a pansexual character, who is of course, the lead character of the same name. Also, as you’ll read about later on, there’s been an astronomical push to have Finn and Poe Dameron, the two main male characters from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to be in a relationship, as well as have Rey, the main female lead, be asexual and/or aromantic or lesbian.

Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

However, with films like Star Wars (and to a lesser extent, all of the films released from major studios), the conventional worry is that a big player like Disney won’t jeopardize their bottom line with countries like China, who has stringent censorship laws, by having a same-sex relationship. However, if Deadpool rakes in the dough domestically as well as internationally, especially if his sexuality comes into play in the film, it could provide major studios enough leverage to greenlight a same-sex relationship.

The data also shows that the upward momentum in film and TV is still at a snail’s pace. In order for representation to exponentially grow, some studio is going to have to make the plunge. For instance, if it ever decided to listen to the very vocal portion of the fandom about same-sex relationships in film, it could very well be in Disney’s court to be that pioneering studio. If Disney won’t be the first, one of the other big studios will; regardless, after that particular studio steps up to the plate and succeeds, then the others will fall in line. Another way the status quo could change is by more indie films like Tangerine showing it’s possible to create LGBT-based films that are also lucrative investments. Or, change could come as a combination of the two. The downside is that it’s a shame that money has to be tied to a fight for representation at all.

References:

GLAAD “Where on TV” reports for 2013-2015, GLAAD Studio Responsibility Indexes for 2013-2015

https://www.glaad.org/files/whereweareontv12.pdf

http://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv13

http://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv14

http://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv15

http://www.glaad.org/sri/2013

http://www.glaad.org/sri/2014

http://www.glaad.org/sri/2015