LGBT Characters in Film

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Jaqueline Woodson once said, “Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together”. Does this still reign true? When it comes to Hollywood, in the past few years it has been a topic of debate on whether Hollywood is diverse. Film and television has come a long way since it first began. We now see women working behind the scenes, people of all races having leading roles, and members of the LGBT community being represented on the screen. However, we have a long way to go to show the true representation of everyone and prove that film and television can be just as successful, if not more, when it works to represent all of us as a whole.

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?When it comes to the discussion of diversity in Hollywood, a major topic that comes to most people’s minds is the lack of racial diversity within, not only films and television, but behind the scenes. In UCLA’s 2018 Hollywood diversity report, it was found that only 1.4 out of 10 lead actors in a film were people of color. When it came to the rest of the cast, white actors made up 78.1% of actors. Latino, Asian, Mixed, and Native actors made up the rest of the numbers with Native actors coming in last at only 0.5% (UCLA). These numbers are very low for minorities.

?A movie that helped to break these numbers is this year’s Black Panther. The film debuted with an estimated $700 million dollars in global sales within the first 12 days. It even beat out Star Wars: The Last Jedi for the spot of second largest movie opening in history (Lee). The movie was groundbreaking with its use of a predominantly black cast, something that has never been done. Another movie that really broke the mold in terms of casting is Crazy Rich Asians. According to Time magazine, “It’s the first modern story with an all-Asian cast and an Asian-American lead in 25 years” (Ho). It’s crazy to think that it took so long for another film cast like this to come along. As someone who identifies as white, I can turn on any movie or film and see myself, but other races don’t have that luxury and Hollywood is finally starting to be held accountable. Even though it may seem film and television are coming a long way due to successful releases such as these, there is still so much work to be done to make Hollywood truly diverse. If you look at how low the number of non-white actors in film are and then look at how successful films with diverse casts like this are, it doesn’t add up. These movies, along with many others, have shown just how successful films with diversity can be, so why is there such a low percentage of non-white actors in films?

?Another controversy pertaining to race that came to light in recent years was the debate of the Oscars and how only predominantly white actors were being nominated. This was commonly referred to as, #OscarsSoWhite. The movement was started in 2016 from a twitter hashtag by activist April Reign. Reign’s tweet would spark outrage from many fans and gain the attention of influential celebrities. Director Spike Lee opted out of the award ceremony stating, “How is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the acting category are white? And let’s not even get into the other branches” (Opam). It seemed that the Oscars had taken the criticism to heart when the 2017 award ceremony came around and many black men and women were nominated for their roles. However, in an interview with Reign discussing the progress, this is what she had to say:

Okay, so there wasn’t a slew of men and women of color. There [were] a lot of black people and Dev Patel. This is one of the issues I am dealing with on a regular basis. People say we got all these “diverse” nominees now, so #OscarsSoWhite must be done. But we don’t. We have films that reflect the black experience, but there weren’t any films that reflect the Latinx experience. We have cultural appropriation of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community…There’s still a lot of work to be done (Opam).

It’s true, there is still a lot of work to be done. If Hollywood is going to be more diverse, they must represent everyone. As Reign said, there were no roles that represented the Latinx community. What about them? Is their story not as important?

?April Reign also said in her interview, “I’m still waiting on [a] romantic comedy from the LGBTQIA community” (Opam). What about the LGBTQIA community? Where are their stories? If you search on Netflix for LGBT films, there is only a handful, and most of them are awful and unrealistic. The GLADD report found that Hollywood is failing with LGBT characters in film. Only 12.8% of characters were represented as LGBT and 64% of that was specifically gay men (GLADD). Film has a long way to go in developing and showcasing the lives of the LGBT community. Television however, has taken a major step in representing the community. Many up and coming shows have feature LGBT characters that have shown realistic portrayals of gay characters. The GLADD report found that television has had a rise in LGBT stories and especially a rise in LGBT characters of color.

In the new show, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa introduces a non-binary character and a pansexual character, two identities in the LGBT community that have had little to none representation. Not only did Aguirre-Sacasa create these roles, he also hired a non-binary actor, Lachlan Watson, to play a non-binary character, which is almost unheard of (Mason). Usually, straight actors will play LGBT characters. There is nothing wrong with a person playing a role that they don’t identify with, but it is still nice to see someone represent themselves and their character at the same time. The kind of representation this portrays to the audience can be helpful to so many people who identify the same way and can be a way for them finally see themselves represented on the screen.

?Many LGBT characters have been grossly exaggerated stereotypes. Many gay characters are never even shown in romantic relationships or as having families. A show that helped break this stereotype is Modern Family. Sure, you get the typical “feminine” gay man in Cam, but you also get a more well-rounded character in Mitchell. You also get a loving couple that people can see as just normal people like everyone else and not specifically as a person who is gay. The Hollywood Reporter ran a poll in 2012 showing that television shows like Modern Family were helping in the polls to make gay marriage supported in the USA. The study found that, “Though gay TV also makes some voters more intensely opposed to gay marriage, they are outnumbered by voters who become more supportive of gay marriage, influenced by what they see on TV” (Appelo). The kind of representation that a show like this provided helped people to see that we all have similarities no matter who we love. Imagine what wonders it would do to show representation of other LGBT communities in Hollywood as well? Maybe then, people would see that we are more similar than different.

?When discussing both race and sexuality in Hollywood, you can’t help but notice the under-representation of women in Hollywood. Out of both studies, the UCLA Diversity Report and the GLADD Report, an underlining theme is how little of these roles are portrayed by women. Despite both race and sexuality being important things to represent, where are the women in those scenarios? Many stories portray the struggles of men. Many female characters are used simply as background or as sidekicks or as damsels in distress that need to be saved.

?A film that comes to mind as a great masterpiece when it comes to a female character is, Legally Blonde. You have a bubbly blonde who is a sorority sister. She comes across as your typical feminine girl. She loves the color pink and she sports a tiny Chihuahua (this is very reminiscent of that time). The viewer is made to believe that, because she is blonde, and because she is feminine, she is not smart. However, she’s very smart and defies the stereotype by getting into a top law school and winning a major case. Now, this is just a film but imagine a young girl watching this movie and seeing how smart and clever this woman is and imagining that they can grow up to do the same. They can do and be anything they want, and they are strong enough to do it. Now imagine being that same young girl and only having women represented as second class to men. The only representation that is shown is that of a wife or a girlfriend, nothing more.

?Actress Geena Davis is working hard to bust the stereotypical role. In an interview with Forbes, she said, “That’s what media, entertainment, and advertising have tended to portray… Instead, the woman has often been the girlfriend or the wife of the lead character. This was sending a message to everyone in society that women had less value… What we are trying to do is have media representation better reflect reality” (Lee). Davis also made the analysis that, “In movies, male characters received twice as much screen time and spoke twice as often compared to female characters” (Lee). Most people do not consider this. It is easy to not see what is in front of you until someone points it out. Because women are so under developed in media, it makes the need for strong female roles that much more important.

?Someone who is breaking down these walls is actress and writer Lena Dunham. Dunham’s popular show Girls showcased the lives of 4 women in New York City. Every character had their own flaws and issues but were portrayed in a realistic way. Not one character was known as someone’s wife or girlfriend. Instead, each of them were trying to find their way in their careers, and even though relationships were discussed, they were not always the main focus. In a groundbreaking way, the female characters were portrayed as sexual beings and they expressed angst, something that has not always been shown. The New York Times praised Dunham’s accurate portrayal as, “redefining both female beauty and a woman’s value” (Scott). This show was a major step in equalizing the way women were portrayed compared to men and helped to show that a female’s journey was interesting and a story worth telling.

?The times have changed since the beginning of Hollywood. Women can lead a role not specifically pertaining to a relationship, a man and a woman are not the only type of relationship portrayed, and people of any race and background can play any role and have it still be a success. We’ve come a long way but there is still so much to do. White actors and characters are still the ones who dominate the industry, LGBT characters are still needed to represent the community as a whole, and women are still the least to be cast in leading roles. Progress continues to be made but it is not where it could be. With the knowledge of the issue, we can make Hollywood a more inclusive place.

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LGBT Characters In Film. (2022, Apr 25). Retrieved December 4, 2022 , from

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