Whether or not surprise is the appropriate response to this story is difficult to tell.
“In its first study of LGBT roles in major studio releases, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation 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.”
The explosion of diffuse high-quality television over the past decade has provided the space for this statement to seem obviously true. From the networks’ Will & Grace and Ellen in the 90s to cable’s Queer as Folk and The L Word in the 00s, to Modern Family today. TV is full of prominent LGBT roles. Not so in the movies.
Gay and lesbian leading roles in Hollywood’s big budget releases are rare–and even minor roles afforded to gay and lesbian characters are few. The study “found that of the 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.”
The GLAAD study bears out an interesting an oft mistaken notion in the US: that Hollywood and its movies are the denizen of a liberal agenda that pushes gays, godlessness, and and all things progressive. We hear this chorus almost constantly from certain media, but it ignores the reality of the Hollywood film business, which is a highly conservative realm. And not for no reason. Studios are spending more and more more dollars on the production of ever bigger movies. For such movies to pay back they must appeal to widest swaths of movie-goers possible. While prominent gay and lesbian characters in Hollywood films aren’t controversial in Hollywood, or New York, or St. Paul, LGBT themes and roles aren’t likely to attract viewers in every market. Sad, but true. Anything that might turn away ticket-buyers is going to struggle to find a home in Hollywood.
This is just one element of many that demonstrate the conservative nature of Hollywood studios. Today, the movie-magic of LA remains a highly conservative business. Of course, by trying to appeal to everyone, the studios are finding their films are appealing to no one. Bad movie after bad movie has failed at the box-office this year. Not because they’re conservative, mind you, but because they’re no good.
Finally, props to GLAAD for they’re recognition of ParaNorman, an excellent example of how serious matters can be made boisterous fun for the whole family.