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Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, Star Wars, Black Panther, Jurassic World: some of the biggest international blockbusters of recent years contain, or were at least supposed to contain, at least one gay character. However, if you were thinking that you couldn’t quite remember any scenes in these famous flicks where leading characters identify as LGBT+ or even unambiguously refer to their sexuality - you would be correct.
Hollywood has a real problem with LGBT+ representation. The problem is twofold, lack of representation is one thing but positive representation is another. On the occasions gay characters do appear in high profile films, they are overwhelmingly marginalised, invisible or cast as an over-the-top caricature of a stereotype, to be used as a punch line.
Let’s look at some stats: According to the Guardian, since 1993, there have been 257 Academy Award-nominated portrayals of heterosexual characters, and 23 of gay, bisexual or transsexual characters. Of the heterosexual characters, 16.5% (59) die. Of the LGBT characters, 56.5% (13) die. Of the 10 LGBT+ characters who do live, only four get happy endings. That's four characters in 19 years.
Gay characters in films, where they are included, tend to have a pretty rough time of it. There is very little settling down in the suburbs, playing in the park with kids, or shooting all the bad guys and making a getaway. The overwhelming outcome for gay characters in film over the decades has been the most resolute and final of them all: death. And even when the character manages to survive, the chances they achieve a ‘happily-ever-after’ are slim.
The staple Hollywood character arc of dramatically overcoming an obstacle, finding your one true love and, crucially, living to tell the tale seems to be largely reserved solely for heterosexual characters and couples.
The term ‘dead lesbian syndrome’ has been coined by film buffs, because so many gay female characters don’t survive until the credits. Advocacy group Glaad conducts an annual survey on LGBT+ representation in TV and film, which has continuously found lesbian characters get killed off at a significantly higher rate than their heterosexual counterparts.
It is an unfortunate fact that the majority of decisions in the film and TV industry are made by white, straight males who default to casting the same types of people to play the same tired heterosexual storylines. To disproportionately feature narratives in which LGBT+ characters meet untimely demises in order to further a plot point, is to literally render that character, and their community, disposable.
Visibility is important for a multitude of reasons.
First, film and television are supposed to be reflections of the culture and society which we live in. By alienating the LGBT+ community from mainstream film productions, industries are denying viewers an accurate view of society.
Second, when people see representations of themselves in the media, this can foster a great sense of affirmation of own identify. Normalising LGBT+ relationships in the media and portraying them in a positive light is a crucial step in dispelling the stigma surrounding this community. Representation in the media can be fundamentally important in helping individuals feel understood and accepted.
Third, in denying LGBT+ people the chance of viewing themselves as integrated, important human beings it would be as if gay people play no part in the lives of straight people – a fact that is patently untrue, considering we all live, work and socialise together every single day.
Writing a queer character is not difficult: just change the pronoun of the love interest. It really is that easy. #PrideMatters
Maeve Keenan is a Trainee Solicitor. She is a member of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion group.
Kingsley Napley are publishing a series of blogs to celebrate Pride and to raise awareness about the issues facing LGBT+ people in our communities. You can view our other blogs here.
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