The annual report from USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that Universal’s “Bros” accounted for 80% of the transgender characters in the 100 top-grossing movies of 2022.
According to the study, just 87 of 4,169 speaking or named characters (2.1%) in 2022 movies were LGBTQ+. Of that number, five characters identified as transgender and four of them appeared in “Bros.”
Written by and starring Billy Eichner, the film made history as the first gay rom-com to be given a wide theatrical release by a major studio and featured a cast almost exclusively made up of LGBTQ actors. The film was released in September 2022 and despite disappointing box office returns (“Bros” earned just $14.7 million worldwide), qualified under the Annenberg researchers’ criteria.
Authored by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Dr. Katherine Pieper and Sam Wheeler, the study assessed a total of 69,858 speaking characters covering the 1,600 top films from 2007 to 2022, examining the inclusion factors of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ+ identity and characters with disabilities, as well as below the line departments including directors, writers, producers, composers and casting directors.
The annual study was developed in 2007, but the Annenberg team first reported on the prevalence of LGBTQ+ characters in 2014. “In that time, there has been no meaningful increase in the percentage of LGBTQ characters in top movies,” the report notes, though “numerical shifts” do suggest more inclusion than in the recent past. In 2022, a total of 9 top-grossing films featured an LGBTQ+ lead/co-lead, the largest number to date, across the 900-film sample.
“When we look beyond gender and race/ethnicity, it is clear that Hollywood’s problems with inclusion are even more pronounced for the LGBTQ+ and disability communities,” stated Dr. Smith. (Just 1.9% of all speaking characters were shown with a disability). “The lack of progress in these areas suggests that executives and content creators are relying on practices that continue to marginalize and exclude talented voices from all backgrounds.”
In February, the Annenberg researchers announced that 2022 marked a 16-year high for representation of women and girls in lead and co-lead roles (tallying 44%), though there was no significant increase in overall speaking roles year to year. It was also a banner year for movies led by underrepresented women and nonbinary actors of color with 19 films. However, in the full study released Thursday, it was noted that only one of movie in the 2022 sample included a gender nonbinary character, which Variety has confirmed was a character in the Academy Award-nominated film “Tár,” starring Cate Blanchett. The fifth transgender character appeared in “A Man Called Otto.”
Among the takeaways from the study, Smith noted: “It is clear that the entertainment industry has little desire or motivation to improve casting processes in a way that creates meaningful change for girls and women. The lack of progress is particularly disappointing following decades of activism and advocacy.”
Regarding race and ethnicity, the study showed marginal change in on-screen representation across underrepresented groups year-to-year. However, there was notable progress for Asian characters between 2007 and 2022. The report states that “the percentage of white speaking characters decreased by 15.9% and the percentage of Asian characters increased” by the same figure. Across the top 100 films, 38.3% of all speaking characters identify with underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, which is slightly below the U.S. population benchmark of 41.1%.
“These trends suggest that any improvement for people from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups is limited,” said Dr. Smith. “While it is encouraging to see changes for leading characters and for the Asian community, our data on invisibility suggests that there is still much more to be done to ensure that the diversity that exists in reality is portrayed on screen.”
Behind the camera, researchers found no significant improvements in inclusion for women directors, writers or producers, while white women lead the demographic breakdown of casting directors (70.2%).
However, study does note a significant increase for women composers on popular films. In 2022, 8.2% of film composers were women, representing a 16-year high. Twice as many women (10) composed films in 2022 than in 2021 (4 women and 1 nonbinary composer) and more than 10 times as many as 2007, where not a single woman or nonbinary composer filled that role on a top-grossing film.