Screening Room

5 movies from 2020 that got queer characters right

The Boys in the Band
The Boys in the Band (2020)

GLAAD released its annual report on diversity and representation in Hollywood. And the results were mixed.

The advocacy group found that of the 44 films released from major studios in 2020, ten (22.7 percent) contained LGBTQ characters including Like a Boss, The Broken Hearts Gallery, Fantasy Island, Valley Girl, Freaky, The New Mutants, and Birds of Prey.

This is an increase of 4.1 percent, but a decrease of 12 films from last year’s 18.6 percent (22 out of 118 films). The limited number of films released theatrically in 2020 is a direct result and consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down several theaters in the U.S. and globally for large portions of the year.

Despite all this, some films still managed to cram in some complex and unique queer characters for our viewing pleasure.

The movies we’ve outlined here all pass the GLAAD founder Vito Russo test (named for the late, great, chronicler of queer cinema) when it comes to their LGBTQ characters.

To pass, a film must include an explicitly queer character; the character must have more personality traits beyond their gender and sexuality, and he must play a crucial role in the plot.

As such, the titles all include positive, complex characters, some of whom have incidental sexuality and gender identity, others of which have sexuality or gender that play a large role in the plot.

Hollywood still has a way to go when it comes to queers on screen. Still, it’s good to know and acknowledge: Some films get it right, even in a slow year for movies.

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Birds of Prey

One of the few studio movies to earn praise from GLAAD—and indeed, one of the few to get a theatrical release (thanks again, COVID)–Birds of Prey won acclaim for finally confirming Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie)’s bisexuality. Granted, the reference to Harley’s ex-girlfriend just comes in passing, and she spends most of the movie opining for the Joker. Still, seeing a queer character in a studio, tentpole comic book movie is a big deal. Given that Robbie has expressed interest in exploring more of Harley’s relationships with women, we look forward to the sequel.

Streams on HBO Max & Hulu.

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