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LGBTQ+ Representation: Are TV and films doing enough?

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LGBTQ+ in TV and Movies

Over the past 50 years, there has been a slow and steady increase in the number of vocal and proud LGBTQ+ actors and actresses. With more TV shows and films creating lead characters and an increase in the number of supporting roles, the community is becoming better represented; however, how close is the entertainment industry's representation of the community when it comes to real-life?


Over the years, voices are becoming louder and gaining more support from influential figures from within the entertainment industry regarding representation. Ever since the first picture films in the late 1800s, movies and TV shows have been dominated by the Caucasian heterosexual narrative, lacking diversity and not reflecting the large ethnicities found within the world's population and in smaller minority groups. The Black, Latin, Asian and LGBTQ+ communities have long been calling for better representation over the years, even though things are improving, there is still a long way to go. Representation is especially vital within minority groups, as it helps people to identify, come to terms with their cultural identity or in accepting who they are. Representation is not just about featuring minority groups but also moving away from stereotypes or caricatures of real-life personalities, watching characters that are portraying an accurate and fairer representation of these groups in a positive and inclusive way.

LGBTQ+ Actors & Actresses
According to the entertainment industry service, IMDB, in June 2020, there was over 45.9 million registered actors and actresses on the service. The number of performers is high, given that it includes all worldwide performers as well as those living and those long deceased. Even though there has been an increase in the number of LGBTQ+ actors and actresses, many more are likely hiding who they are, living two lives, one in the public eye and another in private, hiding their true identity.

According to Wikipedia, there are a total of 1,646 publicly known and proud LGBTQ+ actresses and actors, of which:

  • 68% identify as male, 29.5% identify as female and 2.5% identify as genderqueer
  • 60.4% (994) identify as Gay
  • 13.3% (219) identify as Lesbian
  • 15% (247) identify as Bisexual
  • 8.1% (134) identify as Transsexual/Transgender
  • 2.5% (41) identify as Gender Queer
  • 0.6% (10) identify as Pansexual

Comparing the total number of LGBTQ+ performers to that of the IMDB service figure, it is clear that it is extremely low compared to their heterosexual counterparts and other minority groups. Even though the public number is low, it is likely a lot higher, given many will hide, especially in countries where there are anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments or even penalties if prosecuted should their true identity became known. Many of the celebrities in more tolerant countries that have since become vocal about their identity often state, that they chose to hide who they are for fear of being type-cast or fear that their work would dry up. By comparing accounts from those that did come out, many are surprised by the support and of course, the fact that they became positive role models for many struggling to come to terms with who they are.

LGBTQ+ Roles & Characters
The LGBTQ+ community has seen positive changes across many TV shows and films, and according to IMDB, there are 552,366 movies and 185,713 TV series recorded. Of the total, there were 1,445 TV shows and movies that featured an LGBTQ+ lead character, supporting character or touched upon an LGBTQ+ related subject, of those films and shows:

  • 58% (835) featured Gay characters or subject matter
  • 23% (331) featured Lesbian characters or subject matter
  • 11% (152) featured Bisexual characters or subject matter
  • 9% (127) featured Transgender characters or subject matter

Comparing the number of LGBTQ+ relating films (including those with LGBTQ+ characters) they still only represent 0.2% of all movies and television shows. Positive developments have been made by moving away from the stereotypical portrayal of members of the community, with many characters now often reflective and more realistic to real-life people and storylines. Even when some producers and production companies decide to include LGBTQ+ characters, they will often fall short or be criticised by casting heterosexual actors and actresses. Though the sexual identity of any performer should not matter, and the focus should be more on the suitability of the performer to play the role rather than anything else; however, with so few parts, it is understandable why so many people feel let down and frustrated.

Though any form of representation is positive, often featured characters are young, typically targeting people under the age of 30 and lacking any diversity, which is not reflecting the modern LGBTQ+ community. With over one-third (or 34%) of the world's LGBTQ+ community aged 50 or over and in long-established relationships, with families, representation needs to begin to reflect these modern changes and relationships.

Art imitating life
TV shows and films are designed for our entertainment, to make us laugh, cry, think, feel and even push our fears to their limits. Watching a good movie or TV show often portrays ideas or concepts that, for many are outside the realm of reality; however, often they reflect what many of us experience in our daily lives. If changes in society are not represented or portrayed negatively, it will have a significant impact on those most vulnerable, those who lack exposure to the LGBTQ+ community or those trying to come to terms with who they are.

Seeing popular characters that portray ordinary LGBTQ+ people similar to them, living a normal and everyday life, with someone who loves them, with a family and being accepted by those around them, gives them hope and often the courage to face the truth about themselves. The portrayal of ordinary LGBTQ+ community members does not need to be the main story, plot or even heavily featured, just placed in the narrative reflecting the reality of modern-day societies and reflecting the actual lives of many.

The entertainment industry has woken up to the need for diversity and has begun making more contemporary storylines. For actors and actresses in these modern times, they should remain confident in their abilities, skill and craft and that by sharing who they really are with the world they will not be type-cast. Film and TV producers should continue on the road of inclusion as positive progress has been made to-date; however, we still have a long way to go.


Article: LGBTQ+ Representation in TV and Movies

Learn more about the author
Atilla is passionate about writing and has spent his career writing technical documentation within large corporations. It was a career break in 2016, that gave him the opportunity to create his first fictional book, Cypriana. A well-travelled individual, visiting over 50 countries, has provided him with opportunities to not only have a wealth of experiences, but to also observe a broad range of characters, and personalities


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