Are TV and films doing enough?

LGBTQIA+ Representation

Over the past 50 years, there has been a slow and steady increase in the number of vocal and proud LGBTQIA+ actors and actresses. With more TV shows and films creating leading characters and increasing 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?
QUICK LINKS
  Lacking Diversity
Since the first picture films in the late 1800s, many popular movies and TV shows have been dominated by the Caucasian heterosexual narrative. Lacking diversity and not reflecting real life, many of these shows fail to showcase the communities and ordinary people these stories are meant to be based on and around. In recent years, LGBTQIA+ community voices are becoming louder regarding representation. Along with other minority groups, the lack of diverse characters and roles has gained more media coverage and increased support worldwide.

The Black, Latin, Asian and LGBTQIA+ communities have long been calling for better representation. The movements have seen increased numbers of Influential figures within the entertainment industry showing their support by introducing more minority characters and casting more diversity in their projects. Even though things are improving, there is still a long way to go for fair and accurate portrayals.

What we see on our screens is especially important within minority groups. Especially those individuals who are trying to understand their identity, coming to terms with their cultural identity, or simply accepting who they are. Representation is not just about featuring minority groups but also moving away from stereotypes or caricatures of real-life personalities. Writers must accurately showcase characters reflecting many of these groups in a positive and inclusive way.
  LGBTQIA+ 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 and those living and those long deceased. Even though there has been an increase in LGBTQIA+ actors and actresses, many more are likely hiding who they are. Many are forced to live 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 LGBTQIA+ 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 LGBTQIA+ performers to that of the IMDB service figure, it is clear that it is 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. A point that is especially important for those actors living in countries with anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments or even penalties if prosecuted should their true identity become known. Many celebrities in more tolerant countries that have since come out or become vocal about their identity often go on to state why they chose to hide. Many feel they were forced to remain silent due to fear of being type-cast or that their work would dry up. The reality is that 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.
  LGBTQIA+ Roles & Characters
The LGBTQIA+ community has seen positive changes across many TV shows and films. According to IMDB, there are 552,366 movies and 185,713 TV series recorded. Of the total, there were 1,445 TV shows and films 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 exclusively LGBTQIA+ related films (including those with LGBTQIA+ characters), they still only account for 0.2% of all movies and television shows. Positive developments have been made by moving away from the stereotypical portrayal of community members, with many characters now often more realistic to real-life people and storylines. Even when some producers and production companies decide to include LGBTQIA+ characters, they will often fall short or be criticised by casting heterosexual actors and actresses. The sexual identity of any performer should not matter, given that the focus should be more on the suitability of the performer to play the role rather than anything else. However, it is understandable why so many people feel let down and frustrated with so few minority roles and parts available.

Though any form of representation is positive, featuring only young LGBTQIA+ characters, which target only people under the age of 30, only goes so far. Following this outdated formula lacks representation and does not reflect the modern LGBTQIA+ community. With over one-third (or 34%) of the world’s LGBTQIA+ 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 significantly impact those most vulnerable. Often affecting those who lack a positive exposure to the LGBTQIA+ community or those trying to come to terms with who they are.

Seeing popular characters that portray ordinary LGBTQIA+ people similar to them is positive, living their everyday lives with someone who loves them. Surrounded by a loving family and being accepted by those close to them will often give the viewer hope and the courage to face the truth about themselves. The portrayal of ordinary LGBTQIA+ 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. In these modern times, actors and actresses should remain confident in their abilities, skill, and craft. Realising that the fear of being type-cast by sharing who they are with the world is outdated. Film and TV producers should continue on the road to inclusion as positive progress has been made to date; however, we still have a long way to go.

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