Kristen Stewart’s Dilemma Illustrates The Problem Hollywood Still Has With LGBTQ Characters

Photo: P. Lehman/Barcroft Media/Getty Images.
The recent legal progress made for LGBTQ rights makes it easy to lose sight of just how far we still have to go when it comes to true equality. The idea of someone hiding their sexuality to further their career sounds as ancient as super low-rise jeans — but both made a comeback. It was 2015 when Kristen Stewart was apparently instructed to keep her relationship with Alicia Cargile on the down-low to ensure she’d still be cast in blockbuster movies following the success of Twilight
"I have fully been told, 'If you just like do yourself a [favor,] and don’t go out holding your girlfriend’s hand in public, you might get a Marvel movie,'" Stewart told Harper’s Bazaar UK for her October cover. 
Putting aside the homophobia inherent in the belief that that a queer actor woudn’t be as versatile as a straight actor, this advice is predicated on the assumption that every movie character must be straight. That’s because unfortunately, even four years later, most movie characters are
Professor Stacy L. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism examined 53,178 characters in 1,200 top films from 2007 to 2018, and found marginal but still inadequate progress, especially in regards to female and LGBTQ characters. 
“Despite more than a decade of advocacy, the percentage of female speaking characters has not increased,” said Dr. Smith in the release. “Additionally, we saw no substantial improvement in the percentage or representation of LGBTQ characters or characters with disabilities. It is crucial not to lose sight of these and other areas that still need to improve.”
Just 1.3% of all characters in 2018’s top movies were from the LGBTQ community, and of 500 top films released between 2014 and 2017, only one transgender character appeared on screen. 
“These numbers reveal the depth of the erasure of female characters, particularly those from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds, the LGBTQ community, and individuals with disabilities,” Marc Choueiti, Program Director at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, said in a statement. “As we continue to monitor the most popular films released each year, these numbers are one place we will continue to scrutinize for change.”
The founders of the study hope this continued and increased scrutiny will put pressure on Hollywood to be more mindful with its projects, and there is hope that people are listening. Thirty-nine films had a woman in a leading or co-leading role compared to 2017’s 33, a huge jump from just 20 in 2007. There was also a six-film rise in leading or co-leading characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (21 films in 2017, to 27 movies in 2018) as well as a seven-film rise in films featuring a female lead from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group (four in 2017 to eleven in 2018), plus a six-film rise in movies led by a female actor age 45 or older (five in 2017 to eleven in 2018). 
Awareness of underrepresentation is the first step towards fixing it. It takes studies, personal anecdotes, and our own hunger as audience members to fully push the needle. Kristen Stewart as a lesbian lead in a Marvel movie? Who wouldn’t flock to theaters for that? 

More from Movies

R29 Original Series