5 Duke of Cornwall Dr. Markham ON [email protected]

In 1894, the The Dickson Experimental Sound Film made waves when it hit the big screen.

It wasn’t the amazing technological breakthrough of a movie with live-recorded sound that stunned audiences, but the “unconventional” scene of two men dancing together.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

While the early days of LGBT representation in films mostly amounted to a stolen kiss, a knowing glance or forbidden love, today LGBT people are written into mainstream Hollywood storylines, and it’s not only fostering long-overdue social inclusion, but it’s also paying dividends at the box-office.

New research by Monash University, published in the Journal of Business Ethics, has found that movies with LGBT-inclusive representation significantly outperform those with no LGBT representation when it comes to box-office revenue.

“In analysing the films, we classified all movies into three categories – non-LGBT movies, LGBT-inclusive movies, and LGBT-themed movies. LGBT-inclusive movies are those that include LGBT characters or plots, but do not make them the main focus or theme of the movie,” says Yimin Cheng, a senior lecturer at the Monash Business School.

“Our findings, analysing 4126 films, show that LGBT-inclusive movies earned a staggering 29% more revenue at the box office than movies with no LGBT content.

“With global box-office revenue reaching $42 billion in 2019, this means LGBT-inclusive films are big business on and off screen.”

A long history on the big screen

LGBT people have been depicted in Hollywood films since movies were first projected onto the silver screen more than a century ago; in the 1930 film Morocco, Hollywood golden girl Marlene Dietrich became the first actress to kiss another woman on screen, and was lauded for her performance.

But in 1934, the Hays Code, also known as the Motion Picture Production Code, was introduced, forbidding explicit depictions of homosexuality, and it overshadowed film production until it was scrapped in 1968.

Despite the code, movies such as Rebel Without A Cause (1955), which featured the first onscreen gay teenager, continued to push boundaries. However, the LGBT representation was often fleeting, unrequited, a side plot or subtext that remained the standard for many decades, even after the code was extinct.

James Dean and others in a scene from the 1955 film Rebel Without A Cause
Rebel Without A Cause (1955), starring James Dean (right) featured the first onscreen gay teenager.

Most commonly, the gay characters were comical stereotypes, such as Martin Short’s flamboyant wedding planner Franck in 1991’s Father of the Bride, or the outrageously camp Mr Chow in 2009’s The Hangover.

Iconic LGBT-themed movies such as Philadelphia, Moonlight, Brokeback Mountain and The Kids Are All Right, albeit heavy-hearted at times, shifted the dial and took LGBT representation to new levels, furthering storylines and deepening integration into plot, while creating more meaningful dialogue.

Now we’ve perhaps finally reached the panacea where LGBT characters are included as part of the normal storylines, and their sexuality doesn’t make a difference in how they see themselves or how other people treat them.

“Our findings show that adding LGBT-inclusive representation increases movies’ financial success, in addition to its positive social impact – it’s a win-win situation.”

This development is celebrated, but until now, the financial impact of adding LGBT representations to movies has been largely unknown.

“Our research found that using LGBT-inclusive representation increases movies’ market performance,” says Yimin Cheng.

“The advantage of LGBT-inclusive movies came from their ability to appeal to a broader audience base with both favourable and unfavourable LGBT attitudes. Interestingly, although LGBT-themed movies, such as Brokeback Mountain and The Kids Are All Right were not as commercially successful as LGBT-inclusive movies, their reception kept improving over the years, and they performed equally as well as non-LGBT movies more recently.

“On television, too, we’re seeing shows with LGBT representation, such as Modern Family, Schitt’s Creek and Grey’s Anatomy, achieve huge success,” he says.

Jake Gyllenhaal is embraced by late Heath Ledger in a scene from the film Brokeback Mountain
Iconic: Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain.

A hit to the box-office, and reputations

Incredibly, in the past, some believed LGBT-themed movies could not only hurt the movie’s box-office revenue, but the actors’ reputations, too.

Tom Hanks’ acclaimed performance in Philadelphia (1993) quickly dispelled that notion, and in 2017 Moonlight made history as the first LGBTQ+ movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

Before the pandemic, the American and global box-offices were worth $11.4 billion and $42.2 billion, respectively. Clearly, broadening market appeal and selling more tickets has significant positive economic and social implications.

Read more: How COVID-19 is impacting Australia’s screen industry and the opportunity it presents

“I hope our findings encourage more movies to add LGBT representations to their productions. Inclusiveness is the glue for a strong and prosperous society, and visibility of minority groups is the first step of inclusiveness,” says Yimin Cheng.

“Many movie producers might have long wished to promote LGBT inclusiveness, but there’s a business reality, and movie producers are also held accountable to their investors.

“Our findings show that adding LGBT-inclusive representation increases movies’ financial success, in addition to its positive social impact – it’s a win-win situation.

So, the Oscar goes to … LGBT inclusion. Pass the popcorn, please.


© 2022 All Rights Reserved. Event Wedding Directory - Ahlimosa Décor.