26/05/2017 08:21 BST | Updated 26/05/2017 08:21 BST

Why We Need To Celebrate Independent LGBTQ+ Cinema

Once again, media organisation GLAAD has reported that Hollywood has failed to increase LGBTQ+ representation.

Out of the 125 films distributed by major picture studios in 2016, only 23 contained LGBTQ+ characters, with almost half of these having less than one minute of screen time. Only nine of these films passed GLAAD's Vito Russo Test, which necessitates that, in order to pass, the film must have an identifiable LGBTQ+ character, that is not defined solely by their sexual orientation or gender identity, and is integral to the plot rather than existing as an aside or as 'comic relief'.

In order to compile the report, GLAAD looked at seven major studios - including 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate Entertainment, and Paramount Pictures - and reviewed all feature films released in 2016 for LGBTQ+ inclusivity, language, and 'humour' in order to grade them on a scale of 'Excellent' to 'Failing'.

CEO of GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis, says: "Millennials aged 18 to 34 are more than twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ as older generations. If film wants to remain relevant and retain an audience that has more options for entertainment than ever before, the industry must catch up in reflecting the full diversity of this country."

Of course, equal representation in mainstream cinema is integral in accurately and sensitively depicting the LGBTQ+ experience. GLAAD's report raises important questions about the power film has in defining marginalised identities in our communities - and how, more often than not, this power is abused in favour of entertaining their target audience.

But why do GLAAD choose to scrutinise mainstream cinema only? The report suggests that appealing to one audience does not have to mean ignoring other audiences, so why do they give precedence to mainstream releases and snub independent filmmakers? Independent cinema is where our best depictions of the LGBTQ+ community can be found and GLAAD choose to disregard these stories.

Recent examples of films that indulge in queerbaiting, such as Beauty and the Beast and the Power Rangers reboot, are heralded as providing "huge steps forward for the industry" in Ellis' opening letter, which feels like a misstep, and Moonlight is the only independent film that gets a mention, purely for its Oscar-winning awards streak.

Kate Ellis does praise the "ground-breaking stories we see in independent films like Moonlight" and the report ends by listing eight film distributors who are leading the way in LGBTQ+ inclusivity. But - like the underrepresented identities GLAAD seek to represent - independent filmmakers are not championed enough and their contributions are homogenised and forced into a vague and undeveloped category.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the party decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. In response to this, our country has seen an explosion of events exploring queer culture. BFI Flare, which ran in March, is the UK's largest LGBTQ+ film festival and premiered a range of international titles, such as Against the Law and Signature Move. Coming up later this year are festivals such as the Iris Prize Festival, GFEST, and Fringe!, along with a number of queer titles being shown at larger festivals such as Sheffield Doc/Fest. These are films and events that need to celebrated - not confined to the back of a 35-page document.

It must be reiterated that the work of GLAAD does spark important debate about how cinema chooses to depict underrepresented groups in our society. Mainstream cinema is many young people's first exposure to LGBTQ+ characters and issues and therefore it is important to highlight the poor quality of these depictions, in order to improve the lives of queer folk and how their identities are perceived.

GLAAD pride themselves on being a media force that "tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change." Their persistent activism and vital contribution to our ongoing battle for representation in cinema is admirable, but their attempt to facilitate cultural change is seriously halted by their refusal to champion non-mainstream content.

In the past, GLAAD have been criticised for dropping the 'Outstanding Blog' category at the GLAAD Media Awards, favouring corporate magazines over grassroots bloggers - and this sentiment is echoed here. In marginalising independent filmmaking, GLAAD fail to represent the diversity of the current cinematic landscape.

As the report points out, smaller studios don't have the resources compete with blockbuster titles, meaning that most of these LGBTQ+ inclusive features have a short run over a single weekend, rendering them inaccessible to mainstream audiences. A mere mention of studios such as A24, Gravitas Ventures, and Vertical Entertainment does increase visibility, but this doesn't go far enough.

As well as highlighting issues in Hollywood, GLAAD and other media organisations need to help distribute, advertise, and champion these bold, bright, and beautiful stories that the LGBTQ+ community crave. They are essential in forming our cultural identities and, in a time when homophobia and transphobia are on the rise, these films make our community stronger.