Hollywood's Depiction of Gay Characters: What We Can Do Better

Below is the full transcript of Amy Pascal's remarks to the sold out fundraiser at a gala on March 21, which raised over $1 million to support the LA Gay and Lesbian Center's Children Youth and Family Services

Before I get started, the first thing I want to do is thank Dr. Curt Shepard and Simon Costello and everybody who volunteers and supports the center, because you guys are amazing.

I see a lot of friends and people out there who helped me think about what I wanted to say tonight. Thank you for that, and for coming, and for this honor and this opportunity.

When Kathy Kloves asked me to help raise money for the Gay and Lesbian Center, of course, I said yes, but I didn't really know anything about the center or the extraordinary program we are honoring tonight. Once I visited the center, I knew what made Kathy and so many of you lifelong supporters.

This program serves, guides, and supports teenagers who are desperate and lonely and, in some cases, dangerously close to going over the edge. These kids are, essentially, orphans, stranded, and the center gives them a home, a nonjudgmental and loving home. They don't just get beds and warm showers -- they get medical attention, they get guidance, they get hope, and maybe for the first time in a long time, they get dignity and respect.

Gays and lesbians make up about 40 percent of all homeless youth. One report I saw said that a gay student could hear anti-gay slurs as often as 26 times a day, and faculty intervention rarely occurs. Nearly one-third of all lesbian and gay students drop out of high school to escape violence, harassment, and the isolation they face. The dropout rate is three times the national average.

Fifty percent of all gay and lesbian youth report that their parents reject them due to their sexual orientation. Let me repeat that: I said 50 percent. Can you imagine how much more likely these kids are to run away from home, compared to their heterosexual peers?

It's not hard to imagine all the ways these kids end up homeless. Now, I can't pretend to understand everything these kids are going through, but I do want to speak briefly tonight about vulnerability and responsibility -- theirs and ours.

All of us here can identify with what it's like to be a teenager, because for most of us, it was more painful than joyful. And if you were unusual (and who among us wasn't a little bit unusual?) in one way or another, it was especially painful.

No matter who we are, no matter what we are, no matter where we come from, we learn about ourselves and each other in two ways. The first way is what we hear -- in our families, from our friends, and from our schoolmates. The second way is what we see -- on television and in the movie theater. Now, there is not much any of us can do about what people hear from families and friends, but there is a whole hell of a lot we can do about what people see.

The images that impacted me as a teenager had lasting influences on my entire life and I bet that is true for most of us. What we see in the media today affects every body, whether it's film, TV, radio, magazines or the Internet. What the media says about your sexual orientation, and the color of your skin, and the shape of your eyes, and your ethnicity... what you look like, what you weigh, what you wear, how poor you are, how awkward you are, how educated you are, and how different you are... this stuff really sinks in. What we see teaches us about how to feel about ourselves and how to feel about each other.

And now, I'm talking about kids who are gay and I'm talking about kids who aren't gay. One group needs affirmation and the other group needs education. And, if I'm being honest, neither of those issues are high on any movie studio or TV network's agenda.

So that seemed like a good topic for tonight. Think about what inspired you growing up, what told you what the world was like, who you could be.

I wanted to be Anne Marie -- also known as Marlo Thomas -- in the TV series That Girl. That Girl was the very first TV program about a single career girl who didn't want to get married. She wanted to be an actress and she wanted to have her own apartment in Manhattan -- and she had one. Of course, I also loved her fabulous wardrobe, but that's another matter.

I also wanted to be Gidget. The TV show and book were based on a real person -- a girl like me, Jewish, lived near the beach, and preferred the surfing subculture to anything that was going on in suburbia.

Of course, I also wanted to be Margo Channing in a black mink coat that she bought herself. I wanted to walk down grand staircases with Thelma Ritter by my side. I still do.

I wanted to be like Simone Signoret, worldly and wise and complex, and smoke a lot of cigarettes. And there were other actresses, like Jane Fonda and Barbra Streisand, who played characters that were iconic, sexy, and had big jobs and big lives, and they were never defined by being a daughter, a mother, or a wife.

I didn't have to believe that if I wanted a career I was going to end up unfulfilled, a bitch, unlovable and alone. And just because I really liked boys, that didn't mean I was a slut.

Oh, one more thing: I wanted Faye Dunaway's desk from Network. She had a big desk. I wanted a big desk. Now I have one. If she could run a TV network, I could run a movie studio.

OK, some of those images may seem superficial or embarrassing, but not to me. If I didn't have them, I wouldn't have the life or the job or the great honor I do tonight.

So all of this made me wonder: what kinds of images are we giving gay and lesbian kids? What are we teaching them and their families and friends about being gay? Do the images give them hope and confidence and self worth?

I think it's important for kids who grow up in New York or L.A., but how about those kids in North Dakota or Kentucky or Utah or Alabama -- well, basically all of America -- kids who might be coming out to friends and families who have never met a gay person apart from the images they've seen on TV and in the movies?

The other day, a good friend of mine told me the difference between being gay and other minorities is that you're alone in your own family. If you're a black kid and someone calls you the N word at school, your family is there to comfort you. They know how you feel. They have probably had the same experience. Not true when you're gay. You are truly alone. So I've been wondering how helpful we've been.

So I decided to look at a bunch of movies. Some of them are old; some are still in the movie theater. Have a look [video montage of how gay people have been depicted in film over the years was played here].

The Celluloid Closet, the groundbreaking book written by Vito Russo and the subsequent documentary that followed, said that when homosexuals were depicted on screen, they were people to laugh at, or people to pity, or even people to fear. They were a special and distinct group. Now, that has left a powerful legacy. According to Mr. Russo, Hollywood essentially taught straight people what to think of gay people and gay people what to think about themselves.

The Celluloid Closet was made almost 20 years ago and certainly attitudes have changed, but maybe not quite so much as you or I would want or hope. Television has been much more progressive and credit has to be given to producers like Max Mutchnick and David Kohan and Ryan Murphy for really changing things.

Now movies need to catch up. There are magnificent movies being made about gay subjects with gay characters, like Brokeback Mountain and Milk. Anyone would have been proud to have made those movies. I know I would be. But when you think about some of these films, even our favorite ones, there is a theme that runs through them.

Brokeback Mountain, Milk, Boys Don't Cry, Philadelphia, The Hours, Gods and Monsters, The Talented Mr. Ripley, A Single Man, My Own Private Idaho, Cloud Atlas -- in all these movies, the main character is murdered or martyred or commits suicide or just dies unhappily. And there are far more pernicious and dangerous images that confront gay kids and their parents: the lesbian murderer, the psychotic transvestite, the queen who is humiliated and sometimes tossed off a ship or a ledge. It's a big joke. It still happens.

How many times have you heard a character imply to another that the worst thing about going to prison isn't being locked up for the rest of your life, it's the homosexuality? And old stereotypes still exist. The most benign stereotypes would have a gay kid believe that they will end up being the asexual, witty best friend of the pretty girl, or a drag queen, or a swishy hairdresser. The list goes on.

Of course, there are great images, too, like the family in The Kids Are All Right. The way the boy in Perks of Being a Wallflower and the middle-aged man in Hotel Marigold and the 75-year-old man in Beginners come out to a better, richer, more fulfilled life. It's treated as a celebration.

And real credit has to be given to the filmmakers of ParaNorman, Chris Butler and Sam Fell, who had the first gay character in an animated movie, and he was the football hunk and it was totally incidental to the plot.

Now it's time for all of us to take that step. Not every gay character needs to be defined by his or her sexuality. Can't being gay just be one stitch in the fabric of someone's life? Can't we depict men and women who just so happen to be gay -- perhaps a lawyer or soldier or business executive or scientist or engineer?

There is a great show on television called Southland. It centers around cops in L.A. The other night, there was a scene with the brawniest guy on the show. He was in bed, just waking up in the morning, and suddenly, another guy gets up naked. They have a little argument and the scene ends and the brawny cop goes off to work. No mention, nothing -- like any scene between any couple in any movie, just a brief moment on the show. That's the way it should be, but rarely is. Each of us in this room is uniquely complicated and unpredictable and multifaceted. We are defined by much more than whom we are sleeping with.

I realized when I was thinking about this that it's like the difference between Sidney Poitier and Will Smith. In every Sidney Poitier film, whether it's a drama like In the Heat of the Night or a comedy like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Sidney Poitier played 'the' black man. That defined him.

Forty years later, Will Smith is saving the world, and race has nothing to do with it.

Wouldn't it be great if it took less than 40 years for a man or a woman to save the world, and he or she just happened to be gay?

Hollywood sometimes beats its breast a little too much. We should take pride in what we have accomplished. A lot!

On the other hand, go to Google and look up Hollywood's depiction of gay characters. We still have a long, long way to go. We all make mistakes -- I make them all the time -- but the mistakes aren't based on malice or bigotry, believe me. We can be blamed for thoughtlessness, or the rush of starting a movie, but basically, it's really just insensitivity. We need to create an atmosphere that encourages people to speak up, so we get this right.

How about next time, when any of us are reading a script and it says words like fag -- or faggot, homo, dyke -- take a pencil and just cross it out. Just don't do it.

We can do better and we will do better. We have to. If we just think about that kid in North Dakota, or their parents, we might just do it a little differently.

Finally, just let me say the next time I see you, I can guarantee two things.

The first is that, unfortunately, we still will be releasing some terrible stuff with gay characters. Nothing changes overnight, especially in Hollywood.

The second thing is that I know in my heart, and I can promise you, there will be many more films from which you and I can be proud.

Thank you. Support the center. It does amazing stuff!