Hollywood’s Overrepresentation of White, Gay Men

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Television shows and movies like Looking, and Dallas Buyers Club are increasingly bringing LGBT stories to the big and small screens, but their representations of diversity within the queer community are sorely lacking. White, gay, male characters are grossly overrepresented, according to a Vox analysis of a number of recent shows and films focusing on gay narratives. The issue, write Alex Abad-Santos, is not with the specific stories that are depicted, but rather with the meta-narrative created by an unchanging stream of stories solely about white guys:

“We don't and shouldn't expect anyone to change Harvey Milk's race or change who Larry Kramer's friends were. Kramer's and Milk's experiences aren't in our control. However, choosing which stories to tell is. And having a willingness to tell other kinds of stories, perhaps some that are just as worthy as Milk's or Kramer's, from places we're not necessarily looking, is something filmmakers and writers can do better.”

Gary Gates, an LGBT demographer at UCLA, says that statistically speaking the kinds of LGBT groups being portrayed in modern media simply don’t reflect reality. In addition to nearly half of the characters being non-white “if you had a show with a cast of 20 characters who were LGBT, two-thirds of the women would be bisexual, and one-third of the women would be lesbians, while two-thirds of the men would be gay, and one-third would be bi.”

Gates goes on to point out the disproportionate amount of screen-time given to characters that read as being affluent. The persistent idea that all LGBT individuals are more economically successful than their heterosexual counterparts is due in large part to to a conflation of statistical findings. College graduated, same-sex couples, with two partners actively participating in the workforce do, on average, make more than heterosexuals, Gates explained in 2013 to US News. These couples make statistical headlines because they are exceptional, however, and portraying them as The New Normal is disingenuous at best and problematic at worst.

The-new-normal-utah-new-home__oPtIn terms of movies and documentaries like The Normal Heart and How To Survive A Plague, filmmakers are presented with the task of parsing through the historical record in order to suss out compelling stories. Problems arise when the cinematic truth depicted on screen only reflect the limited perspectives of certain characters. In an interview with Vulture Sarah Schulman, co-creator of The ACT UP Oral History Project, recently voiced her misgivings about what she perceived as a whitewashing of early HIV/AIDS activism as depicted in How To Survive A Plague.

We call it “The Five White People Who Saved the World” — that’s our nickname for it. And those white people are very busy because apparently they’re always saving everything all the time. Everywhere you go, you see them.

Referring to a discussion following screenings of Jim Hubbard’s United in Anger: A History of ACT UP and David France’s How To Survive a Plague, Schulman recalls that same point blank critique.

At one point they open up for questions and the first question to David is: Why do you have no women or people of color in the film? And he says, well I wanted to focus on wealthy white men because they had the time to devote to activism. Now as a person who has interviewed 168 surviving members of ACT UP New York, I can tell you that’s not historically correct.

People in ACT UP gave their entire lives to ACT UP. All different kinds of people from every class and background would report in our interviews that they were at ACT UP five nights a week, that their entire life was ACT UP. And that had nothing to do with how much money you had. And the second thing he said was that these men went to good universities and so they were able to understand the science. That is absurd. The audience almost started laughing. One of the best experts on the science of AIDS in ACT UP was Garance Franke-Ruta who was 19. We all sat there and realized that this man knows nothing about ACT UP.

Watch a video of the exchange AFTER THE JUMP

 

Comments

  1. Marc says

    Maybe white males are over represented because it takes a member of the dominant group to be strong enough to shake the structure of that group and open up the space.

  2. Dastius Krazitauc says

    I don’t get their beef with “Looking”, which has whites, blacks, latinos, as well as different generations.

  3. crispy says

    I read this story earlier today and thought it brought up a lot of good points without being openly hostile toward Hollywood.

    The problem with this story is that it only looks at all-caps GAY programs like Looking and The New Normal. So broader programs that include gay characters aren’t considered. For instance, True Blood’s Lafayette, who is not white and not affluent, isn’t mentioned anywhere in the story.

  4. crispy says

    @Dastius: Did you not read the story? They don’t have beef with Looking. They say it has a balance between white and non-white characters (despite early, premature criticism of the show’s diversity).

  5. jeffg166 says

    Any LGBT story is not high on the list of things to do in Hollywood. We are lucky to get the few things done. In the perfect world everyone would be shown and included.

  6. says

    As a Black Gay male who does not do drag, I have to say representations of people like me are very hard to find on screen. I’m not saying there are none at all, but there are too few. Is this due to out-and-out racism? Most of the time, probably not. But whatever the reason, that rainbow flag we’re always waving around is looking more and more like an empty symbol.

  7. crispy says

    Stuffed Animal, representations of you are hard to find on screen because you’re not interesting.

  8. Hrm says

    Call me crazy, but it COULD be that pursuing things like theater arts, dance, and acting in general aren’t as big in minority communities. In fact, it’s often frowned upon, unlike things such as basketball, being “macho,” or heavy intellectual pursuits like engineering.

  9. Brandon H says

    Frankly it’s hard to find non-white, non-rich representation in Hollywood LGBT or not.

    I don’t think this is a LGBT specific issue at all so it’s going to take more than just the LGBT community to effect change.

  10. Andthat'sawrap says

    Stuffed Animal, you’re right.

    I really can’t think of any non-white gay characters from movies or television that weren’t at least in part semi-drag or fully in drag.
    I’m not going to get crazy over this though, because I feel in my heart that as things progress, we’ll see more representation.

    Hollywood loves white males, gay or straight, because Hollywood is racist. It’s always been racist.

  11. says

    “i’m not being represented!”, scream the folks who then use their next breath to give a list of excuses for not representing themselves.

    the article has some good points, however.

    i’m just frankly thrilled that these massive breakthroughs in the pro-Sports world are being made by black men. all these “first out player” moments are brilliant – and they’re being made by black men. rad.

    it’s funny, when people talk about “gay representations” in media – and so many neglect that openly-gay actor BD Wong has played straight and gay in many shows for many years. I guess it doesn’t “count” as representation when you’re Asian, eh?

    the was a terrible web series called “in[between]men” that just flat out SUCKED – the concept, a bunch of pretty white gay men in NYC who “just don’t relate to other gay men” (bulls**t, that’s a learned aversion, but more on that later…) in a show created by non-white men. so, rather than telling their story, and casting non-white characters, the show’s creators chose instead to populate their show with, let’s be real here, all the guys who never gave them the time of day in the bars and clubs.

    a more apt title would be “hollywood’s overrepresentation of straight white men as gay men”.

    we still live in a gay culture of “no fats fems asians or blacks” – and there are legions of gay white boys who roll only in circles of their fellow whiteboys. but in the media – yeah, it’s time for some diversity.
    LOOKING (i felt) was doing a rather clear-eyed job of addressing this.
    i think of the gay love story on SIX FEET UNDER, which was wonderful.

    yes – we need more people of colour. all colours. plural. the more queer-identifying gay circles tend to have less of the “whites only plz” mentality – it’s people of all colour and creed together.

  12. anon says

    @CRISPY

    “Television shows and movies like Looking, and Dallas Buyers Club are increasingly bringing LGBT stories to the big and small screens, but their representations of diversity within the queer community are sorely lacking”

    This direct quote from the story is where it plainly states that Looking is part of the problem.

  13. jjose712 says

    I remember a cancelled (i think it was a canadian show) show that had a closeted rapper as one of the main characters.
    Their three gay characters were gay (and noone did drag).

    I don’t think gay white males are overrepresented (in fact there are not that many shows with gay characters), i think non white gays are underrepresented

  14. anon says

    Gary Gates, an LGBT demographer at UCLA, says that statistically speaking the kinds of LGBT groups being portrayed in modern media simply don’t reflect reality. In addition to nearly half of the characters being non-white “if you had a show with a cast of 20 characters who were LGBT, two-thirds of the women would be bisexual, and one-third of the women would be lesbians, while two-thirds of the men would be gay, and one-third would be bi.”

    This quote from the piece seems to be saying that there are TOO MANY non-white and TOO MANY bi characters being portrayed in media and they are over-represented based on their actual demographics.

    Too confusing

  15. kyrie says

    Who cares – just uppity leftists stirring up issues where there are none. I’ll hang out and associate with whoever I damn well please, I couldn’t care less what the whiny leftist set thinks.

  16. Kelly says

    Most white people in America definitely have a problem discussing racial issues. Most of the time there is a lot of aggression and denial when talking about the very real problem of racism against non-white people. Of course some gay white males are afflicted by racial bigotry.

  17. stephen says

    I’m gay, Puerto Rican and Trinidadian and could care less if I see someone like me on screen. I develop eLearning for a living and spend my evenings either on the couch with the bf or working on a client project, with a bar visit maybe once per month if that.

    I don’t expect my life to show up on screen because frankly it’s not interesting to Hollywood. I find HBO’s Silicon Valley more relatable than Looking. Maybe I don’t see race or sexuality like others do. I just want a good story.

  18. Dastius Krazitauc says

    “This direct quote from the story is where it plainly states that Looking is part of the problem.”

    Thanks for pointing that out, ANON. It is the very first line of the story.

    Crispy, where in the story do you see this: “They say it has a balance between white and non-white characters”. I do not see that.

  19. crispy says

    @ANON: Apparently, you stopped reading the story after the first paragraph.

    “Looking is actually the most diverse of these shows, featuring a balance between non-white and white characters:”

    There’s even a giantmotherfucking graph one would think would have commanded your attention.

  20. Rowan says

    Stuffedanimal…I get you but is there a market? Is it right to get most of the gay watching tv show people who are white to watch a show about a group they don’t get?

    And why should one wait for white people to do anything?

    Unfortunately the rep you seek may not come from a gay black man w/o the religious BS plus the rest from the US…but Steve McQueen did some good movies about black gay men in london pre 12 Years of slavery.

  21. Dastius Krazitauc says

    Jesus, get a grip, Crispy. We’re talking about different things. You are right, if you follow the link, you will see the giantmotherfucking graph and “Looking” given its proper due, but the problem is with this Towleroad article, which claims “Looking” is lacking in diversity.

  22. Mike says

    I’m shock people are talking about this issue.I would luv to see black gay men on TV who are not fem & dressed in drag or on the DL.Where are the brothers like me who are out and proud.I know they exit I guess Hollywood doesn’t.

  23. anon says

    @CRISPY… what is actually at play here is that the line I quoted is from Towleroad’s misrepresentation of what the actual base article says, which is what you are quoting.

  24. Derrick from Philly says

    Interesting discussion so far.

    Believe it or not, I don’t have much to say. I guess, I don’t expect much from the entertainment industry in this area.

  25. Moretruth says

    Netwrok TV is pretty whitebread (and the shows fail, so there’s that…); however, the same cannot be said for cable TV or movies.
    I could go on and on, but:

    Six Feet Under
    black cop, white undertaker. where was the drag queen?
    Trueblood
    queeny black guy, a bunch of bi-vamps. The Governor of Mississippi was really gay and feasting on lots of men. His boyfriend was a latino.
    Dallas Buyers Club
    white guy — based on a real person, who was white, so…
    The Normal Heart — based on real people, right?
    Philadelphia — white gay guy with AIDs. “hero” was black guy
    Sex in the City — the queens were white. And queeny
    Too Wong Fu… — white, black, latino == all drag queens

  26. Jerry says

    Charles, here’s the thing: diversity IN THE QUEER COMMUNITY is sorely lacking. Why should we expect any different from media representations?

    Even with straight media, I always notice advertising “inclusiveness” of blacks and Hispanics. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, and those commercials where there’s a black family among all the white families at neighborhood barbecues still strikes me as strange.

    Look at a flickr gallery from any random bear run. Do you see more than five black guys there? Look at YouTube videos from balls in Harlem (or Dallas, or Atlanta or D.C….). How many white people are there?

    There is de facto segregation in America, gay and straight, and media “inclusivity” actually makes that segregation even more evident.

    I have no solutions to offer, but I thought it was important to point out that under-representation of POC in gay film/TV is pretty reflective of the community AS IT EXISTS.

  27. Robert says

    “Whitewashing” of early LGBT rights advances?? Uh, the footage doesn’t lie. Underrepresentation is a terrible thing, but to act like we should change the makeup of the representation of the pioneers in LGBT rights is ridiculous. And offensive, really.

  28. TJ says

    Why do people blanket all of us with the word “queer”? I absolutely hate that word and do not identify as “queer”…I’m gay damn it!

  29. says

    RE Crispy: An old ploy- if you don’t agree with what I say, stoop to a personal attack. I will sleep quite soundly tonight, fully aware that you and any number of people find me uninteresting. I’ll be polite and not share my feelings about you . . .

    I’m well aware that there are folks of all skin colors and ethnic backgrounds who are fine seeing an LGBT representation that is overwhelmingly White. I’m just not one of them. Most of the people in the world are not White, and that means most of the LGBT people in the world aren’t, either. I know TV is just fantasy, but this whitewashing is taking fantasy in entirely the wrong direction.

    As for people of color not being commercially viable, that’s pure economic racism. Attaching dollar signs to a racially prejudiced argument doesn’t make the argument reasonable.

  30. Derrick from Philly says

    ROBERT,

    I never knew how influential Black & Latino Gays were in the development of American Gay Culture (or Cultures) until I saw the documentary “Before Stonewall”. Maybe you ought to check it out.

    And then I discovered that in big cities like New York, Philly, New Orleans, Chicago and others–often the areas where openly Gay White men hung out were either in or near Black neighborhoods (I’m talking pre-1970s).

    But that’s all right. Like I said, I don’t expect much from Hollywood.

    But since we’re on this subject, there is a DVD I’d like you all to order (or atleast see). It’s called “Brother To Brother”. Made about ten years ago by a wonderful young filmmaker named Rodney Evans. The issue of race relations within Gay America is an important part of the film. It’s very good. Although, again, a Straight actor (Anthony Mackie) plays a Gay man…but he does it well.

  31. jarago says

    But white gay males have always been the dominant image in our cultural presentation- even in porn- you might have a token black or latino guy.

  32. Brian says

    I’ve been thinking about this, and rather bothered by this for a while now. I am especially bothered since in general rights for ethnic minorities seem to be under attack from every direction.

    It is super disappointing to me how the gay movement really is just the White Gay Men’s movement. I at least look white, but eventhough the movement benefits me I feel like it is alienating people who otherwise have a lot in common with us!

    Perhaps we know no better than the African American communities that supported prop 8. It’s both saddening and maddening.

  33. GregV says

    The headline is misleading and the content of the article is little more than rhetoric.
    According to GLAAD’s analysis last year, more than 57% of straight characters on TV are male but among gay and bi characters it’s 50/50.
    And according to that same analysis, the percentage of “people of color” is several percentage points LOWER among straight characters than gay and bi ones.
    Less than 1 out of 33 regular or recurring characters on broadcast TV is not heterosexual.
    Gay white men are NOT over-represented; they are UNDER-represented, even though some other types of people (perhaps most notably latino people of all sexual orientations and bisexual males) are even more under-represented.
    It’s also pointless to complain that many of the gay, white males are attractive and well-off without noting that straights on TV are even moreso. Watch an episode of Days of Our Lives and take a look at Dierdre Hall whose (straight) character officiated at her gay grandson’s wedding, then tell me how comparitively sexy your adult friends grandmothers are in real life. Then look at his OTHER sexy grandma. Then look at every other character in that town of potential swimsuit models. Nobody is obese, ugly or lives in squalor. That’s not “gay TV.”
    Gay TV characters may well be more diverse than any other segment on TV; the things is that we need MORE gay and bi characters of all sorts (NOT fewer white or male ones!), from leading characters to minor extras

  34. Will says

    Well maybe its time that those who feel they are under represented write some shows.

  35. Randy says

    If you don’t like what Hollywood produces (and honestly, like we need another Michael Bay film) then make your own.

    Everyone else is.

  36. says

    I’m glad your brought up “Brother to Brother,” Derrick, which is a wonderful movie that far too few people know.

    It’s important for the “other than white” LGBT get spotlight time. But I hate the sense of knee-jerk “inclusion” that hangs around this topic. And things can get out of hand. I recently took part in a cyber-squabble with a character who claimed that transgender lesbians were the leaders of Stonewall.

    Yeah right.

  37. anon says

    The last popular TV show to feature the working poor was Roseanne, which went off the air a decade ago. Since then, plenty of trashy reality TV shows pretend to feature the poor, but really don’t in any substantial way. TV is mostly about fantasy fulfillment twinged with sense of moral certainty and purpose. Viewers want to believe they can lose weight, become rich, fall in love and have funny friends, even though they really can’t. And a huge chunk of TV is fantasy fulfillment for teens, which is completely over the top.

  38. Edgar Carpenter says

    The most frequently portrayed white gay men are a very narrow slice of the spectrum of white gay men who are out there, too. Don’t be fooled by what you see on TV, white gay men are mostly unlike the TV portrayals.

    Being white is not enough, being young is not enough, going to a gym 3 times a week is not enough, having good facial bones is not enough, having a good income is not enough, being a college graduate is not enough – you have to have a rare combination of attributes to get represented on TV, no matter what color you are.

    So rather than turn this into a white people vs people of color issue, which is easy but inaccurate, let’s broaden our horizons and treat it as a real diversity issue.

    When have you seen old gay men with no interest in plastic surgery, no interest in drag and no fashion sense on TV? Of any color? It doesn’t happen, and that’s just one category out of many which is ignored. So yes, we need more ethnic diversity, more people of all colors, more age diversity – more diversity of all kinds on TV.

  39. Edgar Carpenter says

    And my previous post was prompted by the fact that some of the pre-stonewall, very brave early gay activists were rather plain, scrawny, older gay men of various colors.

    When their stories are sometimes told on TV, they are always represented by pretty, buff, usually lighter-skinned younger men, as if their true selves have to be “improved” to be acceptable – who they were in real life is not a good enough story.

  40. Tuna Noodle says

    Well, how about some POCs stand up and make art about themselves instead of just bitching and moaning about other (white) people’s perspectives.

  41. Lankyguy says

    the problem is racism in Hollywood period, labeling it an LGBT is divisive and unhelpful?

  42. Bill says

    @Stuffed Animal : if you look at the census data from 2010, “Blacks or African Americans” (the census bureau’s term) represent 13.2% of the population ( http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html ). About 3 percent of the population is gay. So, if you multiply probabilities as these are independent traits, you come up with about 0.4% who are in both.

    You’d need a cast of 1000 to have several individuals, representing 0.4% of the population, in a program if the goal were to represent minorities accurately.

  43. Frank says

    For those of you that dismissively say “Why don’t POC make art about themselves”. Well, we have been, for years, and through independent means, but you’ve probably never heard of it because you aren’t looking for it. I could name several gay characters included in films with predominantly black casts. i.e. Lackwana Blues, the Women of Brewester Place, Blind Faith, and Get on the Bus. And another thing… whenever we try and make bigger budgeted movies about our stories, hollywood executives almost always shoot it down, under the guise that it’s not marketable. Meanwhile white producers can get backing for a variety of movies such as the one about a guy falling in love with Siri. (look it up).

  44. Mark says

    Oh for goodness sakes. We’ve been through this since my Grandmom made Grandpop buy a television to see Jackie Robinson play for the Dodgers (and no, I wasn’t born yet, thank you)…

  45. crispy says

    “The last popular TV show to feature the working poor was Roseanne, which went off the air a decade ago. ”

    Wrong again. There’s a show on now called “Two Broke Girls” that’s about the working poor. It’s terrible, but it is popular. “Raising Hope” was also about poor people, and it was fantastic. It certainly wasn’t as popular as “Roseanne” but it lasted 4 seasons.

    It helps the discussion if you actually know what you’re talking about.

  46. Acevedo says

    White is white is white. All white people are racist and hide it behind the veneer of politeness and the internet. Hollywood and the media are anti-black/brown and anti-poor. So are white gay men. Stop complaining about the “hard” times you’ve had. You can still reach a incredibly decent level of economic, professional and social success. We have to work twice as hard to achieve that. Some cannot achieve at all.

  47. Oscar says

    Ugh, what a boring topic.

    ZZZZZ….zzz….zzz…..

    So sick of faux-racist bs. Andy seems to be obsessed with it though.

  48. UFFDA says

    Beautiful white men are so attractive they can’t possibly be over represented. And that’s that.

  49. Derrick from Philly says

    @ “Beautiful white men are so attractive they can’t possibly be over represented. And that’s that”

    From the waist down also…front and back?

  50. teknozen says

    @ LITTLE KIWI | JUL 8, 2014 3:30:58 PM
    “we still live in a gay culture of “no fats fems asians or blacks”

    Beg pardon, pal, I’m arriving way late at this party, and purely by accident of Google offering me a link on portable clothes dryers on this page–part of .Andy Towle’s ever expanding efforts at monetizing a site with which he’s become disenchanted–despite it once upon a time being an early stop on my daily blog roll. (

    (What are you up to these days, Andy? Missed you.)

    Even so long after the fact, I cannot resist pointing out that it was/is predominantly white, usually educated men who have consistently been on the front lines of ensuring basic human rights for GLBTQ people of all genders (sis-as well as otherwise) and colors while our African American brothers preferred staying cool on the down-low, the Asians were, by all appearances, paralysed by the horror of shaming their ancestors, and the Latinos played acted as either cholos or more rarely, chiquitas but all too seldom showed their true maricon colors. SURE these are VERY broad generalizations and there were obviously gay activists of every ethnic flavor. Nonetheless, NOBODY was anywhere near as out and proud as the white dudes. Reality is we did all the heaviest lifting, and we are the people who continue to push any GLBTQ images out into the MSM. Yes, I mean “GLBTQ” and not “LGBTQ” because I’ll be damned if I can see any call for ladies-first chivalry when the dykes were more pre-occupied with renting U-Hauls than agitating for AIDS care or preventing bashings on the street. (Plus they can damn well put the seat up when they are finished unless they want drops of dried pee tickling their precious tushies. I’ve been done with female exceptionalism for a long time–especially in the guise of Cheney/Rumsfeld-style toilet seat hegemony or “Can you change the big heavy drinking water bottle.”

    You want equality? Fine. Then step up and take the out of town meeting and quit bitching about lower annual salaries when you don’t want to work the O.T. Sorry, Sisters, that’s how it works. You want the same pay? Great! But that means no working from home because it’s that time of the month or you have to make cupcake’s for your kid’s kindergarten class. You were the one who wanted the damn kid. Your choice.

    Like it or not, that is the real history of the last half century. And apropos Matt Bomer getting to hump Mark Ruffalo’s hairy quads on HBO, please try to remember it was straight actors like D.W. Moffett who had the balls to make The Normal Heart such a paradigm shattering hit at the Public Theatre and white straight women like Barbra Streisand who eventually got Kramer’s play the national audience it deserved.

    As for “Looking” . . . it’s just o.k. The original Brit version of Queer as Folk was a hell of a lot ballsier. It’s weird. I watched Looking and kept thinking: “That was my life in the 70s in San Francisco.” City life–gay, sis-Q or whatever, is nothing like that in the 20-teens. [Nor, btw, has there been a bathhouse on this side of the Bay since the 1980s panic.). Jonathon Grof’s character’s confusion over his Mexican manqué (uh . . . his missing foreskin) boyfriend was indeed pure 1978 and perhaps the most telling detail in the entire 1st year of the series. But it was just plain weird in 2014, when uncut is more common among the sons (and grandsons!) of the hippie generation.

    Take a look at Bill Weber’s excellent film ( he of the superb “Cockettes” flick) to see what living through the crisis was really like (“ONE OF THE TOP TEN FILMS OF THE YEAR.” Stephen Holden, New York Times)

    Reality remains that without the white men, mostly, and a few seriously outraged women, plus all the white guys in Act-Up and Queer Nation (ever see a Black guy at one of those “Kiss-ins?), I seriously doubt we’d have anywhere near the diversity we now see on screen. So for Chissake, puh-lease let-up with the teeth-gnashing about “Insufficient gay minority images in the media.”

    Brit TV has queers and sis-gendered folk in every skin tone, Perhaps it’s time to wake-up to the reality that American culture is no longer the template for the larger world and the Cassandra P.C. who wrote this kneejerk screed needs to grow a pair and dare to venture into the phenomenally rich offerings from internal cinema so readily available via the Net these days.

    Oh. Right. As for you, my Little Kiwi (A stature-challenged person from New Zealand?), perhaps you yet continue to eschew the company of “fats fems asians or blacks” in your neighborhood, If true, that is not only pitiful, but excruciatingly boring. No way is that the culture I live in, nor where anyone I care to know hangs out.

    Then again, we all have our own stock of stereotypes. Myself, all the Kiwis I’ve known have been open, friendly types. But, sad to say I’ve not been to their country,and anyplace where Peter Jackson’s films have become the dominant national industry has just gotta be more than a tad peculiar.