“Hollywood Whitewashing – How Is This Still a Thing?” John Oliver’s HBO show Last Week Tonight asked last night in his final show before this weekend’s Oscars.
“In just one week we’ll celebrate the Academy Awards. They promise to be controversial, as, for the second year running, the nominees “are whiter than a Yeti in a snowstorm fighting Tilda Swinton,” the segment began, before showing clips from such controversial castings as Emma Stone’s native Hawaiian/Chinese character in Aloha, and exhuming casting decisions on older movies such as Natalie Wood’s portrayal of West Side Story‘s Puerto Rican heroine Maria, and Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Japanese photographer Mr. Yunioshi in Blake Edwards’ adaptation of Trump Capote’s novella Breakfast At Tiffanys.
Coincidentally, this morning, HBO parent Time Warner was thrashed, as were other media companies, in a new study about diversity, or lack thereof, in the entertainment industry. The first Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment is the result of more than a year of data collection and analysis by the scholars and students at the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which is based at USC — a school known for churning out a hefty number of Hollywood execs and creative hot shots.
“The film industry still functions as a straight, white, boy’s club, in which girls and women make up less than one-third of all speaking characters, and comprise a small percentage of directors and writers of the major studio and art house releases of 2014,” the study scolded. TV and digital series are more balanced, with “girls and women” comprising 37.1% of characters and 42% of series regulars. No reality TV series or talk shows were included in the study, which looked at 109 movies and 306 broadcast, cable and digital series. While that may sound like things are better for female actors in TV, the studio also found they were more likely to be shown at least partly naked in broadcast, cable and streaming content than in film.

About half of the movies and TV series had no Asian characters, 20% had no black characters, and just 2% of characters were LGBT. The lack of diversity shows up behind the camera as well, the study found. Only 3.4% of all film directors were female, and broadcast TV, where female directors fared best, only hit 17.1%. Minorities directed only 12.7% of the movies, 9.6% of broadcast series, and 16.8% of cable series. Similarly bleak was the situation for writers: Across the distribution outlets, 71.1% of writers were male; 28.9% were female. Females were the least likely to write for film (10.8%), compared to 31.6% for broadcast TV.

Studio executive suites were populated similarly, the study said. Women, for instance, make up less than 20% of entertainment companies board posts and exec management teams. The lower the posts, the higher the percentage of women in them, with about 50% of the SVP jobs, shrinking to 23.7% higher up the corporate ladder. “As power increases, the participation or representation of women in executive ranks decreases,” the study concluded.

Time Warner scored a grade of zero when it came to overall diversity on the film side, compared to Sony and Viacom’s 20%, but all of the companies listed in the study were flunked by the school. TV-wise, however, Time Warner’s grade rose to 15%, though that still lagged far behind, say, Disney’s 70%, or the 65% scored by Amazon and Hulu.