Claiming that “Hollywood is an epicenter of cultural inequality,” a scathing new report found that only 31.4% of all speaking roles in the 100 top-grossing films last year were female and that nearly half (49%) had no speaking roles for Asian or Asian-American characters. The report from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism also found that 17% of those films had no black characters, 40% had no Hispanic characters and 82% did not depict a LGBT speaking or named character.
Behind the cameras, the report found that females directed only 4.1% of the top-grossing 800 films evaluated between 2007-15 (excluding 2011). “Women of color were almost absent from these ranks,” the report said, noting that only three of those directors were African-American and one was Asian.
“Despite the advocacy surrounding female directors, film is a representational wasteland for women of color in this key role,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, co-author of the report (read it here).
Overall, directors from underrepresented racial groups fared poorly, the report concluded. Only 5.5% of the directors of the 800 films studied were black or African-American and just 2.8% were Asian or Asian-American.
“While the voices calling for change have escalated in number and volume, there is little evidence that this has transformed the movies that we see and the people hired to create them,” Smith said. “Our reports demonstrate that the problems are pervasive and systemic.”
The report also found that of the 1,365 directors, writers and producers of the 100 top-grossing films last year, 81% were men. Amd of the 107 directors, 7.5% were female — a gender ratio of 12.4 male directors for every one female.
Women fared slightly better as writers (11.8%) and producers (22%) but far worse as composers: Only one of the 113 composers who worked on the 100 top films last year was female. From 2007-15 (excluding 2011), only 1.4% of all composers were women — a gender ratio of 72-1.
Characters with disabilities, meanwhile, got only 2.4% of all speaking roles in the 100 top-grossing films last year — 45 of which failed to depict a single character with a disability. In animated films, characters with disabilities made up only 2% of all roles.
Only 19% of the disabled characters featured in the top-grossing films of 2015 were female, and none was LGBT. “This is a new low for gender inequality,” Smith said. “The small number of portrayals of disability is concerning, as is the fact that they do not depict the diversity within this community.”
The report also found that not a single LGBT-identified character was the lead or co-lead in any of the 100 top-grossing films last year.
Last year, the report found, 73% of all characters depicted in the top-grossing films were white; 12.2% were black; 5.3% were Latino; 3.9% were Asian; and less than 1% were Native American, Middle Eastern and native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders.
The report notes that “one bright spot” in its findings was an 11% increase in female lead or co-lead characters from 2014 to 2015. Even there, however, only three of the films featured a female lead or co-lead actor from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group, and not one of the males or females in leading roles was Asian.
The report also noted that females were more than three times as likely as their male counterparts to be shown in sexually revealing clothing and with some nudity. Girls/women (12%) also were more likely than boys/men (3.6%) to be referred to as physically attractive. Female teens (42.9%) and young adults (38.7%) were more likely than middle-aged females (24.7%) to be shown in sexualized attire. As age increased, females were less likely to be referenced as attractive.
The report offered some “simple solutions” to Hollywood’s vexing problem of inequality. “To address the ongoing inequality faced on screen and behind the camera, simple and strategic solutions are required,” the report concluded. “To address the lack of female characters overall, one simple solution is to just add five female speaking characters to every film in the top 100. … By adopting this tactic, the film industry can reach overall gender parity in just three years.
“A second solution designed to improve representation among all speaking characters is for top talent to add an equity rider to their contracts,” the report adds. “Addressing inequality from a legal prospective sets an expectation for accountability and offers an objective standard to be met.”
The report also recommends that both in front of and behind the camera, “Entertainment companies must make specific and public goals for change. While recognition of the problem and the need to do better are important, goal-setting demonstrates a commitment to progress.”
The one drawback to reports that study only the top 100 grossing films in any given year is that the sample represents only a small slice of the industry’s overall film output, and may say as much about audience preferences as it does about Hollywood’s hiring practices.