A new in-depth study of inequality in film over the past decade finds that depictions of female, disabled and LGBT characters have not increased, despite a wave of attention to the issue and widely publicized and debated improvement efforts by studios and industry institutions. Over a 10-year period, in fact, the needle has barely budged.
Professor Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg examined the 900 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2016 (excluding 2011), analyzing 39,788 characters for gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status and disability. The top 100 grossers of 2016 were included in the analysis.
The numbers are stark and will give critics of Hollywood plenty of fresh ammunition. Female-speaking characters comprised less than one-third of the total (29.9%), reaching 31.4% in 2016. African-American, Hispanic, Asian or mixed-race/”other” characters made up 29.2% of all characters in the top-grossing films of 2016, flat with 2015. Although the percentage of white characters has dropped since 2007, “there has been no meaningful change” in the numbers of African-American, Hispanic, Asian or mixed-race/others over that span, the study’s authors asserted, especially relative to U.S. Census ratios. In 2016, for example, just one of 100 films contained a percentage of Latino characters consistent with the current U.S. population mix.
Behind the camera, as the guilds have also documented, the percentages are even tinier. Of the 900 movies studied, just 5.8% were directed by African-Americans, 4.2% by Asians. (No figures were provided for Hispanic directors.) An even smaller number of the African-American and Asian tallies were also women.
Despite strides in society and heightened awareness, LGBT-identified characters represented just 1.1% of all speaking characters in 2016, roughly flat with 2015. From 2014 to 2016, an LGBT lead or co-lead character appeared in just three films of the 300 studied. Characters with disabilities filled only 2.7% of all speaking roles, which is not different from last year, when the researchers began studying this group.
“These are sustained and systemic problems. It is impossible to look at this data without concluding that much of the advocacy surrounding on-screen representation over the past few years has not been successful,” Smith said. “Perhaps we will see more positive trends in the future, given the current level of conversation and success of certain movies this year. However, until solutions focus on changing the exclusionary hiring practices and countering explicit and implicit biases in Hollywood, it is difficult to expect real change anytime soon.”
The full report, including an array of charts, can be found here.