The rhetoric in Hollywood may be changing when it comes to inclusion, but the numbers are not, according to a new study out today on diversity in top-performing movies.
The report, from Professor Stacy L. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, reveals that on-screen progress toward inclusion remains to be seen in popular movies with regard to females, underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, the LGBT community, and individuals with disabilities.
The investigation examined 48,757 characters in 1,100 “top films” (the top 100 at the domestic box office each year) from 2007 to 2017. These are predominantly studio movies.
Female speaking characters on screen filled just 30.6% of all roles across the 11-year time frame while less than 1% of all characters were from the LGBT community.
The report provides an “invisibility analysis” to determine how many movies are missing female characters from different groups. In 2017, 43 films did not include a black/African American female character while 65 were missing Asian or Asian American female characters, and 64 did not depict a single Latina character. Across 400 films from 2014 to 2017, only one transgender character appeared on screen.
A look at who is driving the story shows that 33 of 2017’s 100 top films had a female in a leading or co- leading role. Four of these females were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. These findings represent no change from 2016, claims the study.
“Those expecting a banner year for inclusion will be disappointed,” said Smith, Founding Director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which is well-known for developing the inclusion/equity rider model which went viral thanks to Frances McDormand’s Oscar speech.
“Hollywood has yet to move from talking about inclusion to meaningfully increasing on-screen representation for women, people of color, the LGBT community, or individuals with disabilities.
“The lack of inclusion on screen is matched and exceeded by the exclusion behind the camera,” Smith added.
Across 1,223 directors over 11 years, only 4.3% were female, 5.2% were Black or African American and 3.1% were Asian or Asian American.
“Once again, we see that women of color are most affected by exclusionary hiring practices. Just four Black/African American women, three Asian women, and one Latina directed a film across the 1,100 we examined,” commented Smith.
The report also examines how characters are depicted on screen, with a focus on parents, relational partners, age, and sexualization. Consistent with previous years, female characters were more than twice as likely as male characters to be shown in sexually revealing clothing, partially naked, or referenced as attractive. Teenage (13-20) and young adult (21-39) females were equally likely to be sexualized in films from 2017.
So, as The Spy Who Dumped Me and Crazy Rich Asians gear up for their box office launches, the investigation suggests that these films are the exception rather than the rule. “Exclusion remains endemic in popular movies,” it says.
“After witnessing little change in these numbers, it is clear that Hollywood must do more to ensure that marginalized groups are a part of the fabric of storytelling. Good intentions are not enough to create change,” said Smith.
“Hollywood needs tangible, actionable solutions that will usher in real transformation. Our work brings to light the steps that companies and individuals can take if they want to see results.”
Among the changes proposed by the report are the adoption of inclusion riders, inclusion targets and policy reform.
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