Industry Execs Discuss Hollywood's Diversity Gap at Entertainment Finance Forum

Entertainment Finance Forum Presented by Winston Baker Group - Publicity - H 2017
Samantha Trauben

Amazon Studios' Ted Hope was honored, followed by a keynote conversation highlighting statistics of gender and race inequality taking place in the film business.

Industry leaders gathered Thursday and Friday at the W Hotel to discuss the ongoing diversity gap in Hollywood.

Concluding the first session at the Entertainment Finance Forum was a keynote presentation by USC professor Dr. Stacy L. Smith, and conversation, "Financing the Diversity Gap," moderated by The Hollywood Reporter senior reporter Rebecca Sun. Panelists included MSNBC news anchor Richard Lui, African American Film Critics Association president Gil Robertson and Cathy Schulman, president and CEO of Welle Entertainment and president of Women in Film. The session focused on finding solutions for gender and race inequality by creating opportunities for involvement and change.

"We can see that really nothing has changed over almost the last 10 years of the most popular content in cinematic storytelling,” said Dr. Smith, citing data from a study on gender roles in cinema. 

The study looked at speaking or named characters in scripted films between 2007-2017, finding a gender ratio of about 2.3 speaking male characters to every one female character was displayed onscreen.

“If you compare the results to another study on a small sample of films from 1946 to 1955, there has been no change in popular cinematic content in over half of a century when it comes to female speaking characters onscreen,” Dr. Smith continued.

The presentation soon shifted gears from gender to race. 

“Only 26.3 percent of all speaking characters are not Caucasian or not white,” Dr. Smith said. “Now, this is completely out of step with the demographic profile of the United States. As we know, about 40 percent of the U.S. population are from underrepresented racial, ethnic groups.”

She added that in the top 200 films of 2015, "Forty-eight did not feature one black or African American female speaking character onscreen. Not one." And 65 movies out of 100 in that same year "did not feature one Latina onscreen and 70 void completely of any Asian females or Asian American females.”

The professor called this trend the “epidemic of invisibility” and suggested one solution, which is to hire more women behind the camera. Female directors are more likely to lead to more diversity onscreen, according to Dr. Smith. However, female directors are not being hired to helm as much as male directors.

Dr. Smith conducted a study asking industry buyers and sellers why female directors weren’t working as much as males. She found that 44 percent thought women create films that fall outside of what Hollywood wants to sell, females create films that are poor samples and do not give a full experience for bigger budget films and females just want to make small independent movies. The interviewees also thought there aren’t very many women directors to begin with.

“The problem isn’t that people do not know about this, the problem is that they are not doing anything about this,” Schulman added. “So, it’s our delivery system that really is the issue.”

To that end, Schulman and Smith discussed the ReFrame initiative, which THR exclusively announced in its March 3 issue. Women in Film and the Sundance Institute have partnered on the project, which gathers 50 top industry executives together in a peer-to-peer effort to bring gender equality to Hollywood, one company at a time.