While diversity and inclusion have become the hot buzzwords in Hollywood, greater diversity and inclusion is not yet showing up on movie screens, according to the latest study released Wednesday by Professor Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Analyzing the top 100 films at the box office in 2015, the report found that just 31.4 percent of all the speaking characters were female. In comparing that number to the top 100 films in every year from 2007 to 2015 (with the exception of 2011, which was not examined), the study found that that percentage has barely changed over the years — while 2014 registered a low of 28.2 percent, the percentage never rose higher than 32.8 percent in both 2008 and 2009. Of more than 35,000 characters over the eight years studied, men outnumbered women by 2.3 to 1, and the report found that only 12 percent of the movies had what it called balanced casts.
One of the few encouraging findings in 2015, though, was that there were 32 female lead or co-lead parts, an 11 percent increase, although only three of the films featured a female lead from the underrepresented racial groups.
In 2015, 73.7 percent of the characters were white, 12.2 percent were black, 5.3 percent were Hispanic and 3.9 percent were Asian. Together, a total of 26.3 percent of all speaking parts went to an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, and there was no change in that percentage figure between 2007 and 2015.
Only 14 of 2015’s top movies had a lead or co-lead from the underrepresented groups. Nine were black, one Latino and four of mixed race. Not one lead or co-lead was played by an Asian actor. Seventeen percent of the films did not feature one black or African-American actor. Asian actors did not appear across 49 of the films.
Also, among the 100 top films of 2015, only 32 speaking or named characters were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. While that was an increase of 13 portrayals over 2014, it represented just 19 gay men, seven lesbians, five bisexuals and one transgender characters.
For the first time this year, the researchers also reported on the number of characters with disabilities and found just 2.4 percent of all characters had disabilities, and they were predominantly male. Just 19 percent of the characters with disabilities were female.
“The findings reveal that Hollywood is an epicenter of cultural inequality,” said Smith. “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. Our reports show that the problems are pervasive and systemic.”
Behind the camera, of 1,365 key creatives who worked on the top films of 2015, the numbers were stark. There were eight female directors (7.5 percent); 30 female writers (11.8 percent), 220 female producers (22 percent); and just one female composer.
Among the 800 films surveyed since 2007, female directors numbered just 4.1 percent of those hired. And of those, only three were black or African-American and just one was Asian.
“Despite the advocacy surrounding female directors, film is a representational wasteland for people of color in this key role,” said Smith. “Advocates need to ensure that their work reflects the barriers facing all women, not just a select few.”
The study did propose one solution: It said that if five female characters were added to each script every year, gender parity onscreen could be reached by 2018.