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U.S. producers shooting TV series like Riverdale, Yellowjackets and The Flash in and around Vancouver have made that city among North America’s top production hubs for Hollywood.
But a study from the Union of British Columbia Performers, representing local actors, and The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, has found American film and TV productions shot locally have, in recent years, significantly underrepresented or misrepresented women, people of color and other marginalized groups. The study examines the representation of gender, race/ethnicity, disability, age and sexual orientation among characters “based on prominence, billing, story role and traits” in films, TV shows and TV movies shot in 2018, 2019 and 2021, skipping 2020 due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the report, the groups argue that authentically representing wider society on media screens can encourage greater diversity and inclusion and reduce racial and sexual caricatures and stereotypes.
“We know powerful media can inspire change, while reflecting the diversity of the world around us,” Geena Davis told a virtual event to unveil the representation report and its conclusions on Tuesday. The study argues more attention is required with respect to including those with marginalized identities when casting and directing actors on screen.
“The film and television industry has a unique power to shape public perceptions and attitudes, and it is crucial that the stories we tell reflect the diversity of our communities,” UBCP/ACTRA president Ellie Harvie says of including acting talent from varied racial and ethnic backgrounds in a statement.
According to the report, men outnumbered women on screen, 55 percent to 44.9 percent, with the difference most marked in theatrical movies, where 61.2 percent of characters are male, compared with 38.6 percent female characters.
Male and female characters are more balanced in TV movies — 50.7 percent for men, compared with 49.3 percent female characters. But that’s due more to the westernmost Canadian province becoming a magnet for the production of holiday TV fare from Hallmark and other American producers that traditionally have depicted young, white heterosexual characters falling in love.
In all content shot in B.C., the study says, white characters make up two-thirds of all characters. TV movies have the highest share of white characters at 74.2 percent, and so the least diversity, with film the lowest share of white characters at 63 percent.
Overall, the report found white characters make up the most prominent racial group for all characters in B.C. productions, and are more likely to have lead roles in the film and TV series.
And the wider queer community was found to make up only 5 percent of characters in all productions shot in B.C. Queer characters were most present in TV series and were the least visible in TV movies.
Elsewhere, only 3.3 percent of onscreen characters were people with a disability, whether physical or cognitive.
Lastly, people over the age of 50 make up just under 20 percent of all characters in Vancouver-filmed projects. The highest percentage of older characters was in TV shows (26.9 percent) and lowest percentage made it into TV movies (17.7 percent).
Increasing racial diversity among characters in TV movies was emphasized to “tell deeper stories and create opportunities for actors of color,” the report added. And more room on screen is needed for older actors from the queer community, the report says.
Record Hollywood feature and episodic content production in B.C. in recent years, despite the pandemic, has been underpinned by major U.S. streaming giants joining traditional Hollywood studios in shooting originals north of the U.S. border to engage a global base of TV subscribers.
“It’s a real testament to how TV is structured to reach different types of audiences, different shows are created on different types of networks and for different types of streaming platforms. And so [TV series] don’t have to have mass appeal the way that film does,” Michele Meyer, senior director of research and methodologies at the Geena Davis Institute, and a co-author of the report, told the virtual event about TV emerging as more diverse and inclusive than Hollywood movies shot in B.C.
And the increasing popularity of foreign content on streaming services, especially Netflix, is in part encouraging American producers to improve their diverse representation on film and TV by including more characters from excluded groups.
Angela Moore, an executive board director at UBCP/ACTRA and chair of the guild’s BIPOC committee told the virtual event that improving representation on screen “can lead to a more equitable distribution of work opportunities for our performers, and can help break down the systemic barriers that help prevent equity and sovereignty-seeking groups from accessing meaningful work.”
B.C. competes against rival locales like Ontario, Georgia, New York and California to lure Hollywood producers to take advantage of local talent and locations, tax credits and other incentives when shooting on its soundstages.
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