Hollywood Diversity: USC Study Reveals More of the Same

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USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative has found persistent underrepresentation of women, minorities and LGBT individuals in film since 2007.

You wouldn't be able to detect America's growing diversity by watching its movies.

Although 37 percent of the U.S. population is nonwhite, the percentage of nonwhite characters in Hollywood films has consistently stayed below 30 percent since 2007, according to a new study released Wednesday by USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative.

The report examined the gender and race of both onscreen portrayals and behind-the-camera content creators of the top 100 highest-grossing films each year from 2007 through 2014 (excluding 2011), as well as the LGBT status of characters in 2014's top 100 movies. With a total sample size of 700 films and 30,835 characters, it's touted as the most comprehensive diversity analysis of recent popular film to date.

The researchers found that the frequency of gender, race and LGBT portrayals have not significantly changed over time. Specifically:

·      Only 30.2 percent of characters across all 700 movies were female.

·      Of the 21 female leads or co-leads in 2014, only three were of color. None were over the age of 45.

·      In 2014, 12.5 percent of characters were black, 5.3 percent were Asian and 4.9 percent were Latino. These proportions have remained statistically consistent every year since 2007.

·      More than 40 of 2014's top 100 grossing movies had no speaking characters of Asian descent. There were no black speaking characters in 17 movies.

·      3.5 percent of the American population now identifies as LGBT, but just 0.4 percent of 2014's movie characters were gay, lesbian or bisexual. There were no transgender characters.

Behind the camera, representation has stayed equally dismal. Of the 779 credited directors of the 700 most popular movies since 2007:

·      28 were women, 45 were black and 19 were Asian

·      Last year's crop of directors featured just two women and four African-Americans. Only one (Ava DuVernay) was both.

The latter batch of findings is significant, according to the USC study, because the films made by diverse content creators tend to reflect greater onscreen diversity. For example, movies written by women included more female characters (34.8 percent, compared with 25.9 percent), and 7.8 percent more middle-aged female characters.

The difference was even more pronounced in race: movies with a black director featured casts that were more than 40 percent black, a proportion that dropped to 10.6 percent without an African-American at the helm.