Despite the success of ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘The Big Sick,’ Hollywood needs to ramp up inclusivity efforts
Hollywood is good at acting like it’s inclusive.
Despite the recent success of films like “Hidden Figures,” “Wonder Woman” and “The Big Sick,” there’s been no significant improvement over the past decade in the representation of people of color, women, LGBT characters or characters with disabilities, according to a new study from USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
The “Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films” report analyzed the top 100 movies each year from 2007 through 2017 to identify if there had been an improvement in diversity. “We’re not seeing an interesting trend either downward or upward across multiple years to suggest there’s a concerted effort to be inclusive,” Stacy Smith, the founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, told THR.
While women represent 50.8% of the U.S. population, they made up only 31.8% of speaking characters in films last year. And out of the 48,757 speaking characters in the 1,100 top-grossing films since 2007, just 30.6% have been women. While there seems to be a better gender balance among child characters (52.7% male to 47.3% female in 2017), the gap widens in teen characters (55.3% male to 44.7% female). By age 40, 75.4% of characters were male.
Racial and ethnic diversity also looks dismal: In 2017, 70.7% of the 4,454 speaking characters were white, 12.1% were black, 6.2 percent were Hispanic, 4.8% were Asian, 3.9% were mixed-race, 1.7% were of Middle-Eastern descent and less than 1% each were coded as Native American or Native Hawaiian.
In terms of LGBTQ inclusivity, more than 99% of speaking characters in 2017 films were straight and cisgender, while just one transgender character has appeared in one of the top 400 films since 2014. What’s more, only 2.5% of speaking characters had a disability, and most of those roles were cast to able-bodied actors — like Eddie Redmayne, who won the Oscar for best actor in 2015 for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”
The people behind the camera could play a role in the lack of diversity on-screen. Out of the 1,223 directors behind the 1,100 movies in the study, 4.3% were female, 5.2% were black and 3.1% were Asian. What’s more, only seven women of color directed a movie in more than a decade, including Ava DuVernay, who directed 2014’s “Selma,” and Dee Rees, who directed and wrote the screenplay for “Mudbound” last year.
“The presence of a female in the directing or writing role is associated with more female characters on screen. The same is true for Black directors and Black characters — particularly Black female characters,” the report authors wrote. “To address persistent on screen diversity deficits, the answer may lie behind the scenes.”
In June, Hollywood showed signs of hope when Frances McDormand stressed the need for the inclusion rider, developed by USC’s Smith alongside lawyer Kalpana Kotagal and actor-producer Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni. It seeks to increase diversity and better reflect our world’s demographic makeup by boosting representation of women, people of color, LGBTQ people and the differently abled in minor on-screen roles.
And while diversity in film should be a given, having more inclusivity with a multicultural cast is also a major selling point at the box office. “Black Panther,” the first mainstream superhero movie with an almost entirely black cast, became the first film in 2018 to hit $1 billion worldwide.
And the 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report, which studied 200 major motion pictures released in 2014, found that the eight films released that year with a 41% to 50% minority cast scored a median global box office gross of $122.2 million, compared to the 55 films with minorities making up less than 10% of the cash earning less than half that at $52.6 million.
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