Hollywood Has Made Basically No Progress in Onscreen Diversity, Study Finds

Despite recent efforts to change the status quo, Hollywood remains overwhelmingly white and male. In fact, according to a new study from USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, there has been no significant statistical improvement in the representation of women, people of color, LGBT characters, or characters with disability in film over the last decade.The study is a hotbed of disappointing statistics—indicating that the fight to diversify the industry both in front of and behind the camera is an uphill battle.

The report, Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films, draws from the top 100 movies each year from 2007–2017. It found that, although women make up roughly half the population, they represented just 31.8% of speaking characters last year. This is pretty consistent with statistics from the last decade; among the 48,757 speaking characters in the 1,100 top-grossing films since 2007, only 30.6% have been female. One major reason for this gender disparity is that women have a much shorter onscreen “lifespan” than men: There tends to be gender balance among child characters (52.7% male to 47.3% female in 2017), with the gap slightly widening in the teens (55.3% to 44.7%). But by age 40, 75.4% of characters were male.

In 2017, 70.7% of the 4,454 speaking characters were white, 12.1% were black, 6.2% 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. It’s worth noting that these designations are for characters, not actors. It was a dissonance the researchers were prepared for. “A lot of us were familiar with the most notable examples of whitewashing,” says study co-author Marc Choueiti.

The industry may, however, be poised for a tipping point. The report concludes with several application points, one of which is the inclusion rider mentioned by Frances McDormand during her Oscar acceptance speech in March (a term invented by Dr. Smith and civil-rights attorney Kalpana Kotagal). McDormand was referencing the rider that actors can cotton onto their contracts, ensuring that films they work on are inclusive. More specifically, they stipulate that there must be 50% gender parity, 40% inclusion for people of color, 5% L.G.B.T.Q., and 20% disabled. The phrase caught on like wildfire in the industry after the Academy Awards, with power players like Michael B. Jordan, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Brie Larson, and director Paul Feig pledging to use these riders. In addition, WME C.E.O. Ari Emanuel instructed his employees to discuss the riders with their clients. A moment was born.

Last month, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative also released a report, Critic’s Choice?, that examined nearly 20,000 reviews of last year’s 100 top-grossing movies. The report found that women wrote only 22.2% of 19,559 reviews of the 100 top-grossing films posted to Rotten Tomatoes. Read more about the report on our website!

To read more about the Annenberg study check out Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Cut!

About USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is the leading think tank in the world studying diversity and inclusion in entertainment through original research and sponsored projects. Beyond research, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative develops targeted, research-based solutions to tackle inequality. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative works in three major areas:

RESEARCH: Uses data-driven and theory-based research to offer insight and evidence to industries on where diversity is needed and how to achieve it.

ADVOCACY: Exists to foster inclusion and give a voice to disenfranchised or marginalized groups.

ACTION: Offers simple actions for complex solutions to facilitate social change at the student, industry, and societal level.

For more information, visit the Initiative’s website, https://annenberg.usc.edu/research/aii.