Teresa Mathew
August 06, 2015 2:14 pm

It’s never been a secret that Hollywood is overwhelmingly white and male, but a recent study now proves that beyond the shadow of a doubt. If you are a woman, an ethnic or racial minority, or part of the LGBT community and feel as though you can’t find your face or story in modern media, it’s not you. It’s the movies. The study, “Inequality in 700 Popular Films,” was produced by the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. It tackles race, gender, and ethnicity, and the results are dire for anyone who values diversity—or at least, media that is even slightly representative of America.

Out of the top 100 films in 2014, only twenty-one featured a female lead or co lead. And when women were actually on screen, objectification and sexualization ran rampant. Female characters were 11.6% more likely than men to be depicted as caregivers (reinforcing existing stereotypes), 19.9% more likely to be shown in sexy attire, and 17.3% more likely to be nude or partially nude. The study notes that research has supported the troubling fact that exposure to objectifying content can have negative self-perception effects on girls and women, so the egregious objectification of women on screen is harming the very people it is supposed to be depicting.

Of those 100 films, less than half of all portrayals were coded as LGB. Ten characters were coded as gay, four as lesbian, and five were bisexual. There was not a single transgender character. This means that the percentage of LGB characters in film is lower their population in the US, as less than half of one percent of all portrayals are LGB but seven percent of millennials identify as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, according to a 2015 PRRI study.

The racial/ethnic diversity breakdown in the top 100 films studied is similarly abysmal. Forty movies featured no Asian speaking characters on screen. Seventeen did not have a single Black character who spoke or even had a name. 73.1% of speaking or named characters were white. And while some may look at that statistic and counter that it is representative of the ethnic composition of U.S., it is the job of storytellers and directors and writers to tell all kinds of stories, not just those that cater to a majority while excluding and ignoring the lives of everyone else.

But perhaps it’s unsurprising when you look at the racial and gendered makeup of those behind the camera. Of directors who directed the top 700 films between 2007 and 2014, 5.8% were Black, 2.4% were Asian or Asian American, and a staggering 1.9% were female. The writing room didn’t fare much better, as only 11.2% of writers were female. This matters because, as you can imagine, diversity behind the scenes leads to diversity in the scenes. Films with at least one female writer working on them were 8.9% more likely to include women and girls on screen. Interestingly, female writers were also more likely to write female characters between the ages of forty and sixty. Writers are taught to “write what you know,” which means that writing rooms filled with young white men simply do not think to or do not know how to craft the stories of minorities.

There are organizations working actively to change these discrepancies. Lifetime established Broad Focus, an initiative to highlight the talents female writers, directors, and producers. Broad focus also aims to help these women show their work, and partnered with Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Festival to telecast one of the winning films. NBC, HBO, and other networks have started fellowships and programs aimed at fostering more diverse writing rooms. Clearly, there is work to do.

Representation matters. We know this. For every fifty stories about a white heterosexual man seeing himself in a classic protagonist, there is one about a young woman of color who sees Brandi’s Cinderella or The Color Purple or Bend it Like Beckham and realizes that she can choose from a variety of storylines. If women and people of color and those in the LGBTQ community feel unheard and unrepresented, movies lose their ability to appeal and empower. There is power in diverse storytelling—and our movies need to start reflecting it.

(New Line Cinema)

Related:

This Tumblr perfectly nails Hollywood’s diversity problem

Hollywood’s gender bias is now a civil rights issue

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