After activist April Reign kicked off #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 as a response to actors of color being shut out of the Academy Awards acting categories, Hollywood reignited its conversation on diversity and inclusion in the business. However, according to a new study, not much has changed over the last decade.
Dr. Stacy L. Smith and her team at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released its annual report, “Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films,” which studied the top 100 grossing films between 2007 and 2017. In spite of box office hits like Wonder Woman, Girls’ Trip, Get Out, and the Fast and Furious franchise, researchers found there has been no significant change in representation for women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, or people with disabilities in film.
Despite all of Hollywood’s conversations and promises to create more opportunities—both in front of and behind the camera—for traditionally underrepresented groups, Smith said it isn’t actually happening.
“We’re not seeing an interesting trend either downward or upward across multiple years to suggest there’s a concerted effort to be inclusive,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
Between 2007 and 2017, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found just 13% of films had balanced casts where the numbers of men and women were roughly equal. Moreover, while women make up more than half of the population, they accounted for just 31.8% of speaking roles and 33% of leading roles in 2017.
When it comes to race, 70.7% of speaking roles in 2017 were given to white characters, while just 12.1% were Black, 6.2% were Latinx, 4.8% were Asian, and 3.9% were mixed-race. Additionally, the overwhelming number of characters with disabilities were also white at 73%.
Behind the camera, women continue to face stiff odds. Of the 1,100 films studied, only 43 had female directors. Out of that tiny number, only four were Black women — Ava DuVernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Sanaa Hamri, and Stella Meghie — three were Asian women, and only one, Patricia Riggen, was Latina.
While the numbers are dismal, researchers offered several solutions to help Hollywood tackle its problem, including using inclusion riders on new projects or language in an actors’ contract that demands inclusive casting; setting targeted diversity goals; paying attention to background roles and adding in underrepresented characters with speaking roles; and investigating policies, like extending additional tax credits to productions that have a diverse casts and crews.
The report showed that Hollywood isn’t solving its inclusion issue by simply making films with diverse casts or hiring the same filmmakers to direct more films. The industry must undergo structural changes that will increase the number of people from underrepresented communities who are tapped for positions behind the scenes as well.
As Smith pointed out, “The most important thing is not thinking about this as storytelling,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “These are hiring decisions.”
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