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In spite of growing conversation around diversity in film, the numbers still don't match

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Jul 31, 2018

Although the conversation around diversity in filmmaking both in front of and behind the camera has been a hot topic in recent months, that hasn't translated to a significant change numbers-wise, according to a newly released report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The report, titled "Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films," studies the depictions of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, and disabilities in films with release dates spanning from 2007 to 2017 — and the results are by and large unchanging. When it comes to speaking roles for female characters on-screen, for example, the amount has remained at or around 30%. It's a similar statistic for the number of movies featuring a female lead or co-leading character: only 33 of the top 100 films released last year.

When the criteria shifts to women of color, the numbers are even more dismal; only 4 of those top movies released in 2017 featured a WoC in a leading role. Overall, white characters, regardless of gender, make up about 70% of represented race on film, compared to 12% Black, 4.8% Asian, and 6.2% Hispanic/Latino. "In comparison to the U.S. population (38.7% underrepresented) and underrepresented movie ticket buyers (45%), film still lags behind," the report says. The LGBT community remains significantly underrepresented as well; 81% of last year's top films did not feature an LGBT character.

"Hollywood has yet to move from talking about inclusion to meaningfully increasing on-screen representation for women, people of color, the LGBT community, or individuals with disabilities," said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Founding Director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

Issues also persist behind the camera in terms of representation, as the study reveals, referring to it as an "inclusion crisis"; among the 1,100 films examined for the report, there were only 43 unique female directors working behind the camera, with 7 of those from marginalized communities. 

As for suggestions on how best to implement notable change, the study lists several methods, including the hiring of an inclusion rider, supporting inclusive films, combatting "implicit and explicit bias" that may affect hiring, and Smith's "just add five" proposal, which would add five speaking roles for women in every script to bridge that specific gender gap by 2020.

"As the reverberations of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements continue to resonate in the entertainment industry and beyond, this investigation marks how far we still have to go. Workplace safety goes hand in hand with workplace equity," the report states. "As we have demonstrated, there are still few films where equity is a hallmark of the production or the content. Addressing the lack of inclusivity in cinema is an essential part of building a future in which talented individuals can safely create, inspire, and entertain audiences who are finally able to see their own challenges and triumphs on screen."

You can read the report in full here.