Despite Hollywood’s rising awareness of diversity issues and the growing movement in support of inclusivity, there has been little year-on-year rise in inclusion in films released in 2016, according to a new study of 900 popular films from 2007 to 2016.
The study, from Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, analyzed nearly 40,000 characters for gender, race, LGBTQ status, and disability in 900 films, including the top 100 movies of 2016. (The report encompassed films released from 2007 to 2016, but excluded movies from the year 2011, which a separate study had covered.) Almost nothing has changed in terms of representation of these groups on screen, according to the study, and behind the scenes, the pool of directors proved even less diverse.
“These are embarrassing findings to a progressive industry that cares deeply about inclusion,” Smith told Variety. “The activism is clearly not reaching studio decision makers.”
The report found that of the films surveyed in 2016, 31.4% of speaking characters were female, unchanged from 2015 and not much higher than the 29.9% logged in 2007. The overall ratio of male to female characters was 2.3 to 1, and 34 films had a female lead or co-lead, compared to 32 in 2015.
Meanwhile, 70.8% of speaking roles in 2016’s top 100 were white, far outweighing the tallies for characters who were black (13.6%), Asian (5.7%), Hispanic (3.1%), or other (7%). The study also calculated “invisibility” numbers that reported, for instance, that 72 of 2016’s top 100 films had no Hispanic or Latina female speaking roles, and 91 had none for LGBTQ females.
Women were underrepresented behind the scenes as well, making up 4.2% of directors, 13.2% of writers, 20.7% of producers, and just 1.7% of composers. There were only 34 unique female directors that released films between 2007 and 2016 (excluding 2011).
Male gay characters were among the few demographics to rise year-on-year, up to 36 speaking roles in 2016 from 19 in 2015. There was also an uptick in underrepresented racial or ethnic groups in animation, but that was attributable to just two films, “Moana” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.”
The 2.7% of characters with disabilities in 2016 films was about on par with the 2.4% reported in 2015.
In addition to data breakdowns across film genres and varying combinations of gender, racial, and ethnic indicators, the study also suggested tactics that would bring its numbers up. Among these were target inclusion goals, as well as equality clauses or inclusion riders stipulated by big-name talent for their contracts.