×

Despite Diversity Push, Women and Minorities Aren’t Getting Better Movie Roles (Study)

Time’s Up and #MeToo is dominating the talk in Hollywood, and not an awards show nor a red carpet interview seems to take place these days without filmmakers and actors being peppered with questions about pay equity and diversity. Everyone says the same thing: they want change. Yet the rhetoric doesn’t appear to be making an empirical difference when it comes to movie making.

A deep dive into the 1,100 highest grossing films from 2007 to 2017 reveals that women, minorities, and members of the LGBT and disabled communities rarely grace the big screen. More troubling, the study by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism reveals that little has changed over the past decade in terms of representation even as the issue of inclusion has become more widely talked about. In fact, men are two times more likely to have a speaking role in a movie than women and the number of female speaking roles in films has actually slipped from where it was in 2008 and 2009.

“Unfortunately, it’s largely been the status quo,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the report’s co-writer. “There’s been essentially no movement by the multinationals that run studios when it comes to hiring practices on screen.”

Popular on Variety

Female speaking characters on screen accounted for 30.6% of the 48,757 characters in the films surveyed, while 29.3% of these characters were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, 2.5% had disabilities, and less than 1% of were members of the LGBT community. And many of these groups failed to even register in major Hollywood movies.

Last year, 43 films lacked any black or African American female characters, 65 were missing Asian or Asian-American female characters, and 64 did not depict even one Latina character. Seventy eight films didn’t offer up a single female character with a disability and 94 were devoid of even one female lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender character. It was the transgender community that got shut out most completely. Across 400 films from 2014 to 2017, there was only one trans character.

The lack of representation on screen may be partly attributable to a failure of diversity behind the camera. Just 4.3% of the 1,223 directors behind the top grossing films were female, 5.2% were black or African-American and 3.1% were Asian or Asian-American.

This summer there have been a few big studio films such as “The Spy Who Dumped Me” and “Crazy Rich Asians” that were anchored by female characters, but these movies remain the exception to the rule. In 2017, only 33 of the top 100 grossing films had a woman in a lead or co-leading role. Of those films that did feature women in primary roles, only four were from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. And even when women do get the part, their roles often require them to be sexualized. Female characters were more than twice as likely as male characters to be shown in sexually revealing clothing, partially naked, or to have their looks talked about in the context of the film.

USC, the Center for Women in Film & Television, and other academic institutions have done a great deal of research in recent years into the topic of diversity on screen and behind the camera. Most of the time, the results have been dispiriting, showing an industry whose progressive politics fail to influence its hiring decisions. Smith thinks that may be changing. The sexual harassment reckoning that’s unfolded over the past year has toppled the careers of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Dustin Hoffman, and other major stars accused of misconduct. It has also amplified calls for more diversity in the board rooms and executive suites at entertainment companies and has led to the popularization of ideas such as inclusion riders, which enables filmmaking talent to demand more diversity in staffing on their films and shows. That could be critical, Smith, who helped come up with inclusion rider concept, says.

“I’m hopeful that moving forward as Time’s Up and other movements take effect, this will be the last year that we see these kind of numbers,” said Smith, adding, “Folks need to wake up and think more inclusively.”

More Film

  • Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, and Peter

    Amazon Studios Buys 'Uncle Frank' for $12 Million Out of Sundance (EXCLUSIVE)

    Amazon Studios has bought “Uncle Frank,” an acclaimed drama about a closeted gay man forced to come out to his Southern family in the 1970s. The film debuted this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival. UTA Independent Film Group brokered the deal, which insiders valued at $12 million, individuals close to the talks said. It [...]

  • Ironbark

    Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate Nab Benedict Cumberbatch's 'Ironbark' Out of Sundance

    North American rights to Benedict Cumberbatch’s civilian spy thriller “Ironbark” have been acquired by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate out of the Sundance Film Festival, insiders close to the deal told Variety. Roadside, the specialty label currently behind Oscar contender “Judy,” and partial owner Lionsgate emerged out of a competitive, days-long bidding process and won the [...]

  • Roberto Cicutto President Cinecitta Luce Arrives

    Roberto Cicutto, Former Cinecittà Chief, to Head Venice Biennale

    Roberto Cicutto, the veteran Italian film producer of Ermanno Olmi’s 1988 Venice Golden Lion winner “The Legend of the Holy Drinker” and more recently head of Italy’s Luce-Cinecittà which runs the iconic studios has been appointed president of the Venice Biennale, parent organization of the Venice Film Festival. Cicutto, 71, a Venice native, will replace [...]

  • Deepika Padukone and Rishi Kapoor

    Deepika Padukone and Rishi Kapoor to Star in Bollywood Remake of ‘The Intern’

    Warner Bros., Azure Entertainment and Ka Productions will co-produce a Hindi-language remake of Nancy Meyers’ 2015 hit “The Intern.” Iconic Indian actors Deepika Padukone (“Chhapaak”) and Rishi Kapoor (“The Body”) will play the roles enacted by Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro respectively in the original. A director for the still untitled adaptation will be [...]

  • A man walks past a closed

    China Box Office Wiped Out as Government Expands Virus Response Measures

    Measures to limit travel and the closure of most cinemas almost completely eliminated box office takings in China on what should have been the country’s busiest movie-going weekend of the year. The pain is set to continue. The Chinese government extended the current public holidays by an additional three days as a means to slow the [...]

  • "The Iron Lady," "Shame" Writer Abi

    'The Iron Lady,' 'Suffragette' Writer Abi Morgan Reveals Breast Cancer Diagnosis

    “The Iron Lady” and “Shame” writer Abi Morgan has revealed she is battling breast cancer. The 51-year-old British writer shared news of her diagnosis during a screening of the second season premiere of BBC One and Sundance TV drama “The Split,” which is produced by “Chernobyl” outfit Sister Pictures and Little Chick. Highlighting that it [...]

  • Amanda Kernell

    Sweden’s Amanda Kernell on Sundance World Premiere ‘Charter’

    “Charter,” Swedish director-writer Amanda Kernell’s eagerly anticipated second feature after the multi-prize-winning “Sámi Blood,” world premieres in Sundance and moves on to Göteborg and the Dragon competition for best Nordic film. What inspired “Charter?” It’s a personal story, as are all my films.  I come from a family with generations of divorced parents actually. So, I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content