The heterosexual, male whiteness of Hollywood pointed out in a new study should surprise no one.
The extensive report is from the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. It examines the film and television industries and 10 major media companies, ranging from Disney to Netflix. Diversity in race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation is nowhere near representative of those groups in the U.S. population.
The media picture of America is and has always been an abomination.
The report underscores the problems that surfaced for the second year in a row with Oscars, where no people of color were nominated. The 88th Academy Awards ceremony takes place Sunday with some African Americans threatening to boycott the event. That’s actually a fabulous idea.
Some of the key findings in the annual report:
▪ Of the characters coded for race/ethnicity across 100 top films of 2014, 73.1 percent were white, 4.9 percent were Latino, 12.5 percent were black, 5.3 percent were Asian, 2.9 percent were Middle Eastern, less than 1 percent were American Indian/Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 1.2 percent were from “other” racial and/or ethnic groupings. This represents no change in the portrayal of apparent race/ethnicity from 2007 to 2014.
Keep in mind that people of color represent more than a third of the U.S. population and are projected to be the majority by 2042.
▪ Only 17 of the 100 top films of 2014 featured a lead or co-lead actor from a racial and/or ethnic group. An additional three films depicted an ensemble cast with 50 percent or more of the group comprised of actors from racial/ethnic backgrounds. Just over a quarter of characters in action and/or adventure (26.1 percent) and comedy films (26.5 percent) are from racial/ethnic groups across the 100 top films of 2014. This represents no change from 2007 or 2010.
▪ Across the 100 top films of 2014, only five of the 107 directors (4.7 percent) were black. One black director headed two pictures, and only one was female. Only 45 black directors have been attached to the 700 top grossing films. The study said it represents 5.8 percent of all at the top in the years analyzed.
▪ Only 19 Asian directors, or 2.4 percent, worked across the 700 top grossing films. Only one Asian director was female across the films analyzed and was listed as a co-director.
▪ Only 30.2 percent of the 30,835 speaking characters evaluated were female across the 700 top grossing films from 2007 to 2014. Only 11 percent of 700 films had gender‐balanced casts or featured girls/women in about half (45 to 54.9 percent) of the speaking roles.
▪ In 2014, females of all ages were more likely than males to be shown in sexy attire (27.9 percent of females versus 8 percent of males), with some nudity (26.4 percent of females versus 9.1 percent of males) and referenced as physically attractive (12.6 percent of females versus 3.1 percent of males).
▪ Among the 100 top films of 2014, only 15.8 percent of content creators working as directors, writers and producers were women. Even though women make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, they only accounted for 1.9 percent of directors, 11.2 percent of writers and 18.9 percent of producers. Only two women directed across the 100 top films of 2014. This is not different from 2013 (two female directors across 100 top films) or 2007 (three female directors across 100 top films). Twenty‐eight women have worked as directors across the 700 top films from 2007 to 2014. Only three were African American women.
▪ Across 4,610 speaking characters in the 100 top films of 2014, only 19 were lesbian, gay or bisexual. “Not one transgender character was portrayed,” the report noted. Ten characters were coded as gay, four were lesbian and five were bisexual. Of the LGB characters coded, nearly two-thirds were male (63.2 percent) and only 36.8 percent were female. LGB characters were also predominantly white (84.2 percent). Only 15.8 percent were from racial or ethnic backgrounds.
What the study says is that the image projected of Americans to people in this country and worldwide is nowhere close to the growing diversity in this country. The movie and television industries — like the rest of the media — continue to project an America lacking in its real multicultural identity.
That was a problem in the 20th century when radio and television were dominant media. It continues to be a problem in the 21st century in this Internet, information age of smartphones, tablets and computers.
Getting it right will be part of an ongoing struggle in real life and on the big and little screens.