A new report released today reveals that Hollywood has not embraced women, people of color and LGBT characters on and off screen.
The study from the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism offers comprehensive data that evaluates gender, race/ethnicity and LGBT status in movies.
In the 100 top-grossing films of 2014, less than one-third of all speaking characters were female, 26.9 percent were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group and less than .5 percent were LGB-identified. No transgender characters appeared in the 100 top grossing films of 2014.
The USC study assessed every speaking or named character on screen — more than 30,000 characters in all — from the top-grossing films released in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Females represented just 30.2 percent of all speaking characters across these 700 movies. Only 11 percent of the 700 films were gender balanced or featured girls/women in roughly half of all speaking parts. Twenty-one films in 2014 had a female lead or co-lead character, similar to what was observed in 2007 films (20 percent).
“The picture that film presents is one that bears little resemblance to our nation’s demography,” said USC Annenberg Professor Stacy Smith, author of the study and founding director of the initiative. “By examining the trends over time, it is clear that no progress has been made either on screen or behind the camera when it comes to representing reality. This report reflects a dismal record of diversity for not just one group, but for females, people of color and the LGBT community.”
Invisible older women
Among female characters, women age 40-64 are the least visible on screen. Across more than 9,000 characters age 40-64 in the 700 films examined, only 21.8 percent were women.
“For activists and advocates who want to see more women on screen, this age bracket is an important place to begin,” Smith said. “Women of all ages can be the focus of creative and compelling storytelling. Programs like The Writers Lab, supported by Meryl Streep, are necessary to increase the presence of powerful women over 40 behind the camera and also in front of it.”
Female characters are nearly three times more likely to be objectified than male characters on screen. In the 100 top films of 2014, a mere 8 percent of males are shown in sexually revealing clothing, compared to 27.9 percent of females. Similarly, 9.1 percent of male characters are depicted with some nudity, while 26.4 percent of female characters are shown with some exposed skin.
For those concerned with the sexualization of younger characters, the report shows that females age 13-20 and 21-39 are equally likely to be depicted in sexually revealing attire or with some exposed skin.
In addition, the study found bad news for women behind the scenes. Just two of the 107 directors in 2014 were female, or 1.9 percent. The percentages of female writers (11.2 percent) and producers (18.9 percent) are also low. Across all three positions, men outnumber women behind the camera at a rate of 5.3 to 1.
The report also examines characters from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic groups. Although they make up 37 percent of the U.S. population, underrepresented racial/ethnic groups comprise only 26.9 percent of speaking characters across the 100 top films of 2014. As in previous studies, Hispanic/Latino characters are the most underrepresented compared to their presence in the U.S. population. The study’s findings also examine the proportion of films that feature any African-American or Asian characters.
“Across all 100 films in 2014, there are still movies that feature no black/African-American or Asian characters,” Smith said. “There were 17 films with no black or African-American characters and over 40 movies featured no Asian characters. Hollywood continues to marginalize or exclude certain members of society.”
One positive finding did emerge. In comparison to top animated films of 2007, a 25.4 percent increase in the percentage of characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups was observed in the top animated films of 2014. However, over half of these 2014 characters appeared in one animated film (The Book of Life). Aside from this movie, there is still a significant increase in the percentage.
Underrepresented directors also fared poorly. Across 700 films, 5.8 percent of directors were black or African-American and 2.4 percent were Asian. There were no Asian directors in 2014. In the seven-year span, only three directors were African-American females and just one was an Asian female.
“Our findings demonstrate that women appear very infrequently behind the camera, but women of color are nearly invisible,” said researcher Katherine Pieper, one of the study’s authors.
The researchers examined diversity on multiple fronts, including an analysis of LGBT characters for the first time this year. Out of 4,610 speaking or named characters across the 100 top grossing films of 2014, only 19 were coded as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Of the 19 characters, the majority were gay, white men.
“Instead of acting as a leader, film lags behind when it comes to representing this community,” said Marc Choueiti, the second author of the report.
“At a time when Jill Soloway is lauded for her storytelling prowess on Transparent and Caitlyn Jenner for her courage, film has a long road to traverse before it represents the diversity we see in TV and digital platforms, and in our communities,” Smith said. “While ‘love wins’ in our nation, it loses in film.”
This study is the most recent from the MDSC Initiative, which releases yearly in-depth analyses of the prevalence and portrayal of gender and race/ethnicity in film. More than 65 students at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism worked on the study, which was conducted with the assistance of The Harnisch Foundation and other supporters of the MDSC Initiative.