A damning new report finds that an ‘epidemic of invisibility’ runs top to bottom through the industry for women, minorities and LGBT people.
In one of the most exhaustive reports on diversity in Hollywood, a new study from USC finds that the films and television produced by major media companies are ‘whitewashed’.
Coming just days before the Academy Awards the report offers a new barrage of sobering statistics that further evidence a deep discrepancy between Hollywood and the American population it entertains, in gender, race and ethnicity.
“The prequel to OscarsSoWhite is HollywoodSoWhite,” said Stacy L. Smith, a University of Southern California professor and one of the study’s authors, in an interview. “We don’t have a diversity problem. We have an inclusion crisis.”
The study examined the 414 films released by major studios (including art-house divisions), scripted, first-run TV and digital series across 31 networks and streaming services.
It found only a third of speaking characters were female, and only 28.3 percent were from minority groups — about 10 percent less than the makeup of the U.S. population. Characters 40 years or older skew heavily male across film and TV: 74.3 percent male to 25.7 percent female.
Just 2 percent of speaking characters were LGBT identified. Among the 11,306 speaking characters studied, only seven were transgendered (and four were from the same series).
“Overall, the landscape of media content is still largely whitewashed,” the study concludes.
“When we start to step back to see this larger ecology, I think we see a picture of exclusion,” said Smith. “And it doesn’t match the norms of the population of the United States.”
Behind the camera, the discrepancy is even greater.
Directors overall were 87 percent white. Broadcast TV directors (90.4 percent white) were the least diverse.
Just 15.2 percent of directors, 28.9 percent of writers and 22.6 percent of series creators were female.
The study also seeks to add a new metric in the conversation.
The ‘inclusivity index’ is a report card for the performances of 21st Century Fox, CBS, NBC Universal, Sony, the Walt Disney Co., Time Warner, Viacom, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix.
Each was rated by their percentage of female, minority and LGBT characters and of female writers and directors.
None of the six major studios rated better than 20 percent overall.
Time Warner fared poorest of all with a score of zero.
The report concludes that the film industry ‘still functions as a straight, white, boy’s club.’
Some of the same companies, however, scored better when their TV and digital offerings were evaluated. Disney, the CW, Amazon and Hulu all scored 65 percent and above.
“As prestige or power of the title increases, we see fewer women at the top,” said Katherine Pieper, who co-authored the study with Smith and Marc Choueiti. “Film still has a prestige to it, so we see fewer women filling those positions.”
Some of the study’s most troubling finds are simply absences.
Roughly 50 percent of the examined content didn’t feature one Asian or Asian-American character; 20 percent didn’t include one black character.
Researchers argue for change beyond ‘tokenism’, including making target goals public and creating a system of checks and balances in storytelling decisions.
“People are still erased. It’s 2016 and it’s time for a change,” said Smith. “We’ve laid out concrete actionable steps because we don’t want to do this again in 10 years.”
A growing number of the Hollywood elite, including George Clooney, Spike Lee and Michael Moore, have publicly criticised the Academy for failing to nominate people of colour in any of the major acting categories this year.
Will and Jada Smith both said they will skip the Oscars this year, giving way for the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag to go viral.