Hollywood Forgot Diversity

Date: 22 August 2014

Country: US

hollywoodDo you know of any black female film directors? Have you noticed that female characters are more likely to be shown naked on screen than men? In order to show how different demographic groups in the U.S. are represented on TV screens and how film industry can shape perceptions of reality, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism analysed the most recent popular American movies.

Results of the studies from the last six years show a very small change in the way the film industry reflects reality. In the 2013 Race/ethnicity in 600 popular films and Gender inequality in popular films reports, every character was evaluated for demographic and hyper-sexualised indicators. While Hispanics represent 16.3% of US citizens, in popular American movies they are represented by less than 5% of speaking characters. Representation of Black people is also problematic, as there are not many people from this community who have leading roles or are directors or writers.

This lack of diversity also remains in animated films; less than 15% of all characters are from minority groups. Bearing in mind that these ethnic groups buy half of the total amount of cinema tickets in the US, the representation is no balanced.

Science fiction is one of the least diverse genres in the film industry. Just by looking at one of the classics, Star Wars, it can be seen how much of the screen is dominated by white male characters. As this article shows, some science fiction fans argue that the gender will be more diverse in the future, but for now, only white male are the main characters in these types of films. In their opinion, it will happen in a “natural” way as people will be all interbred. Yet, Professor Hopkinson from University of California thinks that these changes will not occur naturally, something needs to be done. People have always been diverse, yet, for example, the misrepresentation of women still occurs. Efforts for inclusion are necessary, even if they are not always understood by the public. Despite this, dome films have tried to change this pattern in the last few years, such as The Hunger Games (a world where characters have different skin tones and are described as mixed race) or Gravity (with a female astronaut).

Generally, male characters within each ethnic group always outnumber females from the same group, so women from Middle East, Native American or other ethnic minority groups face considerable difficulty in finding work on screen in comparison to men. Among the films from the last year, only 29.2% of the characters were women, who appeared largely in comedy films, yet were almost non-existent in action and adventure films. The treatment of women and men is also different according to their ages; while male characters older than 40 are commonly seen in films, the average age of female characters are between 21 and 39.

Behind the scenes the representation is not much better: less than a fifth of professionals (directors, writers, producers, etc) among the analysed films were women. Additionally, only 7% of all the male directors were black. As for Black female directors, there were none to be found!

Another conclusion of this study is that the origin of the characters depends largely on the origin of the director: the number of Black actors in a film is considerably higher when the director is also Black. Furthermore, studio executives and agents usually attach Black directors to racial or ethnic stories. Female directors have also had an influence on other aspects of the characters, such as their hyper-sexualisation. This is an important point, because men and women, Blacks, whites or Latinos, are not all shown in the same sexy attire. There are also differences among women; Hispanic females are more likely to be shown partially or fully naked on screen than females from other ethnicities. The study also notices the hyper-sexualisation of teenagers, which has been observed in the last years, yet it was less evident during 2013. The global conclusion is that women are still performing a secondary role in the cinema industry and functioning as sexual objects in many of its stories.