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Happy to Fire, Reluctant to Hire: Hollywood Inclusion Remains Unchanged

Across 1,100 popular films from 2007 to 2017, new report finds little change in representation for women, underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, LGBT community, or people with disabilities.

The rhetoric in Hollywood may be changing when it comes to inclusion, but the numbers are not, says a new study out today on diversity in popular films. As The Spy Who Dumped Me and Crazy Rich Asians gear up for their box office launch, the investigation suggests that these films are a departure from the film industry's status quo.

The report, from Professor Stacy L. Smith, PhD, and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, reveals that progress toward inclusion remains to be seen among top movies with regard to females, underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, the LGBT community, and individuals with disabilities.

The investigation is the most comprehensive and intersectional look at film and examined 48,757 characters in 1,100 top films from 2007 to 2017. Female speaking characters on screen filled just 30.6% of all roles across the 11-year time frame. In the 100 top movies of 2017, 29.3% of characters were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, 2.5% were characters with disabilities, and less than 1% of all characters were from the LGBT community.

"Those expecting a banner year for inclusion will be disappointed," says Smith, founding director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. "Hollywood has yet to move from talking about inclusion to meaningfully increasing on-screen representation for women, people of color, the LGBT community, or individuals with disabilities."

The report provides an "invisibility analysis" to determine how many movies are missing female characters from different groups. In 2017, 43 films did not include a black/African American female character, 65 were missing Asian or Asian American female characters, and 64 did not depict even one Latina character. Further, 78 films did not portray a single female character with a disability and 94 were devoid of even one female LGBT character. Across 400 films from 2014 to 2017, only one transgender character appeared on screen.

"In prior years, I have referred to these findings as the 'epidemic of invisibility' in film," Smith says. "After witnessing little change in these numbers, it is clear that Hollywood must do more to ensure that marginalized groups are a part of the fabric of storytelling."

A look at who is driving the story shows that 33 of 2017's 100 top films had a female in a leading or coleading role. Four of these females were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. These findings represent no change from 2016.

"The lack of inclusion on screen is matched and exceeded by the exclusion behind the camera," Smith says. Across 1,223 directors over 11 years, just 4.3% were female, 5.2% were black or African American, and 3.1% were Asian or Asian American. "Once again, we see that women of color are most affected by exclusionary hiring practices. Just four black/African American women, three Asian women, and one Latina directed a film across the 1,100 we examined."

The report also examines how characters are depicted on screen, with a focus on parents, relational partners, age, and sexualization. Consistent with previous years, female characters were more than twice as likely as male characters to be shown in sexually revealing clothing, partially naked, or referenced as attractive. Teenage (13–20 years old) and young adult (21–39 years old) females were equally likely to be sexualized in films from 2017.

The report offers solutions, focusing on the inclusion rider, which Smith introduced to the entertainment industry. The study's authors encourage industry stakeholders to collaborate with them to augment and amend the existing template for the contractual clause. They suggest envisioning new ways to implement best practices and contract language that can contribute to changing on-screen and behind-the-camera diversity. Additional solutions for individuals, executives, and policy makers are also offered.

"Good intentions are not enough to create change," Smith says. "Hollywood needs tangible, actionable solutions that will usher in real transformation. Our work brings to light the steps that companies and individuals can take if they want to see results."

The study is the latest from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which produces an updated report annually.

Source: USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism