Scarlett Johansson may have finally learned not to steal roles from underrepresented groups, but that alone won’t fix Hollywood’s huge diversity problem, which, as a new study shows, may be worse than we thought.
In a study released Tuesday titled "Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films," researchers from USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative dissected the top 100 movies from the years 2007 through 2017. What they found is more than a little troubling. In the past decade there has been no significant progress made when it comes to representing women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, or people with disabilities, as The Hollywood Reporter points out.
"We're not seeing an interesting trend either downward or upward across multiple years to suggest there's a concerted effort to be inclusive," AII director Stacy L. Smith told THR.
Women represent over half the U.S. population but only 31.8 percent of speaking characters in 2017’s top films. Out of 48,757 speaking characters from 2007-'17, 30.6 percent were women. Practically no change whatsoever.
As far as race goes, last year 70.7 percent of the characters were white, 12.1 percent were black, 6.2 percent were Hispanic, 4.8 percent were Asian, 3.9 percent were mixed race, 1.7 percent were of Middle Eastern descent, and less than 1 percent were either Native American or Hawaiian. As THR points out, this applies to characters, not actors, meaning, for example, white characters playing an Asian person were tallied as Asian. "A lot of us were familiar with the most notable examples of whitewashing," the study’s co-author Marc Choueiti admitted.
When it comes to sexuality and gender, a whopping 99 percent of the speaking characters in the past decade have been cisgender and straight. In 2017, 81 of the top 100 movies had no LGBTQ representation at all. Even more depressing, only ONE transgender character has appeared in the top films since 2014. Though the study doesn’t specify, it's likely to have been Eddie Redmayne’s character in the popular 2015 flick The Danish Girl, which only makes things worse considering he’s not transgender.
Meanwhile, only 2.5 percent of characters in 2017 had a disability, though most of those characters were played by able-bodied actors, including Sally Hawkins in the award-winning film Shape of Water.
While all these statistics are disheartening, when considering their intersections, things get even more bleak. For example, the number of women starring in lead roles in 2017 was low, but when you look at women of color, that number is dramatically lower. These stats make sense when you think about how male critics and writers outnumber women, and the fact that women only represented 4.3 percent of the directors in the past decade, while 5.2 percent were black and 3.1 percent were Asian.
The only women of color to direct a top 100 film in the past 11 years are Ava DuVernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Sanaa Hamri, Stella Meghie, Patricia Riggen, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, and Loveleen Tandan. Out of 1,100 movies, that’s it.
Ultimately, the study suggests that it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to correct Hollywood's problem. An easy fix is the use of inclusion riders, made famous by Frances McDormand earlier this year, and adding even a handful of women in speaking roles in the biggest films.
"The most important thing is not thinking about this as storytelling," Smith said. "These are hiring decisions.”