ProgramCommunication Ph.D Program
Center AffiliationMedia, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative
Stacy L. Smith (Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 1999) joined the USC Annenberg faculty in the fall of 2003. Her research focuses on 1) content patterns pertaining to gender and race on screen in film and TV; 2) employment patterns behind-the-camera in entertainment; 3) barriers and opportunities facing women on screen and behind-the-camera in studio and independent films; and 4) children’s responses to mass media portrayals (television, film, video games) of violence, gender and hypersexuality.
Dr. Smith has written more than 75 journal articles, book chapters, and reports on content patterns and effects of the media. She has received multiple "top paper" awards for her research from the Instructional Developmental Division of the International Communication Association. In terms of the popular press, Dr. Smith’s research has been written about in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Slate.com, Salon.com, The Boston Globe, and USA Today to name a few. She also has a co-edited essay in Maria Shriver’s book, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything (2009).
Since 2005, Dr. Smith has been working with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to assess portrayals of males and females in popular media. Over two-dozen projects have been completed, assessing gender in films (e.g., 500+ top-grossing movies from 1990 to 2009, 180 Academy Award® Best Picture nominations from 1977 to 2010), TV shows (e.g., 1,034 children’s programs, two weeks of prime time shows), video games (e.g., 60 best selling), and point-of-purchase advertising (e.g., jacket covers of DVDs, video games).
Examining 5,839 characters, a recent study of 129 top grossing G, PG, and PG-13 films theatrically released between 2006 and 2011 showed that less than 30% of all on screen speaking characters are girls or women. The ratio of males to females on the silver screen is 2.53 to 1. Other findings revealed that females are still more likely than males to be depicted in a stereotypical (i.e., caregivers, romantically involved, lacking employment) and hypersexualized (i.e., sexy attire, nudity, thinness) light. Further, females are far less likely to be shown in films as holding clout and powerful positions in political (e.g., Senators, Representatives), financial (e.g., CEO, CFO, COO, GM), or legal (Supreme Count Justices) arenas.
While on screen portrayals are skewed, the percentage of females working behind-the-scenes is even more abysmal. Across 1,100 top-grossing films between 2002 and 2012, only 4.4% of directors are female. This investigation also examined the total number of unique directors after removing individuals that helmed more than one film. In comparison to the 625 unique male directors, only 41 unique females emerged across the 11-year sample. This translates into a gender ratio of 15.24 males to every 1 female director!
Smith et al.’s (2013) recent research reveals that the independent sphere is more female friendly. Commissioned by the Sundance Institute/Women in Film in Summer of 2012, Smith are her research team assessed female involvement as content creators at the Sundance Film Festival between 2002 and 2012. Across 11 years, 16.9% of all directors, 20.6% of all writers, and 29.4% of all producers of U.S. narratives are females. These percentages are all substantially higher than those found in some of Smith’s earlier work on top grossing studio films or Academy Award® Best Picture Nominated Films. The Sundance study also qualitatively explored barriers facing female directors and producers in the independent space, with gendered financial impediments, a male dominated environment, and work family conflict the three most frequently mentioned obstacles by the 51 content creators and industry thought leaders interviewed.
Given these and other similar statistics from her lab, Smith’s recent research (with Rene Weber & Marc Choueiti) has focused on the economic success at the box office of feature films with women on screen and behind-the-scenes as well as interviewing over 110 content creators (i.e., directors, writers, producers, executives, etc.) about the reasons for the under representation and hypersexualization of girls and women in popular movies. Funding for Dr. Smith’s research has come from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Sundance Institute, and See Jane.
Currently, Dr. Smith is the director of a research-driven initiative at USC Annenberg on Media, Diversity, and Social Change. The initiative produces cutting-edge, timely, and theory-driven empirical research on different entertainment-based minority groups. Roughly 20-30 undergraduate and graduate students are conducting research on gender and race in her lab each year. Educators, advocates, and activists can access and use the research to create sustainable industry change on screen and behind-the-camera.
In addition to research, Dr. Smith is passionate about teaching. She currently teaches the undergraduate COMM 203 – Introduction to Mass Communication course at USC Annenberg. Dr. Smith has been recognized for her outstanding teaching, receiving multiple awards from different constituencies on campus. She has received the Outstanding Professor Award from the Annenberg Students Communication Association three times, the Greek Professor of the Semester Award, the Golden Apple Award from Kappa Alpha Theta twice, the Professor of the Year Award from Gamma Alpha Sigma, and was recognized as an Honorary Member of Lambda Pi Eta. In 2009, Dr. Smith received the Outstanding Teacher and Mentor Award from the Parents’ Council at USC. Mortar Board at USC has also tapped her. In 2012, Dr. Smith received the Trojan League of Southern California 2012 Outstanding Service Award and the LA Woman recognition by Los Angeles Magazine.
*Race/Ethnicity in 500 Popular Films: Is the Key to Diversifying Cinematic Content held in the Hand of the Black Director? (full report)
Gender Inequality in 500 Popular Films (full report)
Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers (full report)
Asymmetrical Academy Awards ® 2: Another Look at Gender in Best Picture Nominated films from 1977 to 2010
Gender Inequality in Popular Films: Examining On Screen Portrayals and Behind-the-Scenes Employment Patterns in Motion Pictures Released between 2007-2009
Black Characters in Popular Film: Is the Key to Diversifying Cinematic Content held in the Hand of the Black Director? (full report)
Gender Inequality in Cinematic Content? A Look at Females On Screen & Behind-the-Camera in Top-Grossing 2008 Films (full report)
Gender Inequality in Top Grossing 2007 Films (key findings, full report)
Asymmetrical Academy Awards®? A Look at Gender Imbalance in Best Picture Nominated Films from 1977-2006
Gender Disparity On Screen and Behind the Camera in Family Films (key findings, full report)