Want to work in Hollywood? Only straight, white men need apply

New comprehensive analysis of diversity in film reveals that the Hollywood boys’ club endures

A new, landmark report released today reveals that if you want to work in Hollywood, being a straight, white male is practically part of the job description. [Download a .pdf of the report.]

The study from the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg is the most comprehensive analysis of diversity in recent popular films ever conducted, bringing together data assessing gender, race/ethnicity and LGBT status in movies. The study reveals, for the first time, a complete picture of Hollywood’s indisputable bias against featuring females, people of color, and LGBT characters on screen.

In the 100 top-grossing films from 2014, less than one-third of all speaking characters were female, 26.9% were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group, and less than .5 percent were LGB-identified. No transgender characters appeared in the 100 top grossing films of 2014.

Graphic by Patricia Lapadula

The USC study assessed every speaking or named character on screen—over 30,000 characters in all—from the top-grossing films released in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Females represented just 30.2% of all speaking characters across these 700 movies.  Only 11% of the 700 films were gender balanced or featured girls/women in roughly half of all speaking parts. Twenty-one films in 2014 had a female lead or co-lead character, similar to what was observed in 2007 films (20%).

Professor Stacy Smith talks to a student at the Media, Diversity, & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative office.
USC Annenberg

“The picture that film presents is one that bears little resemblance to our nation’s demography,” said USC Annenberg Professor Stacy L. Smith, author of the study and founding director of the Initiative. 

“By examining the trends over time, it is clear that no progress has been made either on screen or behind the camera when it comes to representing reality. This report reflects a dismal record of diversity for not just one group, but for females, people of color and the LGBT community.”

Of female characters, women age 40-64 are the least visible on screen. Across more than 9,000 characters age 40-64 in the 700 films examined, only 21.8% were women.

“For activists and advocates who want to see more women on screen, this age bracket is an important place to begin,” said Professor Smith. “Women of all ages can be the focus of creative and compelling storytelling. Programs like The Writers Lab, supported by Meryl Streep, are necessary to increase the presence of powerful women over 40 behind the camera and also in front of it.”

Female characters are nearly three times more likely to be objectified than male characters on screen. In the 100 top films of 2014, a mere 8% of males are shown in sexually revealing clothing, compared to 27.9% of females. Similarly, 9.1% of male characters are depicted with some nudity, while 26.4% of female characters are shown with some exposed skin.

For those concerned with the sexualization of younger characters, the report reveals that females age 13-20 and 21-39 are equally likely to be depicted in sexually revealing attire or with some exposed skin.

Graphic by Patricia Lapadula

“Clearly,” said Professor Smith, “the male gaze is still alive and well in popular film.”

In addition, the study found bad news for women behind the scenes.

Just two of the 107 directors in 2014 were female, or 1.9%.  The percentages of female writers (11.2%) and producers (18.9%) are also low.  Across all three positions, men outnumber women behind the camera at a rate of 5.3 to 1.

Graphic by Patricia Lapadula

The report also examines characters from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic groups.  Although they make up 37% of the U.S. population, underrepresented racial/ethnic groups comprise only 26.9% of speaking characters across the 100 top films of 2014. As in previous studies, Hispanic/Latino characters are the most underrepresented compared to their presence in the U.S. population. The study’s findings also examine the proportion of films that feature any African-American or Asian characters.

“Across all 100 films in 2014 there are still movies that feature no Black/African American or Asian characters,” said Professor Smith.  “There were 17 films with no Black or African-American characters and over 40 movies featured no Asian characters. Hollywood continues to marginalize or exclude certain members of society.”

One positive finding did emerge. In comparison to top animated films of 2007, a 25.4% increase in the percentage of characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups was observed in the top animated films of 2014. However, over half of these 2014 characters appeared in one animated film (The Book of Life). Aside from this movie, there is still a significant increase in the percentage.

Graphic by Patricia Lapadula

Underrepresented directors also fare poorly. Across 700 films, 5.8% of directors were Black or African-American and 2.4% of directors were Asian. There were no Asian directors in 2014. In the seven-year span, only 3 directors were African-American females and just one was an Asian female.

“Our findings demonstrate that women appear very infrequently behind the camera, but women of color are nearly invisible,” said researcher Katherine Pieper, one of the study’s authors.

The researchers examined diversity on multiple fronts, including an analysis of LGBT characters for the first time this year. Out of 4,610 speaking or named characters across the 100 top grossing films of 2014, only 19 were coded as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Of the 19 characters, the majority were gay, white men.

“Instead of acting as a leader, film lags behind when it comes to representing this community,” said Marc Choueiti, the second author of the report.

“At a time when Jill Soloway is lauded for her storytelling prowess on Transparent and Caitlyn Jenner for her courage, film has a long road to traverse before it represents the diversity we see in TV and digital platforms, and in our communities,” said Professor Smith. “While ‘love wins’ in our nation, it loses in film.”

A full description of the results and methodology of the study, including findings related to film genre, can be found in the report: annenberg.usc.edu/MDSCI

This study is the most recent from the MDSC Initiative, which releases yearly in-depth analyses of the prevalence and portrayal of gender and race/ethnicity in film.  More than 65 students at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism worked on the study, which was conducted with the assistance of The Harnisch Foundation and other supporters of the MDSC Initiative.  For more information on the Initiative, or to read previous studies, visit annenberg.usc.edu/MDSCI.

KEY FINDINGS

Gender

·       Only 30.2% of the 30,835 speaking characters evaluated were female across the 700 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2014. This calculates to a gender ratio of 2.3 to 1.

·       Only 11% of 700 films had gender-balanced casts or featured girls/women in roughly half (45-54.9%) of the speaking roles.

Graphic by Patricia Lapadula

·       A total of 21 of the 100 top films of 2014 featured a female lead or roughly equal co lead. This is similar to the percentage in 2007 (20%), but a 7% decrease from the 2013 sample (28%).

·       In 2014, no female actors over 45 years of age performed a lead or co lead role. Only three of the female actors in lead or co lead roles were from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds.  No female leads or co leads were Lesbian or Bisexual characters.

Graphic by Patricia Lapadula

·       Less than a quarter of all speaking characters were female in the top animated films of 2014, which is a 7.4% decrease from 2010 but no change from 2007. Only 21.8% of speaking characters in action/adventure films were female, which did not differ from 2010 or 2007. 34% of characters in 2014 comedies were female.

·       Across 700 films, a total of 9,522 characters were coded 40- to 64-years of age. Less than a quarter (21.8%) of these characters were women.  Only 19.9% of the middle-aged characters were female across the 100 top films of 2014. This is not different from the percentage in 2007.

·       In 2014, females of all ages were more likely than males to be shown in sexy attire (27.9% of females vs. 8% of males), with some nudity (26.4% of females vs. 9.1% of males) and referenced as physically attractive (12.6% of females vs. 3.1% of males). 

·       Examining patterns of sexualization by age in 2014 revealed that female teens (13-20 year olds) were just as likely to be sexualized as young adult females (21-39 year olds). Middle-aged females (40-64 year olds) were less likely than these two groups to be objectified.

·       Across the 100 top films of 2014, only 15.8% of content creators working as directors, writers, and producers were women. Women only accounted for 1.9% of directors, 11.2% of writers, and 18.9% of producers. Put differently, only 2 women directed across the 100 top films of 2014. This is not different from 2013 (2 female directors across 100 top films) or 2007 (3 female directors across 100 top films).

Graphic by Patricia Lapadula

·       Twenty-eight women have worked as directors across the 700 top films from 2007 to 2014. Only three were African American. 

·       In the aggregate, films with at least one female screenwriter attached have more female characters and more women 40- to 64- years of age on screen than films without a female screenwriter attached.  Also, films with a female lead or co lead were associated with more girls/women on screen than those without a female lead or co lead attached.

Race/Ethnicity

·       Of those characters coded for race/ethnicity across 100 top films of 2014, 73.1% were White, 4.9% were Hispanic/Latino, 12.5% were Black, 5.3% were Asian, 2.9% were Middle Eastern, <1% were American Indian/Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 1.2% were from “other” racial and/or ethnic groupings. This represents no change in the portrayal of apparent race/ethnicity from 2007-2014.

Graphic by Patricia Lapadula

·       Only 17 of the 100 top films of 2014 featured a lead or co lead actor from an underrepresented racial and/or ethnic group. An additional 3 films depicted an ensemble cast with 50% or more of the group comprised of actors from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds.

·       Just over a quarter of characters in action and/or adventure (26.1%) and comedy films (26.5%) are from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups across the 100 top films of 2014. This represents no change from 2007 or 2010.

·       In comparison to top animated films of 2007, a 25.4% increase in the percentage of underrepresented characters was observed in the top animated films of 2014. However, over half of these 2014 characters appeared in one animated film. Even without this movie, there is still a significant increase in the percentage of underrepresented speaking characters in animated films from 2007 to 2014.

·       In 2014, 17 films did not feature one Black or African American speaking character. This is the same number of movies without Black characters across the 100 top films of 2013. Over 40 movies across the 2014 sample did not depict an Asian speaking character.

·       Across the 100 top films of 2014, only 5 of the 107 directors (4.7%) were Black.  One Black director helmed two pictures and only one was female. Only 45 Black directors have been attached to the 700 top-grossing films. This represents 5.8% of all helmers in the years analyzed.

·       Only 19 Asian directors worked across the 700 top-grossing films. This is an overall percentage of 2.4%. Only 1 Asian director was female across the films analyzed and was listed as a co-director.

LGBT

·       Across 4,610 speaking characters in the 100 top films of 2014, only 19 were Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual. Not one Transgender character was portrayed.

Graphic by Patricia Lapadula

·       Ten characters were coded as Gay, 4 were Lesbian, and 5 were Bisexual. Only 14 movies sample wide featured an LGB depiction and none of those films were animated. 

·       Of the LGB characters coded, nearly two-thirds were male (63.2%) and only 36.8% were female. LGB characters were also predominantly White (84.2%). Only 15.8% were from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds.