Damning study finds a 'whitewashed' Hollywood

NEW YORK -- In one of the most exhaustive and damning reports on diversity in Hollywood, a new study finds that the films and television produced by major media companies are "whitewashed," and that an "epidemic of invisibility" runs top to bottom through the industry for women, minorities and LGBT people.

See Full Article

A study to be released Monday by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism offers one of the most wide-ranging examinations of the film and television industries, including a pointed "inclusivity index" of 10 major media companies -- from Disney to Netflix -- that gives a failing grade to every movie studio and most TV makers.

Coming just days before an Academy Awards where a second straight year of all-white acting nominees has enflamed an industry-wide crisis, the report offers a new barrage of sobering statistics that further evidence a deep discrepancy between Hollywood and the American population it entertains, in gender, race and ethnicity.

"The prequel to OscarsSoWhite is HollywoodSoWhite," said professor Stacy L. Smith, one of the study's authors, in an interview. "We don't have a diversity problem. We have an inclusion crisis."

The study, titled the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, examined the 109 films released by major studios (including art-house divisions) in 2014 and 305 scripted, first-run TV and digital series across 31 networks and streaming services that aired from September 2014 to August 2015. More than 11,000 speaking characters were analyzed for gender, racial and ethnic representation and LGBT status. Some 10,000 directors, writers and show creators were examined, as was the gender of more than 1,500 executives.

The portrait is one of pervasive underrepresentation, no matter the media platform, from CEOs to minor characters. "Overall, the landscape of media content is still largely whitewashed," the study concludes.

In the 414 studied films and series, only a third of speaking characters were female, and only 28.3 per cent were from minority groups -- about 10 per cent less than the makeup of the U.S. population. Characters 40 years or older skew heavily male across film and TV: 74.3 per cent male to 25.7 per cent female.

Just 2 per cent of speaking characters were LGBT-identified. Among the 11,306 speaking characters studied, only seven were transgendered (and four were from the same series).

"When we start to step back to see this larger ecology, I think we see a picture of exclusion," said Smith. "And it doesn't match the norms of the population of the United States."

Behind the camera, the discrepancy is even greater. Directors overall were 87 per cent white. Broadcast TV directors (90.4 per cent white) were the least diverse.

Just 15.2 per cent of directors, 28.9 per cent of writers and 22.6 per cent of series creators were female. In film, the gender gap is greatest: Only 3.4 per cent of the films studied were directed by women, and only two directors out of the 109 were black women: Ava DuVernay ("Selma") and Amma Asante ("Belle").

Following a request made in May by the American Civil Liberties Union (which cited previous USC studies, as well as those by UCLA and the Directors Guild in claiming women have been "systematically excluded" from directing jobs), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year began investigating gender discrimination in Hollywood.

The federal investigation is just one element of growing scrutiny for the industry. But for protesters, finding a target for what some consider a systematic problem isn't easy. Even many of those, like Spike Lee, who have criticized the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, have insisted the issue goes far deeper than Oscar nominees. When academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs recently announced dramatic steps to diversify the overwhelmingly white and male film academy, she said: "The academy is going to lead, and not wait for the industry to catch up."

USC's study, which the school has been publishing in various forms for the last 10 years, also seeks to add a new metric in the conversation. The "inclusivity index" is a report card for the performances of 21st Century Fox, CBS, NBC Universal, Sony, the Walt Disney Co., Time Warner, Viacom, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix. Those companies encompass all the broadcast networks, most major cable channels, all of the major movie studios and three of the dominant streaming services.

Each was rated by their percentage of female, minority and LGBT characters; and of female writers and directors. None of the six major studios rated better than 20 per cent overall; Time Warner fared poorest of all with a score of zero. The report concludes that the film industry "still functions as a straight, white, boy's club."

Some of the same companies, however, scored better when their TV and digital offerings were evaluated. Disney, the CW, Amazon and Hulu all scored 65 per cent and above.

"When we turn to see where the problem is better or worse, the apex to this whole endeavour is: Everyone in film is failing, all of the companies investigated," said Smith. "They're impervious to change. But there are pockets of promise in television. There is a focus that change is possible. The very companies that are inclusive -- Disney, CW, Hulu, Amazon to some degree -- those companies, if they're producing and distributing motion pictures, can do this. We now have evidence that they can, and they can thrive."

USC researches also, for the first time, added analysis of those 10 companies' executives. Researches didn't have racial or ethnic background information, but did find that women represent about 20 per cent of corporate boards, chief executives and executive management teams.

"As prestige or power of the title increases, we see fewer women at the top," said Katherine Pieper, who co-authored the study with Smith and Marc Choueiti. "Film still has a prestige to it, so we see fewer women filling those positions."

The research offers the chance for comparison between mediums. Do streaming services adhere to the established patterns of traditional television or deviate from them?

In some cases, they do, but in many, they don't. Netflix (20 per cent on the inclusion index) scored about the same as NBC Universal, CBS and Fox. There were far fewer female directors working in digital series (11.8 per cent) than in broadcast (17.1 per cent), in the shows studied. Broadcast, cable and steaming series also all revel in sexualized female characters and nudity more than movies do.

But some of the study's most troubling finds are simply absences. Roughly 50 per cent of the examined content didn't feature one Asian or Asian-American character; 20 per cent didn't include one black character. Researchers argue for change beyond "tokenism," including making target goals public and creating a system of checks and balances in storytelling decisions.

"People are still erased. It's 2016 and it's time for a change," said Smith. "We've laid out concrete actionable steps because we don't want to do this again in 10 years."



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • Margot Robbie to play Queen Elizabeth I

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Margot Robbie is set to join the royal list of actresses who have portrayed Queen Elizabeth I onscreen. The Suicide Squad star has officially signed on to join the cast of Mary Queen of Scots, opposite Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who will portray Mary Stuart. Source
  • Mel B's first husband fears for their daughter

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Melanie Brown’s first husband Jimmy Gulzar insists his ex-wife has failed to keep their daughter Phoenix Chi out of danger. The Dutch-born dancer was married to the former Spice Girl from 1998-2000 and their child is now 18. Source
  • Rosario Dawson wants in on Star Wars

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Actress Rosario Dawson is calling on more fans to help make her Star Wars dreams come true by backing an online campaign to land her a role in a future project. The Sin City star has become a major fixture in the Marvel comics TV adaptations as medic Claire Temple in Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist but she would love to expand her role with the productions’ parent company Disney and step into one of the planned Star Wars movies. Source
  • Burt Reynolds makes rare public appearance at Tribeca film festival

    Entertainment CBC News
    Robert De Niro helped Burt Reynolds onto the red carpet for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Reynold's new movie Dog Years Saturday night in New York. It was a rare appearance for the 81-year old actor, who at times struggled to walk. Source
  • 'The Fate of the Furious' laps new films at box office

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- "The Fate of the Furious" sped into first place at the box office again, leaving new thriller "Unforgettable" and historical drama "The Promise" in the dust. Universal Pictures' eighth installment in "The Fast and the Furious" franchise earned $38.7 million over the weekend, down 61 per cent from its debut, according to studio estimates Sunday. Source
  • Bill O'Reilly returns to air Monday for the 1st time since his firing

    Entertainment CBC News
    It's been less than a week since conservative television personality Bill O'Reilly was fired from Fox News and he's already heading back to the airwaves in a podcast from his website. The 67-year-old former host of the longtime, highest-rated Fox news show The O'Reilly Factor is set to release a new podcast on his personal website Monday at 7 p.m. Source
  • Coachella cellphone thefts lead to multiple arrests

    Entertainment CBC News
    Police have arrested five people in the theft of more than 40 cellphones, cash and credit cards at the Coachella music festival in the Southern California desert. Indio police say multiple festival-goers reported the thefts, and investigators identified two separate groups of suspects who had multiple phones on them Saturday. Source
  • 'Silicon Valley', 'Bates Motel' and 'Gotham' top this week’s TV must-sees

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    1. Silicon Valley Season Premiere Television’s favourite group of antihero techies are back as Season 4 of the HBO comedy series returns. While Richard comes up with the idea to top all ideas, the guys make it their mission to find funding for Pied Piper’s video-chat app, as they struggle to keep up with its growing fan base. Source
  • Hillary Clinton makes surprise appearance at Tribeca Film Festival

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- The premiere of a virtual reality short by Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow was already a high-profile event at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday night. And then Hillary Clinton walked onstage. Clinton was an unannounced panelist, there to discuss the scourge of elephant poaching - the subject of Bigelow's eight-minute film "The Protectors: Walk in the Rangers' Shoes," about park rangers trying to save elephants in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the…
  • Flinthook, retro-inspired game by Montreal indie team, swings into action

    Entertainment CBC News
    If Flinthook looks, at first, like a video game from 20 years ago, don't be too shocked — that's the point. You play Captain Flinthook, a diminutive space pirate looking to plunder as much gold as possible by raiding the ships of other, nastier pirates. Source