Representivity a sham in Hollywood

As the #OscarsSoWhite protest reaches its climax in advance of the Academy awards, a wide-ranging academic study suggests that the problem in Hollywood goes further than one of ethnicity: exclusion extends just as severely to women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) filmmakers.

The Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, issued by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, concludes that ­statistics on participation by black people in the film and TV industries remain terrible.

The figures make equally bad reading for all groups disadvantaged in Hollywood. Women make up only 3% of all film directors, and only 2% of speaking characters in all 414 film, TV and digital shows assessed were identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Over half of all films or shows fail to include a single black character (despite the fact that 37% of the United States’s population is categorised as “nonwhite”). Only two black female directors could be identified – Selma’s Ava DuVernay and Belle’s Amma Asante – with only seven trans characters in total.

“We have an inclusion crisis,” said Stacy L Smith, director of the school’s media, diversity and social change initiative, and the study’s lead author. “It is clear that the ecosystem of entertainment is exclusionary … The results speak to the landscape of media and the erasure of different groups on screen and behind the camera.”

The study showed that 33% of characters were female – but other analyses demonstrated that women made up 25% of characters over 40 years old, and that 33% of female characters were shown with “partial or full nudity” (as against 10% of male characters). In significant behind-the-camera roles, women accounted for 15% of directors and 28% of writers – dropping to a shocking 3% and 10% respectively when film is considered separately.

The report also tallied up women in executive positions, with some 39% occupying senior ­corporate roles.

Figures were similarly depressing when it came to ethnic minorities, with the study’s authors suggesting “the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite should be changed to #HollywoodSoWhite, [because] our findings show that an epidemic of invisibility runs throughout popular storytelling”. Only 28% of characters were identified as belonging to an ethnic minority, and only 12% of films or TV shows reflected the actual balance of ethnic minorities in American society. Ethnic minorities constituted only 12% of film directors – an area where film is doing better than either broadcast TV or streaming services (at 9% and 11% respectively).

The study found that LGBTI characters were also under-represented, with about 2% of speaking roles identified, compared with the 3.5% of the US population identified as LGBTI. Only seven trans characters were found in all the films or TV shows examined – four of whom came from the same digital show.

For Corrina Antrobus, director of the Bechdel Test Fest, which promotes women filmmakers, the report’s conclusions are “very shocking”, even if its Hollywood orientation doesn’t necessarily reflect the breadth of activity in the film world.

Antrobus suggests that the proposed change in Oscar voting rules shows that change is possible. “Creating conversations is vital – there are so many components to it. It’s vital that people are finding their voices so much more. The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago, and now we have this open forum to express dismay. If you don’t listen to your audience, you won’t thrive as a business, and I am hoping that the industry does listen.” – © Guardian News & Media 2016

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