Study: Hollywood has a Diversity Problem

Penelope Cruz arrives at the 82nd Academy Awards, in Hollywood.

Penelope Cruz arrives at the 82nd Academy Awards, in Hollywood.

HOLLYWOOD, California — The 2014 awards season was heralded as being extremely diverse.

Films like “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” “Fruitvale Station” and “12 Years a Slave” racked up not only critical accolades and nominations but, in the case of the latter, also multiple Oscar wins. But a new study from the University of Southern California has found that as much as things change, they remain the same.

“Race/Ethnicity in 600 Popular Films: Examining On Screen Portrayals and Behind the Camera Diversity,” was released on Monday by the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Authored by Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, and Katherine Pieper, the study examined the film industry from 2007 to 2013.

Its findings were not in keeping with the perception of a more diverse Hollywood.

“The voices heralding that 2013 was a banner year for black characters in film must be thinking of a few salient examples,” Smith, the study’s author and director of the initiative told USC News. “In reality, we saw no meaningful difference in the representation of characters from underrepresented backgrounds across the six years we studied.”

Examining 100 of the top grossing films of 2013, researchers found that only 6.5% of the films were helmed by a black director. That’s seven films and of those seven, two shared the same director and there were no women.

The best chance for diversity on camera appears to have a correlation with who is behind the camera as the study found that films with black directors cast black characters in 46% of the speaking roles compared to white directors who cast just over 10%.

“The lack of diversity behind the camera is notable as we have again demonstrated an association between the presence of a Black director and the percentage of Black characters on screen,” researchers wrote in the study. “While this relationship may be due to the nature of the content that Black directors are given or choose to helm, adding diversity in the director’s chair may influence what we see on screen.”

From 2007 to 2013 the percentage of African Americans in speaking roles grew only from 13 percent to 14.1. Other minority groups didn’t fare much better: Hispanics rose from 3.3 percent to 4.9, Asians from 3.4 to 4.4. while those categorized as “other” (which would include Native Americans) remained steady at 2.5 percent over the six-year period.

Researchers also found that “Hispanic females (37.3%) were more likely to be featured in popular films than were white females(29.6%) or Asian females (32%).” But according to the study, when featured, Hispanic females were also more likely to be shown either partially or totally nude on screen than any other race.

“Across two indicators, Hispanic females seem to be more hypersexualized than their female counterparts from other groups,” the study states. “Asian females, in contrast, are the least sexualized group.”

Interesting statistics given that other recent research has shown that Hispanic women over the age of 25 are the most frequent moviegoers.

Writing for Flavorwire, Jason Bailey said “There’s plenty to say about these disparities, but they certainly don’t exist independently of each other; there are so few black speaking roles because there are so few black filmmakers, and ditto Hispanics, and Asians, and so on. There should be more of them — but that doesn’t let white filmmakers off the hook.”

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