Hollywood Is 'Straight, White, Boys' Club,' Study Says

24 February, 2016

A new study finds that major media companies in the United States "whitewash" the films and movies they produce.

The researchers say women and minorities are almost invisible on all levels of the industry.

The Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism did the study. It offers one of the widest examinations of the film and television industries. It gives a failing rating on diversity to all major movie studios and most producers of television.

Painting crews set up on the base of the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. The Hollywood sign, built in 1923, was an outdoor ad campaign for a suburban housing development called Hollywoodland. The sign has been painted twice since 1978
Painting crews set up on the base of the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. The Hollywood sign, built in 1923, was an outdoor ad campaign for a suburban housing development called Hollywoodland. The sign has been painted twice since 1978

'Inclusion crisis'

Hollywood is already under attack over the lack of diversity among Academy Award nominations. For the second straight year, all the acting nominees are white. The awards ceremony takes place Sunday night.

The new study is called the "Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity." It provides further evidence of a deep gender, racial and ethnic divide between Hollywood and the American population it entertains.

USC professor Stacy L. Smith co-wrote the report. She said, "We don't have a diversity problem. We have an inclusion crisis."

The researchers examined the 109 films released by major studios in 2014. They also looked at 305 scripted, first-run TV and digital series from 31 networks and streaming services. All aired from September 2014 to August 2015.

More than 11,000 speaking characters were studied for gender, racial ethnic and LGBT representation. Some 10,000 directors, writers and show creators were examined, as was the gender of more than 1,500 executives.

'Whitewashed' and lacking women

The study found widespread underrepresentation in all media studied. The lack was spread from top positions in media companies to minor characters in production content.

The study authors wrote, "Overall, the landscape of media content is still largely whitewashed."

In the 414 studied films and series, about a third of speaking characters were female.

28.3 percent were from minority groups. That is about 10 percent less than represented in the U.S. population. More than 74 percent of characters 40 years and older are male compared to 25.7 percent female.

Just 2 percent of speaking characters across film and television were LGBT-identified. Among the 11,306 speaking characters studied, only seven were transgendered. Four of them were from the same series.

The study finds that the lack of diversity is even greater behind the camera: 87 percent of directors are white. Among broadcast television directors, the percentage is even higher at 90.4 percent.

Just 15.2 percent of directors, 28.9 percent of writers and 22.6 percent of series creators were female.

In film, the gender gap is greatest: Only 3.4 percent of the films studied were directed by women, and only two directors out of the 109 were black women: Ava DuVernay who made "Selma" and Amma Asante who directed the film, "Belle."

Inclusivity index

USC has been publishing different forms of the study for the last 10 years.

The researchers have added a new measurement in the latest study.

The so-called "inclusivity index" rates the performances of 21st Century Fox, CBS, NBC Universal, Sony, the Walt Disney Co., Time Warner, Viacom, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix. Those companies involve all the broadcast networks, most major cable channels, all of the major movie studios and three of the leading 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 percent overall. The report concludes that the film industry operates "as a straight, white, boys' club."

Hope in television

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 percent and above.

Stacy Smith said there is hope in television.

"Everyone in film is failing, all of the companies investigated. They're impervious to change. But," she said, "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," she said.

USC researchers also, for the first time, added gender analysis of those 10 companies' leaders. They found that women represent about 20 percent of leadership positions.

Katherine Pieper was a co-author of the study. She said as the number of women decrease as power or respect linked to job position increases

Some of the study's most troubling finds are simply absences. Roughly 50 percent of the examined content did not feature a single Asian or Asian-American character. Twenty percent did not include one black character. Researchers said the industry should have target goals for change. And they say such targets should be made public.

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

I'm Caty Weaver.

Caty Weaver adapted this story from an Associated Press report. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

Do you think Hollywood should include more women and people of color in movies and television?


Words in This Story

whitewash v. a white liquid mixture used for making surfaces (such as walls or fences) whiter; also, a planned effort to hide a dishonest, immoral, or illegal act or situation

diversity n. the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization

invisible adj. impossible to see

inclusion n. the act of including something or someone

straight adj. heterosexual

boys' club expression an informal system in which wealthy, white men work together to keep control of money and power

thrive v. to grow or develop successfully: to succeed

erasev. to remove any thought or memory of