Hollywood’s ‘invisibility epidemic’ extends well beyond the Oscars, study says



Men far outnumber women as directors, writers and industry executives. Minorities are drastically underrepresented in acting roles. Lesbian, gay and transgender characters are almost nonexistent.

This is the portrait of an “epidemic of invisibility” in Hollywood described by researchers in a study released on Monday of more than 400 movies and scripted television series from 2014 and 2015.

“The film industry still functions as a straight, white, boy’s club,” said the study, which was conducted by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Its release just days before the Academy Awards ceremony echoed earlier findings by the Directors Guild of America and was sure to deepen the debate over the lack of diversity among this year’s acting nominees. For the second year in a row, the nominations did not recognize any minority actors.

“The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite should be changed to #HollywoodSoWhite,” the study said, referring to the Twitter protest, “as our findings show that an epidemic of invisibility runs throughout popular storytelling.”

The study found that women and girls made up less than 34 per cent of speaking characters in movies and scripted series. The share was worse in films: About 29 per cent of the parts went to female actors.

Minority groups represented a little more than 28 per cent of speaking characters in films and series, about 10 per cent less than their share of the general population, according to the study. Just 2 per cent were identified as LGBT.

Women were heavily outnumbered by men behind the camera, making up about 15 per cent of directors, about 29 per cent of writers and about 23 per cent of series creators, the study found.

The disparity was starkest on movie sets, where women were hired to less than 4 per cent of directing jobs. Only two directors were black women during that period: Amma Asante, the director of the British period drama Belle, and Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma, whose omission among last year’s Oscar nominees prompted indignation.

The researchers said they hoped to broaden the discussion about diversity in Hollywood. Stacy L. Smith, a professor at the University of Southern California and an author of the study, said the findings mapped out an ecosystem of inequality in which the Academy Awards was just one of the most visible outcomes.

“It becomes really important to think about not just the awards but – from television, streaming and cinematic content – who gets opportunities on-screen and behind the camera. Who gets hired,” she said.

“This is providing a larger frame around the Academy Awards and why, at the end of that whole series of decisions, we might see a very, very narrow slice of humanity getting nominated because the entire ecosystem has a problem, and that’s what the data speaks to.”

Anger over the lack of minorities in this year’s acting category led director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith to announce in January that they would not attend Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. The Academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, then promised a review of recruitment efforts, saying it was “time for big changes.”

The Annenberg researchers also, for the first time, analysed 10 major media companies, including old-guard firms like Sony and 21st Century Fox, along with the newcomers Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, and scored them for diversity in five categories. Each one failed to meet the study’s definition of “inclusive.”

Women represented about 20 per cent of the companies’ corporate boards, chief executives and executive management teams.

Several of the studios, including Time Warner, which fared the worst, declined to comment on the study.

Twenty-First Century Fox highlighted its efforts to deepen the diversity of the industry, pointing to its part in setting up the Fox Writers Intensive and the Fox Global Directors Initiative. The study’s authors suggested that media companies grappling with diversity problems would be well advised to start behind the camera. When women are directing or creating the series, casts tend to reflect greater diversity, the study found.

“If we see a tilted view of humanity on-screen, the question becomes, ‘Who’s getting opportunities behind the camera?'” Smith said. “And what we see is there is a tilted opportunity behind the camera as well.”

Barbara Schock, a filmmaker and chairwoman of the graduate film program at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, said the challenge of diversifying the ranks of film directors did not trace to a lack of talented women.

Media companies just need to open their eyes, she said. “They’re not looking. Because they are here.”

She added: “I’ve got a long list of excellent female directors I can highly recommend, primed for their opportunities. Pregnant or not.”

The New York Times



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