Hollywood Movies Are Failing At Diversity. Here Are 9 Ways To Fix That

File: Actress Cate Blanchett (top, C) reads a statement on the steps of the red carpet in protest of the lack of female filmmakers honored throughout the history of the festival during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 2018 in Cannes, southeastern France. (Photo by Loïc Venance/AFP/Getty Images)

Progress continues to be slooooow when it comes to making popular movies more diverse, both in front of and behind the camera. That's according to the latest annual study on diversity from USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. It's not hopeless, but there's a lot of work to do.

The numbers are grim for those hoping for more inclusion of women at the movies. Last year, 31.8 percent of speaking characters in popular movies were women. That number has hovered between 28 and 33 percent for the past decade — and that's despite the fact that women make up the majority of moviegoers. The numbers echo those found in reports from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

A screenshot from the 2018 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report showing the lack of representation for women on film. (Image via USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative)

Things are worse when you look at LGBT characters. Last year, 81 of the top 100 movies had no LGBT characters — and there were zero transgender speaking characters.

"In terms of women and people of color, Hollywood movies continue to present viewers with a status quo that skews from reality," researchers said in the conclusion to their report.

The lack of representation is broad — the disabled and Latinos are particularly underrepresented. Paramount is being targeted for a boycott by the National Hispanic Media Coalition due to its especially low numbers of Latino actors, writers, and directors.

This data from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative looks at inclusion in the top 100 grossing films of 2017 relative to the overall U.S. population. (Image via USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative)

"Following years of advocacy and efforts to create change by groups and individuals throughout the industry, the evidence in this report suggests that 2017 was not meaningfully different from prior years," the conclusion reads.

Here Are Some Solutions

The list of problems goes on and on. (You can see detailed graphics running down the problems throughout the film industry at the bottom of this post.) But that doesn't mean there aren't possible answers. USC offered these ideas for improving things:

Use Inclusion Riders When Launching New Projects

One of the authors of the report, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, was part of starting the call for a rider from A-list talent insisting on more diversity in movies they work on. She introduced the idea in a 2014 Hollywood Reporter column, and Frances McDormand took it to the next level by supporting the idea when she won an Academy Award earlier this year.

It includes a requirement that lower-level roles be representative of the locale of the film, as well as setting standards for diversity on the crew. USC offers a sample template for inclusion rider language on their site.

Still, not everyone's so optimistic about the effect inclusion riders could have — the Hollywood Reporter's Eriq Gardner argued in a March column that, if the language of these deals isn't made public, a lack of diversity could continue to be covered up even in films with inclusion riders in place.

Set Target Inclusion Goals

The researchers say that companies may want more inclusivity in their content, but results haven't turned up on screen. They suggest that companies set goals that are transparent and public, including both what the company's expectations are for inclusion and the steps they plan to take to reach those goals.

According to the report, the most important advantage of this tactic: it makes inclusion an intentional part of decision-making instead of an afterthought.

There have been numerous reasons given for why women haven't been given a larger role both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. The Annenberg report points out that it's a trickle-down problem, with more male directors and writers being correlated with more men on camera. This Vulture article explains five of the reasons often given for not hiring women to direct.

Famed screenwriter Nora Ephron offered this explanation: "Most directors, I discovered, need to be convinced that the screenplay they're going to direct has something to do with them. And this is a tricky thing if you write screenplays where women have parts that are equal to or greater than the male part."

Just Add Five — Pay Attention To Background Roles And Address Disparities Simply

A proposed solution for the lack of representation for women on film, as seen in the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative's annual report. (Image via USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative)

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has spent several years advocating for another possible solution: "just add five." The idea is to add five female speaking characters to all of the top 100 movies, even in small roles. If that happens for three consecutive years (including this one), movies would reach gender parity by 2020. They also point out that it could increase diversity in other ways, as these women could be from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, members of the LGBT community, and/or disabled.

Geena Davis talked with KPCC's The Frame in 2014 about the problem, and not much has changed.

"My theory why that happens is because that's the ratio that everybody grew up with, it just looks like the norm when it's been that prevalent," Davis said at the time.

But she was also optimistic about a simple step like just taking some male characters and making them female — "The next time somebody makes a movie, the board could be half female, the CEO can be a woman."

Investigate Policy Solutions

This may be one of the biggest opportunities for growth. The report notes that this area remains largely unexplored. Entertainment companies are benefitting from state tax incentives, including California's film and TV program. The California program recently added new measures for diversity in movies and shows that receive tax benefits from the state.

The report suggests other states could tie funding to having a diverse cast or crew, or that funding could be tied to criteria like inclusion riders. At a higher level, legislators could reward companies that make inclusion a priority.

"State and federal legislators ... can ensure that their constituents have an equal chance to work on the films their tax dollars support," the report states.

Other ideas listed in the USC report include combatting implicit and explicit bias, creating inclusive consideration lists, shareholder activism, ensuring environments don't trigger stereotypes, and supporting inclusive films.

Read the full report here:

This story has been updated.


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