In case you somehow needed more proof that Hollywood is not representative of the world that surrounds us, a new study has confirmed that yes, white men overwhelmingly dominate Hollywood’s top grossing films. A report produced by the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the University of California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism (via NY Times) looked at the top 700 grossing movies between 2007 and 2014, and the results are troubling though not surprising.
- 73.1% of all speaking or named characters in the top 100 movies were white, and 69.8% of characters evaluated in all 700 films were male, resulting in a gender ratio of 2.3 to 1.
- A total of 21 of the 100 top films of 2014 featured a female lead or roughly equal co-lead, and across all 700 films only 21.8% of characters between the ages of 40 and 64 were women.
- It gets even worse behind the camera: across the 100 top films of 2014, only 15.8% of content creators (ie. directors, writers, producers) were women, and females accounted for only 1.9% of directors.
Not only are females underrepresented, they’re also much more sexualized then males: in 2014, females of all ages were more likely than males to be shown in sexy attire (27.9% of females vs. 8% of males), with some nudity (26.4% of females vs. 9.1% of males) and referenced as physically attractive (12.6% of females vs. 3.1% of males).
- Lest you think sexualization only concerns adult females, the study found that female teens (13-20 years old) were just as likely to be sexualized as young adult females (21-39 years old).
- Across the top 100 films of 2014, only 5 of the 107 directors (4.7%) were black, and only 19 Asian directors worked across the 700 top-grossing films.
- Out of the 4,610 speaking characters in the top 100 films of 2014, a whopping 19 (19!) were Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual.
So, yeah, this is a problem. White males don’t make up 73.1% of the moviegoing population—especially in an era where international draw is becoming more important than domestic grosses—so why should they make up that percentage of characters onscreen? Women make up half the world’s population and buy half the movie tickets. Why does Hollywood continue to marginalize them as the “female lead”, “love interest”, or “supporting character?” Why can’t a woman just be the “lead” of a film? Why is every ensemble made up of three men and one woman?
That’s not the world we live in, but the statistics prove that’s the world the movies are selling us. And this is larger than just “put more women/minorities onscreen.” Films are oftentimes a reflection of our hopes, dreams, and fantasies as human beings. We want to be Indiana Jones. We want to be Iron Man. But if we’re only filling these “hero” roles with white men, what is that telling the incredibly diverse audience that sees these films? It’s important to see oneself onscreen, and at a time when Hollywood blockbusters are crafted with the widest possible international audience in mind, the impact of the diversity (or lack thereof) visible onscreen simply can’t be disregarded.
Moreover, it’s not like increasing the diversity in films is going to decrease the amount of money Hollywood makes. The Fast & Furious franchise exploded into one of the highest grossing films series ever thanks to its broader canvas and diverse cast, and Star Wars seems to be taking a page out of their book going forward. And more often than not, female-led films make bank at the box office. The Hunger Games, Frozen, Maleficent, Gone Girl, Lucy, Gravity, The Fault in Our Stars, The Heat, Bridesmaids, Spy, Cinderella, Pitch Perfect & Pitch Perfect 2, Trainwreck, Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out—I could do this all day. The evidence is there. Female-driven movies make a lot of money (Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters has the right idea), and films like Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation prove you can have a “female lead” that’s not a love interest, “kick ass” brute, or carbon copy of the male character who’s just as compelling—if not moreso—than the franchise’s star. It’s possible, guys, I promise. You just have to try.
Simply put, Hollywood has a major diversity problem, and there are no excuses left. It’s time to get serious about reflecting the world we live in.