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USC Study Exposes Hollywood as Overwhelmingly White, Sky Blue, Grass Green

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If you’ll believe it, and all it takes is a quick jaunt into the comments section on any major entertainment news web site (except this one, whose commenters are perfect and good-looking) to make you believe it, there are some folks out there who remain unconvinced that there’s a problem of homogeneity in Hollywood.

These folks stuck to their convictions, unswayed by this year’s all-white slate of Oscar nominees that the American film industry has been giving actors of color the short shrift. But even if we concede that there were no performances from black actors deserving of a nomination this year, which is false and not true, what of the fact that a minuscule percentage of annual studio releases feature black performers in headlining roles? Black-fronted films aren’t moneymakers, and a movie studio is a business above all things, comes the factually inaccurate and vaguely racist reply. (See: The Force Awakens.)

But now the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California has conclusively ended this ongoing debate with a healthy dose of cold, hard facts. They recently conducted a survey that reveals with indisputable statistics that the American film industry is not only a boys club, but a straight white boys club. The report’s co-author, Stacy L. Smith, said to Variety that these findings reveal a full-on “inclusion crisis,” where huge swaths of the viewing public go unrepresented in the media they consume. Examining 109 theatrically-released films along with 306 series across network, cable, and digital platforms, they found that less than a third of speaking parts went to female characters, and even more dispiritingly, that only a measly 2% of speaking roles went to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender characters. At least black characters appeared on 80% of programming, and Asian character appeared on 50%, but of course there’s loads of room to improve in both of those figures.

Behind the scenes, things look even more dire. A shameful 3.4% of directors in film were female, against 17.1% of network directors, 15.1% on cable, and 11.8% via streaming. Looking along racial lines, more minority directors helmed films (12.7%), though fewer worked in broadcast (9.6%), while cable and digital were practically even (16.8% and 11.4%, respectively).

Disappointing but hardly surprising, this study throws the abundantly obvious into sharp clarity. Things are messed up right now, and it’s going to take a protracted, conscious effort in order to right it. The progress to correct this will be slow and incremental, but maybe a study conducted at this time next year will tell a little more hopeful story.

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