Are All Women Quiet and Sometimes Nude? Hollywood Thinks So

Myths of gender and race are not made on the screen, but are reinforced there

Four months ago I wrote a blog post about the movie industry’s massive bias against women and used data from the Media, Diversity, & Social Change (MDSC) initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, particularly the work from projects headed up by Dr. Stacy Smith and colleagues, to illustrate my points. Well, the same group of researchers just released another study, this time of the 700 top-grossing films between 2007-2014. This includes analyses of 30,835 characters in those films. It’s more egregious than before. Worse still, they’ve added racial bias.

Here are the highlights:


Only 30.2% of the 30,835 speaking characters were female across the 700 top‐grossing films. This represents a gender ratio of 2.3 to 1. More than 200% different than reality.

Only 21 of the 100 top films of 2014 featured a female lead or roughly equal co-lead.

Only 11% of 700 films had gender‐balanced casts or featured girls/women in roughly half (45‐54.9%) of the speaking roles. That means 89% of the top films over the last 7 years represent a totally distorted view of everyday gender reality.

In spite of fewer female characters overall, those present were far more likely to don sexy attire, display nudity, and be vocally praised or slighted for their physical attractivity than males.

In 2014, specifically, no female actors over 45 years of age performed a lead or co-lead role. This is largely because Meryl Streep had only supporting roles in the movies she was in that year. Think about this for a moment…can anyone reading this name three women over 45 who had lead roles in movies out of Hollywood over the last decade? Women over 45 are one of the largest demographics in the USA, yet Hollywood treats them as if they were a miniscule minority. Across 700 films, a total of 9,522 characters were 40‐ to 64‐years of age and less than a quarter (21.8%) of these characters were women. Again, a total departure from reality.

Overall, only about 16% of content creators (directors, writers, and producers) were women. Only Twenty‐four women have worked as directors in 28 of the 700 top films from 2007 to 2014. And of course, films with at least one female screenwriter attached have more female characters and more women 40‐ to 64‐ years of age on screen than films without a female screenwriter.

Then there’s the issue of race…

About 73.1% of all characters were White (who make up 62% of the population, see census data), and 5% were Latino (who make up ~17% of the population and as much as 25% of the movie going public).

In 2014 Only 17 of the 100 top films featured a non-white lead or co-lead actor (despite 38% of the population being non-white).

In the 700 top-grossing films there were only 45 Black directors (5.8%) and only 19 Asian directors (2.4%). Of the three Hispanic/Latino directors that I can find who’ve made blockbuster Hollywood films in the 2007-2014 time period, only one is from the USA (.001% vs. 17% of the population).

The authors of the study summarize the results perfectly: “The landscape of popular cinema in 2014 remains skewed and stereotypical. Across 700 films and over 30,000 speaking characters from 2007 to present, movies continue to distort the demographic reality of their audience. Film characters are overwhelmingly White and male, despite both population statistics and viewing patterns.”

They end their report on a slightly positive note pointing out that 2015 looks better than previous years (5 female directors in high grossing films so far this year, more than in 2013 and 2014 combined). They also mention, with an eye towards the studio executives, that highly diverse casts such as that in Fast and Furious 7 can have serious earning power (over $1 billion worldwide). But they stress that these are very small steps and that only “with sustained effort and change can Hollywood move from an industry of inequality to one of inclusion.”

Blockbuster movies are one of the last shared cultural elements left in our society: films are fun to watch, and they matter. What we see on the giant screen helps shape how we see ourselves and each other. But this new brand of “movie magic” is messing us up. Demand better.

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