scathing new report spotlights hollywood's crippling intersectionality problem

Hollywood's diversity crisis is so complicated that researchers prefer the phrase "epidemic of invisibility."

by Hannah Ongley
23 February 2016, 12:17am

The Queen of Katwe

Hollywood's diversity problem isn't exactly breaking news. All you need to know that it exists are a pair of eyes and even a passive interest in movies, television, or Twitter hashtags. But a comprehensive new study on the issue, while really only shocking in its total unshockingness, takes a particularly damning lens to the film and TV industries. A few depressing takeaways: only 0.05%(!) of directors assessed were black women, while only 2% of speaking characters are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. And there are basically no speaking roles for minority women over the age of 40. Hollywood's problem isn't just diversity, it's a crippling failure to grasp the concept of intersectionality. 

The report was conducted by the Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg (IDEA). Analyzing 11,306 speaking characters across 104 films and 305 television shows, a team of researchers assessed each character for role, demographics, domesticity, and hypersexualization. The gender and ethnicity of directors and writers was also scrutinized.

One of the most compelling facets of the findings was regarding television. While Netflix and network shows are often thought to fare better than films on the diversity front, this is probably an overly optimistic interpretation. Regarding gender, cable series were found to be the most balanced, with 18% of shows (compared with 8% of films) featuring girls or women in 45-54.9% of all speaking roles. However television shows were also far more likely than films to feature women who were "scantily clad" or otherwise sexualized than films were. Latina women were more likely to be sexualized (though less likely to be referenced as attractive) than white women. Asian women, while allowed to keep their clothes on, were the least likely to be referenced as attractive. 

Broadcast and cable shows also scored pretty horrifically when it came to speaking roles for black or Asian characters. A whopping 70% of cable shows feature no speaking roles for Asian characters, and 22% no speaking roles for black characters. Film clocked in at an average of 50% and 18% respectively. Predictably, underrepresented females are basically non-existent once they're over 40 years of age, with minority females over 40 making up a grand total of less than 2% of all speaking characters analyzed. Yikes. And you're probably more likely to see an alien on screen than you are a 40+ Asian LGBT character. While shows like Transparent have certainly made headway, only 2% of speaking characters are gay, lesbian, and bisexual — and they're basically all white men. 

One way to combat the diversity crisis is to get more women and minorities (and more minority women) behind cameras and in positions of power. But until that happens, the long range Oscars forecast is looking very white, very straight, and very male indeed. 


Text Hannah Ongley
Image from The Queen of Katwe (2016)