The study, titled the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, examined the 109 films released by major studios (including art-house divisions) in 2014 and 305 scripted, first-run TV and digital series across 31 networks and streaming services that aired from September 2014 to August 2015. More than 11,000 speaking characters were analyzed for gender, racial and ethnic representation and LGBT status. Some 10,000 directors, writers and show creators were examined, as was the gender of more than 1,500 executives.
The portrait is one of pervasive underrepresentation, no matter the media platform, from CEOs to minor characters. “Overall, the landscape of media content is still largely whitewashed,” the study concludes.
In the 414 studied films and series, only a third of speaking characters were female, and only 28.3 percent were from minority groups — about 10 percent less than the makeup of the U.S. population. Characters 40 years or older skew heavily male across film and TV: 74.3 percent male to 25.7 percent female.
Just 2 percent of speaking characters were LGBT-identified. Among the 11,306 speaking characters studied, only seven were transgendered (and four were from the same series).
These appear to be pretty consistent patterns. Given the racialized and gendered history of the United States, is it more surprising that white men still dominate in certain categories or that little has changed even with the discussions of recent decades?
One other thought: in No Logo, activist Naomi Klein recounts her own efforts to push for more diversity in advertisements. In a chapter titled “Patriarchy Gets Funky,” Klein says:
We thought we would find salvation in the reformation of MTV, CNN, and Calvin Klein. And why not? Since media seemed to be the source of so many of our problems, surely if we could only “subvert” them to better represent us, they could save us instead. With better collective mirrors, self-esteem would rise and prejudices would magically fall away, as society became suddenly inspired to live up to the beautiful and worthy reflection we had retouched in its image. (p.108-109)
And corporations bought into it:
That’s when we found out that our sworn enemies in the “mainstream” – to us a giant monolithic blob outside of our known university-affiliated enclaves – didn’t fear and loathe us but actually thought we were sort of interesting. Once we’d embarked on a search for new wells of cutting-edge imagery, our insistence on extreme sexual and racial identities made for great brand-content and niche-marketing strategies. If diversity is what we wanted, the brands seemed to be saying, then diversity was exactly what we would get. And with that, the marketers and media makers swooped down, airbrushes in hand, to touch up the colors and images in our culture. (p.111)
The real issue lay elsewhere:
But our criticism was focused on the representation of women and minorities within the structures of power, not on the economics behind those power structures…
The prospect of having to change a few pronouns and getting a handful of women and minorities on the board and on television posed no real threat to the guiding profit-making principles of Wall Street.
Maybe the issue is less one of representation on the screen and more about who controls the industry and resources.