At least 70.7% of speaking characters were white in top films since 2007

There’s been little progress in the representation of gender, sexuality, or disability either, says a new study

There’s been a lot of talk about inclusivity in the film industry in recent years, but even so, it probably comes as no surprise that Hollywood, and the work coming out of it, is still largely white and male. A new study from USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative shows very little advancement regarding the representation of women, LGBTQ characters, people of colour, and people with disabilities in the industry.

The study, titled Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films, examines the top 100 films over a decade – that’s 2007-2017 – and finds, among other things, that women made up just 31.8% of speaking characters last year. This marks only a 1.2% improvement on female representation across the entire decade, which stands at 30.6% – a pretty dismal offering, given that roughly half of the world’s population is female.

The disparity between the representation of white people and people of colour is even more alarming, though. In 2017, 70.7% of the speaking characters (that’s 4,454) were white, while only 12.1% were black, 6.2% Hispanic, 4.8% Asian, 3.9% mixed-race, 1.7% of Middle Eastern descent, and less than 1% each were marked as Native American or Native Hawaiian. What’s worse is that these characters aren’t even necessarily played by actors of their respective race (see Emma Stone as Aloha’s Allison Ng).

Staggeringly, over 99% of the speaking characters in 2017’s top films were straight and cisgendered; 81 of the 100 films had no LGBTQ characters whatsoever. And only one trans character has appeared in the top 400 films since 2014.

There’s also a huge skew when it comes to representation of disabilities onscreen. Only 2.5% of speaking characters had a disability in the top films from 2017 and a good chunk of that number have been portrayed by able-bodied characters, such as the mute leading lady in The Shape of Water (portrayed by Sally Hawkins, who received an Oscar nomination for the role) and, going back to 2014, Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (Eddie Redmayne, who also played a trans woman in 2015's The Danish Girl).

The representational flaws across film casts are, perhaps tellingly, reflected behind the camera, too. The study shows that only eight of the 109 directors in 2017 were female (the second lowest yearly figure since 2007) and that there was only one female composer in 110.

What the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s study makes clear is that, while mostly liberal Hollywood has a lot to say about equality and representation, it has repeatedly failed to take the action required to make improvements. But that’s not to say that there’s nothing that can be done. A good place to start might be with the  ‘inclusion riders’ that Frances McDormand advocated for in her Oscars speech earlier this year.