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Researchers Suggest Two Concrete Ways To Combat Hollywood Bias Against Women And People Of Color

It'd help a lot if films added this many more female characters.

This week, results of a University of Southern California study on gender and race in Hollywood films did not surprise anyone who’s been paying attention. In the 100 films analyzed, researchers found that women still comprise less than one-third of all speaking roles, black characters only make up 12.2 percent of speaking roles, 40 percent of films analyzed had no Latinos in speaking roles at all, and less than 1 percent of speaking roles went to LGBT characters. And the sky is blue, and the grass is green.

For all its bad news, however, the report ended on a positive note. The problem of gender and racial inequality in Hollywood is so widespread both behind the camera and in front of it that it’s hard to say where industry insiders should begin. But Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti and Dr. Katherine Pieper of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism offered two concrete steps to amending the lack of representation. 

1. Writers should add five female speaking characters to every film.

The average feature film, the report notes, has 40 characters, but only a few who are central to the plot. Allowing women ― black women, white women, queer women and others ― to fill out some of those smaller roles on the sidelines can help improve gender parity onscreen. By doing this, Smith and her colleagues estimate that the industry could reach a 50-50 male-female ratio in just three years. 

2. Top talent should add an equity rider to their contracts. 

Film, the report suggests, should reflect the reality of our world: gender-balanced and ethnically diverse. A rider that demands “fictional authenticity” in casting “when it is sensible for the story” could go a long way toward that goal. Besides, if A-list actors banded together tomorrow with this as their rallying cry, it’s hard to imagine that we would even be talking about unequal representation in a few years. 

But it’s not enough for actors, directors, producers, studio executives, screenwriters and casting directors to start doing these things behind closed doors. Smith and her colleagues call on industry professionals to set public goals so the public may hold the industry accountable.

The fight against Hollywood bias isn’t going away. After a public call by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is quietly investigating hiring practices of directors in Hollywood. Small step by small step, the entertainment industry may soon start to look different.

Read the full report here.

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