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Hollywood Still Sucks at Putting Women On-Screen, Unless They're Scantily Clad

A new report on the top-grossing films of 2015 found that women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities are still largely missing on-screen and behind the camera.
Image via screegrab from Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation trailer

According to the latest report on diversity in Hollywood, women continue to be either underrepresented or overly sexualized in film. The study, released by the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, found that people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities are still largely missing from the industry as well.


The annual report, which was first published in 2007, looks at the people working on-screen and off in the 100 top-grossing domestic films. After analyzing data from 2015 and comparing those findings to years past, the study's authors confirm, "It is clear that anyone who is not a straight, white, able‐bodied male is marginalized in cinema."

Researchers found 4,370 speaking or named characters in 2015's evaluated films. Of those roles, 68.6 percent were male and 31.4 percent were female. Only 26.3 percent of characters were black, Latino, Asian, or of another underrepresented ethnic group.

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As for LGBTQ representation, the study showed only 31 individuals total who were openly lesbian, gay or bisexual. And despite the media frenzy over Bruce Jenner's transition to Caitlyn last year, only one transgender person appeared in the sample. (In 2014, there was no transgender representation.)

Researchers also surveyed the pool for people with disabilities within the 100 films—a first for this study. "Only 2.4% of all speaking or named characters were shown with a disability," the authors write. "A full 45 of the movies failed to depict one speaking character with a disability." Furthermore, not one of those characters were LGBTQ.

Little has changed since the study's inception. In 2007, the percentage of women with speaking roles was 29.9; in 2015, that number was 31.4. The all-time high was in 2008 and 2009, at 32.8 percent. Gender stereotyping in movies also remains in full effect. Women are more likely to be depicted in a relationship than men; less likely to get screen time if they're over the age of 40; and at least three times as likely as their male counterparts to be shown dressed in revealing clothing or referred to as physically attractive.


The stats are no better off camera. In a pool of 800 films and 886 directors, only 4.1 percent were women. Among them, only three black women and one Asian woman were film directors. Based on interviews with buyers and sellers in the film industry, researchers determined that "explicit and implicit decision‐making biases prevent women from securing employment behind the camera."

According to the LA Times, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating gender bias in the hiring practices of film and TV directors.

It's all male-oriented… which means more sex, more boobs, and more women who are there as adjuncts to the male.

Jennifer Warren is the chair and founder of the Alliance of Woman Directors, a nonprofit working to support and increase opportunities for female directors in media. She says women and other marginalized groups are missing from the screen because they're missing behind the camera. Even though there are more women producers and heads of studios, Warren suggests that they're afraid to take chances on women-oriented films for fear of failure. Just adding more women directors to lists provided to producers for consideration on projects would be a step up, she says.

"Those lists are provided by the studios and agencies, and those lists don't have more than one or two women directors," Warren tells Broadly. "That is a big problem. We're not saying 'Hire me because I'm better.' We're saying, 'At least consider me.' And they don't."

The consequence, Warren explains, is that there are no role models in movies for young people. She offers the example of a viral video of a girl with a prosthetic leg receiving an American Girl doll that also has a prosthetic leg. "She was absolutely transformed by seeing this doll that actually looked like her with a missing limb," Warren says, emphasizing the need for all young people to see themselves in film and TV. Otherwise, they're going to "have a hell of a time finding anything that speaks to them about the reality of their life," she says.

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"It's all male-oriented," she continues, "which means more sex, more boobs, and more women who are there as adjuncts to the male."

The study's authors suggest an obvious solution to female underrepresentation on screen: Cast more women from all backgrounds. Five for every film is a good number to start with, they write. They also say that A-list actors should include an "equity clause" to their contracts, demanding that casting be inclusive when it makes sense for the story.