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Researchers Examine Hollywood's Lack Of Diversity


When this year's Oscar nominations were announced and all the acting nominees went to white performers, there were calls for a boycott of the Academy Awards. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has been looking at a new study from the University of Southern California. It suggests that this goes beyond the Oscars and beyond race.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: According to a new study from USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the #OscarsSoWhite should probably be changed to #HollywoodSoWhite.

STACY L. SMITH: We're seeing that there is not just a diversity problem in Hollywood. There's actually an inclusion crisis.

DEGGANS: That's Stacy L. Smith, one of the study's authors and founding director of the Annenberg School's media diversity and social change initiative. Smith and her researchers analyzed more than 400 films and TV shows, including programs on broadcast, cable and streaming that were released from September 2014 to August 2015. They added up representations of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual status. Here's what they found - women make up just over half the U.S. population, but only one-third of speaking characters. And those roles were more likely to be sexualized by showing some nudity, wearing sexy clothing or being referred to as physically attractive. People of color are close to 40 percent of the population but only 28 percent of speaking characters. Half the TV and movies examined had no Asian speaking characters, and more than one-fifth had no black people in those roles.

SMITH: I think we're seeing across the landscape an erasure of certain groups - women, people of color, the LGBT community.


MICHAEL KEATON: (As Riggan) How did we end up here? This place is horrible.

DEGGANS: Michael Keaton's Oscar-winning 2014 movie "Birdman" was among 109 films analyzed by the study. It found films did worse than television. Only 7 percent of films had casts with ethnicity levels near the U.S. population. Broadcast TV did a little better at 19 percent. Behind the camera, women directed just 3 percent of films, and again broadcast TV did a little better at 17 percent. Katherine Pieper, an author of the study, says films may do worse because of long-standing myths about what makes a movie successful.

KATHERINE PEIPER: Whether it's in front of the camera believing that male leads or male genres are going to sell more movie tickets or behind the camera believing that male directors are creating the kinds of stories that Hollywood wants to see and that female directors are not...


ANTHONY ANDERSON: (As Dre Johnson) OK, so I'm just your standard, regular old, incredibly handsome, unbelievably charismatic black dude.

DEGGANS: "Black-ish," ABC's sitcom about an upper-middle-class black family, was among several TV series that debuted in 2014 and early 2015 with ethnically diverse casts. That may have helped TV's numbers. In all, the study graded ten media companies for diversity on screen and behind the camera. None of the six major film distributors got a passing grade, including 21st Century Fox and Time Warner. In TV, the CW network and ABC's owner, The Walt Disney Company, performed best. Katherine Peiper explained why these numbers are important.

PEIPER: Doesn't everyone deserves to have their stories told and see themselves on screens and part of the, you know, cultural storytelling that we all embrace and enjoy? So for us, it's really about making sure that people see themselves represented on screen.

DEGGANS: Several media executives declined to comment because they hadn't seen the study. Both Peiper and Smith hope media companies will use the study's data to develop specific strategies for keeping Hollywood from remaining quite so white. Eric Deggans, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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