Study: Inequality in Gender, Race and LBGT Status

An extensive study from USC’s Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative (@MDSCInitiative) released last week. The 100 top‐grossing fictional films from 2007 – 2014 (excluding 2011) were studied. That was 700 films with 30,835 characters. All speaking or named characters were assessed. The study puts numbers to things we already knew were there, but here’s proof.

Here are a few of their key findings. Infographics are taken from the study results.

Only about 30% of speaking parts went to women.

Only about 30% of speaking parts went to women

Only 21 of the 700 films featured a female lead and only 3 of those were from an underrepresented racial group. None were over 45.

Only 21 of 700 films featured a female lead

Females as young as 13 are over-sexualized and dressed in skimpy attire.

Women are oversexualized

Films are overwhelmingly white. In 2014, 17 films did not have a single speaking character who was Black or African American.

73% of all characters are white

Of 4610 speaking characters in 2014, only 19 were gay, lesbian or bisexual. There were no transgender characters.

There were no transgender characters

In all those years, there were only 28 women directors in the top 700 films. There were only 19 Asian directors, one of whom was female. Of the top 700 films, there have been 45 black directors.

28 unique female directors

Female Characters are Profitable

Results from a large study by FiveThirtyEight show that having meaningful female characters in a film can be as profitable for filmmakers as the male led films.

In a report at The Dollar-And-Cents Case Against Hollywood’s Exclusion of Women, FiveThirtyEight details how they conducted the study and the results. The measurement used in the survey, imperfect though it is, is the Bechdel Test. To pass the Bechdel Test, a film must,

  • have two named women
  • the women have a conversation with each other
  • the conversation isn’t about a male character

In the study, FiveThirtyEight, “analyzed 1,615 films released from 1990 to 2013 to examine the relationship between the prominence of women in a film and that film’s budget and gross profits.”

Here are some of their findings.

More films pass the Bechdel test now than in the past. They illustrate this information in this chart.

Films passing the Bechdel test over time
Films passing the Bechdel test over time

Films that do pass the Bechdel test often have lower budgets that the big money films featuring only male casts. However, the study found, “The total median gross return on investment for a film that passed the Bechdel test was $2.68 for each dollar spent. The total median gross return on investment for films that failed was only $2.45 for each dollar spent.”

Dollars earned for dollars spent
Dollars earned for dollars spent

The fact is, women in a film with meaningful roles beyond being something pretty on the arm of the male lead can bring in the dollars.

I urge you to read the complete report, because there’s a lot more to it than my quick summary here.

Frozen image ©Disney