Posted on August 20, 2023

In Searing ‘Indictment’ of Hollywood Diversity, USC Film Study Shows 16 Years of Stasis

Malia Mendez, Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2023

Today’s popular films are more inclusive in their casting than they were 16 years ago, according to a USC Annenberg study released Thursday. But who’s in leading roles in front of and behind the camera has hardly changed.

Since 2007, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (AII), led by USC Communication Professor Stacy L. Smith, has tracked the gender and race/ethnicity of characters in each year’s top 100 domestic films. In 2014, the study added LGBTQ+ status to its data, and in 2015, disability status.

AII’s latest report reveals that years of advocacy and activism have failed to substantially increase the inclusion of underrepresented groups in popular films.


If the industry were interested in change, Smith told The Times, the easiest way to start would be by addressing disparities in casting for underrepresented girls and women.

While the percentage of films with girls and women in leading and co-leading roles reached a 16-year high in 2022 of 44%, fewer than half of those leads were women of color, and only five were 45 years of age or older.

In addition, there has been no significant change in the percentage of speaking characters identified as female since 2007, with near-complete erasure of women from Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native and Middle Eastern/North African backgrounds.


Another proven way to diversify casts is hiring more directors who are women and people of color.

Fewer than one in 10 directors in 2022 were women — an increase since 2007 but no substantial change from 2008. Of all racial minority groups, only Asian directors made up more than 10% of total directors (10.6%). Scarcely any directors at all represented multiple marginalized groups.

Yet when movies had female, Black or Asian directors attached to them, the report shows, characters of those identities were far more often cast in leading or co-leading roles.

There has been notable progress for only one community onscreen since 2007: The percentage of Asian characters increased from 3.4% in 2007 to 15.9% in 2022. Although the percentage of white characters decreased over the same 16-year time frame, there were no other differences observed for characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.


As with LGBTQ+ characters, most characters with disabilities were white and male. Only one character with a disability in 2022 was LGBTQ+.

Not only do films struggle with representation; they come nowhere near a nuanced and intersectional understanding of minority identities, the report says.

To do so, Smith said, the industry must implement radical changes at every level of production.

In addition to following the “Just Add Five” rule and hiring more women and nonwhite directors, Smith recommends the industry use clear criteria in hiring and casting processes — as opposed to falling back on implicit biases or nepotism.

To incentivize companies to make such changes, AII recommends leveraging shareholders and popularizing inclusion riders — contractual stipulations that actors can have inserted into their contracts, which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew.