New Study Shows Diversity on Screen Falls Far Below U.S. Population

New Study Shows Diversity on Screen Falls Far Below U.S. Population

Steve McQueen may have been the first black director to win an Oscar for Best Picture, but 2013 was otherwise business as usual in Hollywood when it comes to on-screen diversity.

The Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg released a study today demonstrating that diversity on screen falls far below that of the U.S. population. The study found that individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups comprise just over a quarter (26%) of all speaking characters. Researchers assessed every character who spoke one or more words on screen over 25,000 characters in all from the top grossing films released in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

While films such as The Butler, 42, Holiday or The Best Man might be notable examples of diversity, the new study reveals that they do not represent the full story.

"The voices heralding that 2013 was a banner year for black characters in film must be thinking of a few salient examples," said Professor Stacy L. Smith, the study's author and director of the Initiative. "In reality, we saw no meaningful difference in the representation of characters from underrepresented backgrounds across the six years we studied."

Characters from Hispanic/Latino backgrounds were the most underrepresented across the groups studied. Just 4.9% of characters were identified as Hispanic or Latino, despite representing 16.3% of the U.S. population, and purchasing 25% of all movie tickets.

"Hispanics and Latinos are one of the fastest-growing groups in the U.S.," said Marc Choueiti, one of the study's authors. "If popular films were the only way to gauge diversity, viewers would be completely unaware of this. Individuals from this group are almost invisible on screen."

Individuals from all underrepresented groups face a similar plight in animated films. Across three years examined (2007, 2010, 2013), less than one-eighth of characters were from any underrepresented group. The high occurred in 2013 when 12.4% of characters were from diverse backgrounds, while in 2007, 8.1% of speaking characters were from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic groups. 2010 was the worst year, when a mere 1.5% of characters reflected any racial and/or ethnic diversity.