Hollywood Tried to Diversify Their Movie Characters, But It’s Still Not Enough 
Tue, April 20, 2021

Hollywood Tried to Diversify Their Movie Characters, But It’s Still Not Enough 

If it’s a discussion of diversity, as of late, the Jennifer Lopez-led “Hustlers” might be the first thing that people would mention. It was talked about for many other reasons other than the fact that Cardi B or Lizzo were there / Photo by: Andy Witchger via Wikimedia Commons

 

If it’s a discussion of diversity, as of late, the Jennifer Lopez-led “Hustlers” might be the first thing that people would mention. It was talked about for many other reasons other than the fact that Cardi B or Lizzo were there. It was marketed as a girl-power movie, too, and Lopez even shared behind-the-scenes pole-dancing training to help inculcate in the minds of the audience that this was not your ordinary movie. 

More than all that publicity, “Hustlers” was also marketed as a diverse film, just as many films in Hollywood are currently trying to do. But even in Hollywood’s bid to widen the film industry for everyone, regardless of their skin color, there remain to be some missteps that show that diversity in Hollywood may not be as diverse as we are shown.

A Look at the Numbers

A diversity report from the UCLA College of Social Sciences reveals easily where the industry really needs to work on its diversity bid. As reported in Women and Hollywood, as website championing gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry, in the industry, there are 12 key positions that the study considered and looked at in terms of how women are performing in them. Of the 12 positions, women performed well in 7, although in the wider film industry, they fell short on jobs as “film writers, cable scripted leads, and digital reality and other leads. 

There were 32.9% female film leads, 12.6% female film directors, and 12.6% film writers. There were also 32.9% female broadcast scripted creators in 2016 to 2017, 22.7% of cable scripted, and 34.8% of digital scripted creators. 

Small screen performances of women were also recorded where 39.7% were broadcast scripted leads, 43.1% were cable scripted leads, 42.8% were digital scripted leads, and 23% were of broadcast reality and other leads. 

Meanwhile, people of color were able to make progress in eight key roles, that’s one more than the women of the industry. Though even films like “Hustlers” are still victims of the underrepresentation of people of color in the industry, no matter that most of the cast were people of color. 

Most of the jobs they were able to excel in were in industry roles such as film leads, broadcast scripted leads, and broadcast scripted creators. According to the Diversity Report, they made up only 19.8% of film leads, 12.6% of film directors, 7.8% of film writers. On the TV front, they made up 21.5% of broadcast scripted leads, 21.3% of cable scripted leads, 21.3% of digital scripted leads, 28.4% of broadcast reality leads and others, 22.4% of cable reality leads, and 17.6% of digital reality leads. 

The Decade Dilemma 

These numbers may have indicated that despite overall obstacles for diversity, there are still shows that break through the surface and change the game. In terms of the decade-long record, though, an annual study by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative showed that, a look back at Hollywood’s 1,100 films and its 48,757 characters between 2007 and 2017 indicates female speaking roles barely increased. 

In 2017, the record was at 31.8%, which, according to technology and news media network The Verge, is a number that has barely moved since 2007. There might have been an improvement in the number of female directors recorded last year, but this study in particular shows a glaring problem for female directors and POC directors, especially women: of the 1,100 films, only 43 were directed by women, while there were only 4 directors who were women of color. 

Inclusion also seems to be very limited, with still a large part of the film character demographic skewing white. The study has also found that 70.7% of film characters in these movies were white; there was barely any representation for characters who are members of the LGBT community; and no representation of characters with disabilities. 

There were 32.9% female film leads, 12.6% female film directors, and 12.6% film writers. There were also 32.9% female broadcast scripted creators in 2016 to 2017, 22.7% of cable scripted, and 34.8% of digital scripted creators / Photo by: Mireille Ampilhac via Wikimedia Commons

 

What’s the Problem?

Surely, movies like “Hustlers” and the recent trend of adding women into remakes of iconic movie franchises should have helped send a message by now that the industry thoroughly needs to take bigger strides to tackle the need for diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, but why exactly is it not working?

According to the New York Times, the problem with the lack of diversity in the film industry is still affected by the viewership. Writer Alisha Gupta cites the recent screening of “Little Women,” a story that is timeless in every way and follows a brave group of girls living in 19th century Massachusetts. When it was released, the audience were “overwhelmingly comprised of women.”

Gupta talked to culture reporter Kyle Buchanan about the other factors that usually affect the performance of a film aiming for diversity, even though they have something to say. Buchanan offers “Hustlers” as an example, and she says part of the reason why “Hustlers” did not manage to land an Oscars nod is because, first, it is neither a Martin Scorsese nor Quentin Tarantino film, two big-name directors seemingly holding their own gravity. 

“Hustlers,” and maybe even “Little Women,” didn’t have this--the opportunity to be nominated solely because of who helmed them. In the case of “Hustlers,” which Buchanan says has considerable “cultural weight,” it did not “quite convince awards voters that it was more than just some hit movie.”

According to Buchanan, the film industry’s problem with its movies also lies in the fact that “generations before us have canonized certain types of stories, and they are almost always male-led and almost always have to do with extremely weighty matters, like murder or violence, often against women, or war.” 

Buchanan once again directs our eyes to the behind-the-scenes, the reality that some movies are more likely to be greenlighted than others. It happened to “Hustlers,” and it will probably happen to other films like it if it continues. Such is the problem that the Oscars still has, which already became quite apparent when #OscarsSoWhite trended for the sole reason that it’s so painfully true.