Flawed Report Pushes Affirmative Action on Hollywood

Flawed Report Pushes Affirmative Action on Hollywood

—February 23, 2016

Just in time for the 88th Academy Awards, the University of Southern California’s School for Communication and Journalism has released a “scathing” report that proves that Hollywood is a “straight, white, boy’s, club.” Following on the heels of the “Oscars so White” movement inspired by the lack of minority Academy Award nominees, this report strongly suggests that not only is Hollywood a bastion of racists, but also of misogynistic homophobes.

The report—Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment—is designed to quantify the media representation of females, “people of color,” and members of the LGBT community both on screen and behind the camera. The study’s authors hope that the report will push Hollywood studios to make their productions more representative and inclusive of the American population at large, and to make the composition of the studios’ workforce more inclusive. In short, the authors would like to see movie and TV productions reflect or match the demographic composition of the U.S., and see the same for the studio workforce.

The report’s findings were based on 414 “stories,” consisting of 109 full-length motion pictures and a single episode from 305 different broadcast, cable and digital series, all of which were released in 2014. The researchers also examined the composition of gender, race and ethnicity of the directors and writers of each film or episode, as well as the employees and executives at 10 major studios.

The essential conclusion of the report is that white, heterosexual males pretty much dominate every metric of Hollywood, while females, “people of color,” gays and transgendered folks are seriously underrepresented in every metric. And to some degree—especially with regard to gender disparity—the report is undoubtedly true. By other measures the report is seriously flawed.

For starters the report’s methodology provided an open door for cherry picking. While the researchers examined 109 full-length motion pictures, Hollywood generally releases more than 400 per year. Thus, a researcher could probably sort through the films of 2014 and come up with a hundred or so that conclusively proves that white, straight males are seriously underrepresented in Hollywood films.

I also noticed that of the 109 films, the researchers only included five counted by blackamericaweb.com as the “Top 10 Best Black Movies of 2014.” Little doubt that the inclusion of those five missing Black movies would have significantly changed the findings regarding race.

And speaking of race, the report’s findings lead me to believe that the researchers are a bit clueless about U.S. demographics. For example, the report’s narrative stresses how Hollywood vastly under represents racial and ethnic minorities, and bases this partly on a finding that of all 414 “stories,” Blacks only made up 12.2 percent of the speaking roles. I’m not quite sure what the problem is here, given that only 12.6 percent of the U.S. population identifies as black, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

And gee, Asians only represent 5.1 percent of the speaking roles….

Hollywood will obviously need to fire some Asian actors, given that their proportional representation in the country as a whole is only 4.8 percent.

Hispanics only represent 5.8 percent of the speaking roles, according to the report, far below the 16.3 percent of Americans who identify as Hispanic. But the researchers based their counts solely on “visible cues” to ascertain race and ethnicity. And guess what? About 60 percent of the US. Hispanic population identifies as “White,” with most of them looking like any other cracker walking down Main Street USA. Thus, little doubt that the researchers vastly undercounted Hispanic speaking roles.

Overall, while the report’s narrative repeatedly says that Blacks, Asians and Hispanics are “underrepresented” in movies and TV shows, much of the report’s data indicate that Blacks and Asians are, in fact, fairly represented, while the counting of Hispanics is outright flawed.

Take for example the table showing the number of movies and shows without any Black or Asian speaking characters. Out of the 109 films, 18 percent have no Black speaking characters and 50 percent have no speaking Asian characters. But, let’s state that another way: Out of 109 films, 82 percent have Black speaking characters, and 50 percent have speaking Asian characters. Again, given that Blacks only represent about 12.6 percent of the population, and Asians, 4.8 percent, I’d say both groups are getting some pretty decent representation according to that metric. As for Hispanics, let’s just say that the data is so sparse and subjective that any conclusions the researchers (do they understand the difference between race and ethnicity?) draw from it is suspect.

According to the report’s narrative, LGBT characters with speaking roles were far more underrepresented than ethnic and racial minorities. The report concluded that only 2 percent of all speaking characters were LGBT, which is “below the 3.5% of the U.S. population that identifies [as such], as reported by the Williams Institute at UCLA.”

And again, the researchers relied on “visible cues” to determine their sexual orientation. Thus, if a specific movie or scene wasn’t addressing a gay theme or storyline, then a potential speaking gay character might be missed.

Or am I missing something? Do gays and lesbians all wear a specific item of clothing orGaydar jewelry that identifies them as such? Because if not, then we are relying on the researchers’ “Gaydar” to determine the current LGBT representation in Hollywood.

I could continue to thrash this report—expose additional weaknesses, numerous flaws and fallacies—on many levels, but of deeper concern is how the researchers want Hollywood, and its products, to be based upon proportional representation of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual persuasion.

Perhaps a noble idea, but can you just imagine how stilted the story lines would become? How inane some of the plots? Just imagine under this scenario what the eventual remakes of Saving Private Ryan, Selma, and The Revenant would look like.

I mean, do we really want our Hollywood entertainment to be dictated by affirmative action?

—M.J. Moye

Hashing Out the Lack of Diversity Among Oscar Nominees

Hashing Out the Lack of Diversity Among Oscar Nominees

The release last week of the nominations for the 88th annual Academy Awards stirred an immediate backlash due to the lily-white composition of the best actor and best supporting actor categories. That’s right, for the second year in a row the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 6,000-plus voting members failed to recognize any people of color or ethnic diversity for their acting abilities.

You would think that the crackers—more than 90 percent of the Academy members are white—Oscars So Whitewould have learned from last year’s backlash and made an effort to be more inclusive. Last year’s slate of 20 white acting nominees marked the first time since 1998 that the nominees didn’t include at least one racially or ethnically diverse actor. This despite the critically acclaimed acting in the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic “Selma.” And now the Academy voters have done it again, and revived the “Oscars So White!” backlash.

But are the Academy’s crackers biased or was there just a lack of good racial or ethnic talent? Critics are pointing to “Straight Outa Compton,” “Beasts of No Nation,” and “Concussion,” as being filled with black talent that was ignored by Academy voters. Of course, the review of “talent” is highly subjective and many people might argue that these movies, though quite good, are not representative of Oscar-worthy talent.

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who happens to be a woman of color, said, “Of course I am disappointed, but this is not to take away the greatness [of the films nominated].” Nevertheless, she added, the Academy’s efforts to diversify are moving too slowly. For the record as part of its efforts to become more inclusive in the wake of last year’s backlash, the Academy invited “Selma” star David Oyelowo, “Concussion” acrtress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and “Straight Outta Compton” director F. Gary Gray to join its ranks.

This obviously isn’t going to tip the scales enough, and will probably only alleviate the apparent Academy bias against blacks. What of other minority groups? We don’t see them represented with any nominations. Are any of the acting nominees Asian? How about Hispanic? Disabled? Gay? Native American? Trans? Obese?

The answer appears to be “no.” And if you are appalled by this blatant lack of diversity in the Academy Awards nominees, then no doubt you would support a mandated affirmative action program for the Academy’s nomination process. And not only would this ensure the inclusiveness of all marginalized minority groups, but it would force Hollywood to make movies more reflective of the actual world we live in.

Here is what the slate of “best” and “supporting” actors would be comprised of under such an affirmative action nominating program (with nominations based to the extent possible upon the actual percentages of subgroups within the at-large U.S. population).

Fourteen whites

Three Hispanics (with at least one being of Mexican origin)

Two blacks

One mulatto

One Asian

and one Native American every sixth year

Of the nominees seven must be obese, four must be physically or mentally disabled, and one must be gay (every 22 years the gay actor can be substituted for a transgendered actor).

So, what do you think? Should we force Hollywood to be more realistic by holding it accountable to affirmative action in its awards nominations? Hash-It-Out!

—M.J. Moye

Originally published Jan. 15 in Hash It Out!