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A new study shows how bad Hollywood’s diversity problem really is

The Oscar nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
The Oscar nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

If there's anything to glean from the past two years of all-white Oscar acting nominees, it's that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences isn't particularly attuned to recognizing performances by nonwhite actors and actresses. But according to a study from the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Hollywood's diversity problem runs much deeper than that.

The study, titled the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, looked at 109 films by major studios and 305 scripted TV and digital series across major networks, and found that shows and films routinely drop the ball when it comes to female, minority, and LGBTQ characters. The Associated Press reports:

In the 414 studied films and series, only a third of speaking characters were female, and only 28.3 percent were from minority groups — about 10 percent less than the makeup of the U.S. population. Characters 40 years or older skew heavily male across film and TV: 74.3 percent male to 25.7 percent female.

Further, the study found a severe lack of gender diversity behind the camera:

Behind the camera, a mere 15.2% of all directors and 28.9% of writers across film and every episode of television and digital series were female. Less than one-quarter (22.6%) of series creators were women across broadcast, cable and streaming content.

These statistics make it easy to see why the Oscars are so white and male-dominated — it's a numbers game that bends toward the majority. And the lack of diversity and equality behind the scenes is an especially disconcerting discovery when you consider that the best way to increase diversity onscreen is to encourage and promote filmmakers, writers, and producers who are willing to tell unique stories.

"This is an inclusion crisis," USC professor Stacy L. Smith said in a release accompanying the study. "Over half of the content we examined features no Asian or Asian-American characters, and over 20% featured no African-American characters. It is clear that the ecosystem of entertainment is exclusionary."

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