• Kristen Balisi

The Importance of Diversity and Representation in the Film Industry

At a world population of over 7 billion people, it is undeniable that our earth is home to a unique array of various, different individuals. Enter the film industry, which is arguably one of the most impactful creative mediums, seeing as it both reflects and shapes our society and culture. For a long time, however, the film industry has grappled with diversity and inclusivity issues, causing many to criticize Hollywood for not including, portraying, and accurately representing the diversity of our planet. As a result, Hollywood pledged to increase representation in film and media, but recent studies are telling a different story.


Gender:

  • In 2019, only 34% of all speaking characters across 1,300 films were girls and women.

  • Nearly every film in 2019 failed to include even one girl or woman who was American Indian/Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, or Middle Eastern/North African.

  • Upwards of 70 movies did not feature a single Latina, and over half were missing Asian women or girls.

  • One-third did not include any Black female-identified characters, and 45 were missing Multiracial/Multiethnic girls and women.

  • Only 14 of the 100 top movies in 2019 featured a gender-balanced cast.

Race/Ethnicity:

  • At the center of storytelling, we have witnessed an all-time high for underrepresented characters. Despite this surge, people from minority racial/ethnic groups are still being pushed to the sidelines, with only 15.7% Black characters, 7.2% Asian characters, and 4.9% Hispanic/Latino characters.

LGBTQ+:

  • LGBTQ+ characters remain left behind. Of the top 100 films in 2019, 78 featured no LGBTQ+ individuals, and 94 featured no female-identified LGBTQ+ individuals.

  • All four transgender characters appearing in top films were irrelevant to the overall story and had a mere total of 2 minutes of screentime.

Disability:

  • Less than 2.5% of all speaking characters in 2019’s 100 top-grossing films had a disability.

Behind the Camera:

  • As studies have repeatedly shown, lack of inclusion on screen is a result of exclusion off-screen. Across 1,518 content creators, women occupied less than one-fourth of the top leadership positions.

  • In 2019, out of the 112 directors, 80.4% were White, and barely 20% were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.

After taking into account the findings of these studies, it is unquestionable that the need for diversity in the film industry is more vital than ever, especially considering how significant of a role cinema plays in today’s culture. Also, films act as a source of inspiration for many. Darnell Hunt, a director of African American studies at UCLA, stated, “We’re pretty confident that, the more TV you watch, the more media you consume, the more likely it is that media ― almost like radiation ― builds up, and the accumulated effect is to make you feel that what you’re seeing is somewhat normal.” Assistant director Ana- Christina Ramón added, “What you see often becomes a part of your memory and thus a part of your life experience.” To explain, as people live their childhoods, they often look up to and aspire to be like the role models they see on TV, in movies, and in the media. These role models teach and encourage their supporters to love and respect themselves for who they are. However, what about all the children who grew up without role models that looked, felt, thought, and acted like them? For these individuals, recognizing, accepting, and celebrating their differences is, as a result, made that much more difficult. For society as a whole, appreciating and respecting the various identities people can have is made that much more difficult too.


Ultimately, when we go to the theatres, we hope to relate, see, and recognize ourselves and parts of our lives in the films we watch. We want to feel represented. We want our experiences to feel seen, heard, and valued. Therefore, growing up and being able to see someone who represents you on-screen is crucial. When Hollywood intentionally prevents people belonging to minority groups from obtaining leading movie roles or, instead, casts them in a derogatory/stereotypical manner, this results in harmful outcomes that further hinder authentic on-screen representation and contribute to the inaccurate generalizations of marginalized communities.



Now, while on-screen diversity is paramount, what occurs behind the camera is just as, if not more, important as well. By ensuring that underrepresented groups receive a seat in writers’ rooms and within directors’ chairs, we prevent the limiting and exclusion of their stories. All in all, we require more storylines that feature women, non-hetero characters, individuals with disabilities, and people of different races, ethnicities, and ages. With a diverse group of people taking the helm behind the scenes, we can share and learn more about these many experiences on-screen.


Has Hollywood made any progress?


Gratefully, we have seen historic changes regarding diversity and inclusion during recent years, thanks to groundbreaking and award-winning movies such as Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, Wonder Woman, Into the Spider-Verse, and Coco.


In these movies, filmmakers displayed representation in an accurate, empowering, and non-stereotypical light. These motion pictures showcase and portray the experiences of typically underrepresented people with the help of fictional role models who prove to viewers that anybody can accomplish their dreams and be successful, regardless of their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or disability. These films encourage numerous onlookers to think, “Yes, someone like me can achieve this.”



Wonder Woman, for example, is the highest-grossing live-action movie entirely directed by a woman. Wonder Woman not only features a superheroine, which is contrary to the typical superhero, but it showcases plenty of strong female supporting characters. This movie highlights the value of gender diversity on-screen and off-screen and has inspired countless women and girls across the globe, reminding them that there are no limits to their aspirations.


Additionally, these movies give viewers the chance to realize that people and their experiences are more complex and intricate than the stereotypes society has repeatedly used to confine them. Overall, diversity brings in more success, promotes inclusion and acceptance, attracts a bigger audience, and teaches us that everyone deserves to tell their story. This is why we need diversity and representation in the film industry.


In closing, despite the remarkable progress we have witnessed, the film industry still has significant room for improvement and a long way to go. Of course, the road to achieving diversity will not be easy, but one thing for sure is it will be worth it. After all, unity is our strength, and diversity is our power.