New Report Finds Black Women Least Sexualized In Film And Television

February 23, 2016  |  

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Yesterday, USC’s Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative released its first ever Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity (CARD).

As no surprise, film and television remain pretty White and male. And pretty sexist.

According to the CARD report, researchers at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism assessed 414 stories – or 109 motion pictures and 305 broadcast, cable, and digital series – from 10 major media companies (21st Century Fox, CBS, Comcast NBC Universal, Sony, The Walt Disney Company, Time Warner, Viacom, Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix) between September 1, 2014 and August 31, 2015.

What they found was that out of the 11,306 speaking characters evaluated, only 33 percent were female. Moreover, out of those speaking characters, only 12.2 percent were Black, 5.8 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 5.1 percent were Asian, 2.3 percent were Middle Eastern, and 3.1 percent were “Other.”

However, what is interesting about the findings is not so much what they have to say about the lack of people of color and women in Hollywood (because we all knew that), but how women, and women of color, in particular, are portrayed once we do get airtime.

According to the study’s finding, while women characters made up less than half of all speaking roles. They were also more likely than male characters to be shown in sexy attire (Females were 34.3 percent vs. Males who were 7.6 percent), with some nudity (33.4 percent vs. 10.8 percent) and be referenced by their physical appearance and attractiveness (11.6 percent vs. 3.5 percent).

As the findings note, the sexualization of female characters is pretty consistent across media platforms. For instance, female characters shown either partially or in the full buff ranged from 27.5 percent in film to as high as 39.6 percent among cable programming.

Even more troubling is what the study had to say about the sexualization of women of color in Hollywood. According to the findings, female characters from “other” racial/ethnic groups, who are often viewed culturally as “exotic,” were more likely to be shown in sexualized attire (41.6 percent), shown partially (39.7 percent) and be referenced as attractive based on appearance (15.3 percent) than their Black and Asian female character counterparts.

In fact, Black and Asian female characters were referenced as attractive in only 7.9 and 7.7 percent of the roles.

The findings run contrary to the long-held belief about the hypersexualization of Black women on screen.

But as the study notes:

“These sexualization findings are troubling for two reasons. Theory suggests and research supports that exposure to objectifying content may contribute to and/or reinforce negative effects such as self objectification, body shame, and/or appearance anxiety among some female viewers. The results also suggest that with a higher prevalence of females on screen a higher incidence of sexualization follows.”

The sexualization of women on screen is also aided by the lack of women behind the camera. As the study finds, out of all the episodes of 305 scripted series and 109 motion pictures, only 15.2 percent were directed by women. Women also only made up 28.9 percent of writer rooms and 22.6 percent of series creators. The numbers are even more dismal for women at the executive level, as only roughly one-quarter or less of the top executives on all three platforms are female.

In spite of the troubling findings, there are some bright spots in the study. In particular:

“Four companies (The CW, The Walt Disney Company, Amazon, Hulu) demonstrated strong performances across television and digital programming. While there are still places each organization can improve, representing females on screen is one arena where these companies are Largely or Fully Inclusive. Behind the camera, women are included as writers and/or creators (The CW, The Walt Disney Company, Hulu) or directors (Amazon). Clearly, the contributions and presence of women are valued at each of these companies.”

Digital media appears to be closing gaps. As noted by the study, Streaming was the most likely to diversify their cast, with females filling 33.1 percent of roles for middle age and elderly characters.”

It should also be noted that The Walt Disney Company is the parent company to ABC, which produces three shows by Shonda Rhimes as well as Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat.

However, the study also finds that the industry could be doing a lot more. More specifically, setting target inclusion goals and altering thinking that films with women and people of color do not perform well or are of interest to the general public.

But what say you? What do you think of the study’s findings?

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