Turn on a movie, any movie from the past seven years, and wait for someone to speak.
Chances are, the first character to open his mouth will be a man.
In the top-grossing movies since 2007, there were more than twice as many speaking roles for men as for women, according to a new report on inequality in Hollywood. And the situation isn’t getting better — in 2014, female actors represented a lower proportion of speaking roles than in any year prior.
“The only group thriving in film is white, straight, men,” Stacy L. Smith, who led the study, wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. She called the phenomenon “an epidemic of invisibility.”
Smith’s report, published by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, paints a bleak picture of the opportunities in Hollywood available to women and minorities.
Looking at the top 100 films from each year between 2007 and 2014, the study found that female actors had less than a third of the speaking roles. That number shrunk even smaller if the movie was an animated, action or adventure film. Only 11 percent of the movies had “balanced casts” (where women represented 45 to 55 percent of the characters).
And despite the recent attention on Hollywood’s treatment of women — anger about the homogeneous Oscar nominations,, outrage about the pay gap, frustration about the lack of female directors — these statistics are no better than they were 10 or even 50 years earlier. Between 1945 and 1955, women had 25 percent of the speaking roles. Between 1990 and 1995, they had 28.7 percent. In 2014? 28.1.
The numbers from behind the camera were just as stark: Of the 779 people who directed those movies, 28 were women, 45 were black or African American and 18 were Asian or Asian American (four from the latter groups were black or Asian women).
The report also looked at a wider array of statistics from 2014, a year when movies about women (“Gone Girl,” “Wild”) and characters who were black or gay (“Selma,” “The Imitation Game”) made headlines and won critical acclaim. Those successes belied a broader, less rosy trend, the researchers said.
Of last year’s 100 top-grossing films, 21 featured a female lead and 17 a lead played by an actor from an underrepresented race or ethnicity. Of 2,610 speaking characters, just 19 were gay or lesbian and none were transgender (and almost all of those LGBT characters were played by white men).
Meanwhile, women made up 2 percent of the directors, 11 percent of writers and 19 percent of producers.
None of these findings really come as a surprise. Earlier this year, a similar report from University of California – Los Angeles concluded that women and minorities were “woefully underrepresented” in television and film. And then there are the non-academic projects —like the viral videos documenting “Every Single Word” spoken by an actor of color and the oft-cited Bechdel Test, which judges movies based on whether two named female characters have a conversation about anything other than a man (the test is 30 years old and still only two of this year’s Best Picture nominees passed it) — that shine an uncomfortable spotlight on just how underrepresented women and minorities really are in Hollywood.
But really, all you have to do is go to the movies to see the trend for yourself — which is why it’s worrying to Smith and her colleagues.
“Skewed representation on screen can influence audience perceptions of their own groups and other groups,” Katherine Pieper, a research scientist at the diversity initiative who co-authored the report, told The Post via e-mail. Not seeing versions of themselves in film can make female and minority audiences feel marginalized, Pieper added.
Those characters they do see are often stereotypes: The women in movies are almost invariably young (74 percent are under the age of 40) and often hypersexualized (women are nearly three times as likely than men to be shown nude and four times as likely to be called attractive). Relationships between the rare LGBT characters are almost never depicted as healthy or stable.
The study comes three months after the American Civil Liberties Union called on state and federal agencies to investigate Hollywood’s hiring practices, saying it had proof the film industry discriminates against women directors.
Jill Soloway, the Golden-Globe winning writer and director of the Amazon show “Transparent,” said that the lawsuit was necessary just to force Hollywood to recognize its own homogeneity.
“At least you should be aware that you should be ashamed of yourself if your show is 90 percent written by male writers,” she told the New York Times in May. :Watching something written and directed by women, to me that’s the future. It’s not just, ‘Hey, give women more jobs.’”