As much as representation of marginalized groups in media seems to be getting better, a new study from the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California shows that, for many groups, change isn’t coming fast enough. An analysis of 900 popular films released in 2016 revealed that only 3.1 percent of characters depicted were Latinx, despite Latinx people making up 17.8 percent of the U.S. population. The study also found that of the 100 top movies of last year, 54 did not include Latinx speaking characters at all, a discrepancy that increased to 72 films when looking at Latina characters specifically. Unsurprisingly, researchers found that women characters and characters with disabilities are vastly underrepresented in speaking roles as well.
The importance of representation in media has long been stressed by critics and viewers, but only recently has started to become a priority for industry institutions like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Still, as USC’s study suggests, film studios have not done enough to make characters on screen (and the crews behind the scenes) reflect the makeup of America. The study’s authors make a number of suggestions for improvement including suggesting film industry companies set target inclusion goals when it comes to casting and hiring writers and crews. But, as films like Girls Trip, Moonlight, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens have demonstrated, the profitability of films featuring characters from marginalized groups may ultimately be the driving force behind more equitable representation in movies.