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Open up the boys' club.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Presidential candidate Donald Trump would likely dismiss it as political correctness run amok, but there's reason to be concerned about a Feb. 22 report from the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that found the U.S. film and television industry is experiencing an "inclusion crisis" resulting from decades of functioning as a "straight, white, boy's club."

The report, which includes a new "inclusion index" for 10 major entertainment media companies, examined 109 movies released by major studios in 2014 and 305 scripted TV and digital series across 31 networks and streaming services that aired from September 2014 to August 2015.

More than 11,000 speaking roles were analyzed for gender, racial and ethnic representation and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender status, along with 10,000 directors, writers and show creators. The gender of more than 1,500 industry executives was also examined.

Among the researchers' findings: Only a third of the speaking characters in the movies and TV series were female, even though they make up half the U.S. population. And fewer than 30 percent of the characters were from minority groups, about 10 percent less than their share of the population. Also, of the characters age 40 and older, nearly three-quarters were male.

Behind the camera, it was determined that nearly 97 percent of the film directors were male and 87 percent were white. In TV, only 15 percent of directors and fewer than 30 percent of writers were female, while more than 90 percent of the directors were white. In the industry's executive offices, women made up only 19 percent of the corporate boards, chief executives and management teams. And a telling trend was revealed: The proportion of women declines as they rise in the executive ranks.

The authors of the report say the film and TV industry needs to become more reflective of the composition of the U.S. population as a whole, in part to access layers of storytelling that aren't now being tapped, but also because the industry's bias in favor of white heterosexual males has historically denied creative and job opportunities to women and minorities. They said Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change program has been studying the problem for 10 years and "Despite elevated awareness around the issue, the numbers have not budged."

That bias was publicly demonstrated most recently with the announcement of the nominees for best actor, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress at this year's Academy Awards ceremonies, which will be broadcast live Sunday night on ABC-TV. For the second year in a row, no non-white performers were nominated, prompting a boycott of the ceremonies by some celebrities.

The one bright spot in the report is that while most of the major film companies scored low on the inclusion index (25 percent or less, with Time Warner bottoming at 15 percent), most of the TV and online streaming services did much better. The Walt Disney Company, The CW, Amazon and Hulu each scored 65 percent or better overall.

The report includes a half-dozen sensible recommendations for change, including setting inclusion goals, altering "stereotypical thinking," creating "checks and balances" to "override cognitive biases," building lists of writers and directors that are at least 50 percent women and 38 percent minorities, countering "mythologizing" such as the belief that movies made by women don't make money, and a system for monitoring progress that notes achievements as well as the need for improvements.

Film and video entertainment are a major part of most people's lives and there's no reason our nation's gender, racial and sexual diversity shouldn't be mirrored in the making and distribution of that entertainment. The era of the "casting couch," in which women were expected to provide sexual favors in exchange for job opportunities in Hollywood, is hopefully less than a remnant of an ugly past that will soon to be joined by elimination of the systematic discrimination that's been exposed by the Annenberg report.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 25, 2016
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