The issue of representation is… complicated. Entertainment as a whole needs more representation, but the road to get there is difficult.
What’s the current state of diversity in media? Not good.
According to a 2018 USC study, only about a third of speaking roles are female, even though women comprise half of the population. Similarly, just 36.3 percent of speaking roles are non-white characters despite the fact that 40 percent of the US population is non-white. On the business side, in a 2020 USC study, only 4.8 percent of directors in 1,300 movies studied across 13 years were female. Similarly, 13.5 percent of directors were from underrepresented groups (for example, people of color, those with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community).
Some would argue that this disparity is simply an issue of a lack of desire to enter into production. One could, for example, look at the lack of women in the entertainment industry as a sign of this. However, even if most women do not want to direct, 4.8 is still a percent far too small. At “lower” levels of the corporate ladder, the percentage of female directors is significantly larger; 34.5 percent of narrative independent films feature a female director, a number that decreases significantly higher in the corporate ladder. Clearly, the lack of women directing major feature films is not a result of a lack of desire, but rather a symptom of a deeper problem.
The lack of female perspective in movies intensifies the objectification of women and the “male gaze.” Likewise, having few people of color in positions of power produces a near inability to address racial issues.
The first step toward a solution is acknowledging that there is a problem. Intellectually, society knows its failings. The topic of representation is discussed by influencers and politicians alike, and most acknowledge that diversity in entertainment is not where it needs to be. However, change is not occurring, especially in the realm of entertainment. Fully admitting that there is a problem would spur active action toward a solution.
Entertainment also needs more diverse executives to green-light more diverse products. As of now, most corporate executives are older white men: they have a bias toward the things that they prefer. Initiatives are currently being enacted to give women and people of color a head start in the industry. Unfortunately, becoming an executive takes time, so more diverse directors will not gain prominence until long after initiatives take effect. They must mature and move up the ranks in order to hire staff themselves and make tangible business choices. More upfront initiatives will promote an increase of diverse executives, even if these changes will take time to take effect.
Finally, and most importantly, representation should be a given, not a tool. Representation should simply exist in the media. Currently, studios weaponize diversity to get better profit margins. Representation for the sake of representation promotes badly written stories, cheapens existing diversity and wears down viewers. Diverse characters and workers must be treated with the same respect that the average white male is.
The lack of representation is a complex issue, but we can make progress. As long as society vocalizes that representation is important, the entertainment industry can—and will—change.