Category Archives: Film

Film’s neglected, distorted portrayal of the aging


Following up on our previous post about inequality in the world of American film comes another study of bias on the silver screen, this time reflecting the neglected and distorted portrayal of folks of esnl’s own vintage.

Again, from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism:

New research reveals few characters aged 60 and over are represented in film, and that prominent senior characters face demeaning or ageist references. These negative and stereotypical media portrayals do not reflect how seniors see themselves – or their lifestyles. These findings stem from two studies conducted by health and well-being company Humana Inc. and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg. The studies also reveal that aging Americans who are more optimistic report having better health.

Led by Professor Stacy L. Smith, USC Annenberg’s study analyzed the 100 top-grossing films from 2015 to assess the portrayal of characters aged 60 and over. Humana also conducted a quantitative analysis, asking seniors to identify the lifestyle traits that are important when aging, to assess the degree to which these traits describe them and to provide their point of view on senior representation in media. Major findings include:

In film, seniors are underrepresented, mischaracterized and demeaned by ageist language.

  • The findings show just 11 percent of characters evaluated were aged 60 and over; U.S. Census data shows that 18.5 percent of the population is aged 60 and over.
  • Out of 57 films that featured a leading or supporting senior character, 30 featured ageist comments – that’s more than half of the films. Quotes included characters being referred to as “a relic,” “a frail old woman” and “a senile old man.” According to Humana’s quantitative survey, seniors report they are highly aware (95 percent), resilient (91 percent) and physically active (71 percent).
  • Only 29.1 percent of on-screen leading or supporting characters aged 60 or older engaged with technology, whereas 84 percent of aging Americans report that they use the internet weekly.
  • Of the senior characters that died on screen, 79.2 percent of deaths were a result of physical violence — such as being shot, stabbed or crushed. This does not accurately reflect causes of death for the aging population, which are heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

But that’s not real life and seniors know it – people aged 60 and over lead active social lives and value internal, psychological strengths.

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Charts of the day: Hollywood’s distorted lenses


Today’s Charts of the Day contains lots of charts, and they reflect a concern we’ve long held about the media shaping out visions of life and its possibilities.

Simply put, films, as seen from both the screens we watch and from behind the lens are radically divergent from the worlds we live in.

blog-morleyFilm portrays not the world as it is, but a world designed to sell, both the products they display so lavishly on screen When esnl was a tad, brand name products didn’t appear prominently, or brands were replaced by pseudonyms, most recently aped by the Morley cigarettes consumed so abundantly by The X Files Smoking Man. Similarly, liquor brands in films before the days of product placement were always pseudonymous.

But no more.

And just as the ads designed to sell those well-placed product are peopled with the the young, the attractive, and the nubile heterosexual, so are the films in which they are placed, creating worlds with little placed for those who fail to meet the implicit standards governing the entertainments we crave.

Similarly, today’s films are also dominated behind the screen by a cast of characters bearing little resemblance to the diversity that is the world of Homo sapiens.

Just how divergent are those two worlds is the subject of today’s Charts of the Day.

From the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism:

Though the conversation on inequality in Hollywood is now at peak volume, a new report reveals that little has changed on screen or behind the camera.

Authored by Professor Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the study is the largest intersectional analysis of characters in motion picture content to date. The group examined the 800 top films from 2007 to 2015 (excluding 2011), analyzing 35,205 characters for gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status and – for the first time – the presence of disability. The results reveal that Hollywood remains impervious to change.

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Just 31.4% of all speaking characters across the 100 top films from 2015 were female, a figure that has not changed since 2007. While race/ethnicity has been a major focus of advocacy in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups were 26.3% of all characters. LGBT-identified characters represented less than 1% of all speaking characters. The report includes data on characters with disabilities, who filled a mere 2.4% of all speaking roles.

“The findings reveal that Hollywood is an epicenter of cultural inequality,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Founding Director of the MDSC Initiative. “While the voices calling for change have escalated in number and volume, there is little evidence that this has transformed the movies that we see and the people hired to create them. Our reports demonstrate that the problems are pervasive and systemic.”

The research exposes the depth and breadth of exclusion. Of the top 100 films of 2015, 49 films included no speaking or named Asian or Asian-American characters and 17 featured no Black/African American characters. Similarly, 45 films did not include a character with a disability and 82 did not feature a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender character.

One bright spot was an 11% increase in female lead or co-lead characters from 2014 to 2015. Even there, however, only 3 of the films featured a female lead or co-lead actor from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. Not one of the males or females in leading roles was Asian, echoing the concerns expressed by prominent Asian and Asian-American actors and others in that community.

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The report illuminates why these inequalities may exist by coupling new data on 2015 films with evidence from the group’s previous reports, reaching back to 2007. Behind the camera, female directors were just 4.1% of those hired on the 800 films evaluated. Women of color were almost absent from these ranks, with just 3 Black or African-American females and 1 Asian female in the director’s chair. Overall, directors from underrepresented racial groups fared poorly. Only 5.5% of the 886 directors examined were Black or African American and 2.8% were Asian or Asian American.

“Despite the advocacy surrounding female directors, film is a representational wasteland for women of color in this key role,” said Dr. Smith. “Advocates need to ensure that their work reflects the barriers facing all women, not just a select few.”

For the first time, the researchers present data on characters with disabilities. The few portrayals that exist—just 2.4% of all characters—are predominantly male, as just 19% of the characters with disabilities were female. There were also no LGBT characters depicted with a disability across the study sample.

“This is a new low for gender inequality,” said Dr. Smith. “The small number of portrayals of disability is concerning, as is the fact that they do not depict the diversity within this community.”

The report provides multiple solutions to addressing what Dr. Smith has previously referred to as the “inclusion crisis” facing Hollywood. These include simple strategies for reaching gender equality on screen within a short time frame—just three years. Other solutions invite prominent Hollywood figures to tackle the problem contractually and encourage institutions to set transparent inclusion goals for achieving change.

“Raised voices and calls for change are important, but so are practical and strategic solutions based on research,” said Dr. Katherine Pieper, one of the study’s co-authors. “The momentum created by activism needs to be matched with realistic tactics for creating change.”

The report is the latest from the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative.

Key Findings

Gender. Out of 4,370 speaking or named characters evaluated, 68.6% were male and 31.4% were female across the 100 top-grossing films of 2015. This calculates into a gender ratio of 2.2 male characters to every one female character.  There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of girls and women on screen between 2007 and 2015.

Of the 100 top films of 2015, 32% depicted a female as the lead or co lead of the unfolding narrative. This is an 11% increase from last year. Five of these films portrayed female leads/co leads 45 years of age or older at the time of theatrical release in 2015. In stark contrast, 26 movies in 2015 featured leads or co leads with males 45 years of age or older.

Females were over three times as likely as their male counterparts to be shown in sexually revealing clothing (30.2% vs. 7.7%) and with some nudity (29% vs. 9.5%). Girls/women (12%) were also more likely than boys/men (3.6%) to be referred to as physically attractive.

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Female teens (42.9%) and young adults (38.7%) were more likely than middle-aged females (24.7%) to be shown in sexualized attire. A similar pattern emerged for nudity (41.2%, 36.9%, and 24.4%, respectively). As age increased, females were less likely to be referenced as attractive.

Of the 1,365 directors, writers, and producers of the 100 top-grossing films of 2015, 81% were men and 19% were women. Of 107 directors, 92.5% were male and 7.5% were female. This translates into a gender ratio of 12.4 male directors to every one female director. Women fare slightly better as writers (11.8%) and producers (22%) but far worse as composers. Only 1 female composer but 113 male composers worked across the sample of 100 movies of 2015!

Across 800 films and 886 directors, only 4.1% were women. This translates into a gender ratio of 24 males to every 1 female. Only 3 Black and 1 Asian female directors worked on the 800 films examined. Even more problematic, only 1.4% of all composers were women from 2007 to 2015 (excluding 2011). This translates into a gender ratio of 72 male composers to every 1 female composer.

Race/Ethnicity. In 2015, 73.7% of characters were White, 12.2% Black, 5.3% Latino, 3.9% Asian, <1% Middle Eastern, <1% American Indian/Alaskan Native, <1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 3.6% Other or “mixed race.” Together, a total of 26.3% of all speaking characters were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. There was no change in the percentage of White, Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian or Other races/ethnicities from 2007 to 2015.

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Only 14 of the movies depicted an underrepresented lead or co lead. Nine of the leads/co leads were Black, one Latino, and four were mixed race. Not one lead or co lead was played by an Asian actor.

Only three female leads/co leads were played by female actors from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group, the exact same number in 2014. Just one of these actors was an underrepresented female 45 years of age or older.

A full 17% of films did not feature one Black or African American speaking or named character on screen.  This number is identical to what we found in 2013 and 2014. Even more problematic, Asian characters were missing across 49 films.

In 2015, only 4 of the 107 directors were Black or African American (3.7%) and 6 were Asian or Asian American (5.6%). Across 886 directors from 2007 to 2015 (excluding 2011), only 5.5% were Black and 2.8% were Asian.

LGBT.  Only 32 speaking or named characters were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender across the sample of 100 top films of 2015.  This is an increase of 13 portrayals from our 2014 report. Just one transgender character appeared sample-wide, as well as 19 gay men, 7 lesbians, and 5 bisexuals (3 males, 2 females).

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Not one lead or co lead was LGBT identified across the entire sample of 100 top films of 2015. 82 of the 100 top movies of 2015 did not depict one LGBT speaking or named character.

More racial/ethnic diversity was found across LGBT characters than sample wide. Just over 40% of LGBT characters were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group.  One teenaged character was depicted as gay across the entire sample and only two lesbian parents were portrayed.

Characters with Disabilities. Only 2.4% of all speaking or named characters were shown with a disability. A full 45 of the movies failed to depict one speaking character with a disability. Most of the portrayals appeared in action adventure films (33.3%). Only 2% of all characters with disabilities were shown in animated movies.

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61% of the characters were featured with a physical disability, 37.1% with a mental or cognitive disability, and 18.1% with a communicative disability. These designations were based on U.S. Census language and domains.

Only 19% of characters with a disability were female and 81% were male. This is a new low for gender inequality in film. Not one LGBT character with a disability was portrayed across the 100 top films of 2015.

The report also highlights many other results on gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, and disability in film as well as simple and straightforward solutions to Hollywood’s inclusion crisis.

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Chart of the day: Partisan divide on film industry


From Gallup, evidence of the culture wars in the sharp divide of opinions of the movie industry:

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Quote of the day: Donald Trump as Travis Bickle


And in more ways than one.

John F. Hinckley Jr., the man who nearly assassinated President Ronald Reagan, was inspired by Travis Bickle, the violent psychotic portrayed by Robert De Niro in his seminal 1976  Martin Scorsese film, Taxi Driver.

Hinckley shot Reagan to get the attention of de Niro’s child co-star, Jodie Foster.

And given the not-so-veiled hint by Donald Trump that his “second Amendment” followers might preempt a move to pack the Supreme Court by a President Hillary Clinton, the parallel is even more haunting.

The famous actor took on Trump at the Sarajevo Film Festival, reports the Associated Press:

“What he has been saying is totally crazy, ridiculous, stuff that shouldn’t be even … he is totally nuts,” De Niro said during a question and answer session at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

When the moderator asked De Niro to elaborate on Bickle’s mental illness, the first thing that seemed to have crossed the actor’s mind was the Republican candidate.

“One of the things to me was just the irony at the end, he (Bickle) is back driving a cab, celebrated, which is kind of relevant in some way today too,” De Niro said.

“People like Donald Trump who shouldn’t be where he is so … God help us,” De Niro said. Sarajevans responded with a frantic applause.

De Niro says the media had given too much attention, but are now starting to say “come on Donald, this is ridiculous, this is nuts, this is insane.”

And this post wouldn’t be complete without a clip, via Movieclips, of De Niro, reciting in full Trumpian glory, the film’s most famous line:

And now for something completely different. . .


It’s time for more delightful animations from the National Film Board of Canada.

Though our first entry was created 25 years ago, its political protagonist bears more than a slight resemblance, at least metaphorically, to a certain presidential candidate:

The Lump

Program notes:

by John Weldon — 1991

This animated short tells the story of a short and unattractive man who develops an inert but highly attractive lump on top of his head. By simply buttoning his shirt over his face he changes his life! An animated parody on the superficiality of those qualities that lead to popularity and power.

Next, the first of two animations from the same creator, this one offering a delightful and visually striking reimagination of how we got to be here:

From the Big Bang to Tuesday Morning

Program notes:

by Claude Cloutier — 2000

From the earliest forms of life on Earth to the world of today, From the Big Bang to Tuesday Morning uses absurdist humour to tell the biological story of humanity. From a mighty cosmic explosion comes the matter from which evolve the mineral, vegetable and animal worlds. There follows a series of metamorphoses illustrating the branching out of the human genealogical tree.

And for our final item, a remarkable example of animation created with a pen and India Ink, adding a striking new dimension to a familiar tale:

Sleeping Betty

Program notes:

by Claude Cloutier — 2007

Princess Betty sleeps in a narcoleptic stupor. The king appeals to his subjects to wake her. A worthy Prince Charles lookalike has to leave his royal suburb to save the princess, but will Betty be wakened with just a kiss?

Drawn in India ink, this animation sets the Perrault classic in Claude Cloutier’s disjointed, anachronistic and playful universe.

Film: Reconnecting with Native American roots


Tony Chachai was born to an addict mother, and abandoned his roots in the Atikamekw Nation, a Canadian Native American tribe whose homeland is along the Saint-Maurice River valley of Quebec, only to return as a young man in his search for answers and reconciliation.

Filmmaker Thérèse Ottawa, herself an Atikamekw, filmed a short documentary about his reunion with his heritage as he fulfills his mother’s last wish and takes up traditional dance with the help of cousin.

The American Indian Film Institute describes the origins of the film:

In 2012, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in partnership with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) launched Tremplin NIKANIK, a competition for francophone First Nations filmmakers in Quebec hoping to make a first or second documentary with a runtime of 30 minutes or less. Thérèse Ottawa was one of the competition’s finalists, completing her first film, Red Path.

In following the story of Tony Chachai, a young Aboriginal man in search of his identity, Ottawa raises issues relating to her culture, the past, and the transmission of knowledge and traditions among members of the Atikamekw Nation.

Moved by the desire to reconnect with his roots, Tony Chachai delivers touching testimony on the journey that brought him closer to his family and community. On the verge of becoming a father himself, he becomes increasingly aware of the richness of his heritage and celebrates it by dancing in a powwow alongside his cousin Ronny Chachai.

And here, via the National Film Board of Canada, is the documentary:

The Red Path

Program notes:

In following the story of Tony Chachai, a young Aboriginal man in search of his identity. Moved by the desire to reconnect with his roots, Tony Chachai delivers touching testimony on the journey that brought him closer to his family and community.

Map of the day III: Big Lebowski fans by country


One of esnl‘s favorite films is has fans around the world.

Based on Facebook “likes,” via the Independent:

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