Top Films Seldom Feature Characters With Disabilities
An analysis of last year’s 100 top-grossing Hollywood films finds that people with disabilities are rarely portrayed and, when they are, they often have minimal roles.
Just 2.4 percent of characters with speaking or named parts were presented with a disability, according to a report released this week from the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
“The findings reveal that Hollywood is an epicenter of cultural inequality,” said Stacy L. Smith, founding director of the initiative and an author of the report. “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.”
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Of the characters with disabilities portrayed on screen, the vast majority — 81 percent — were male and nearly 72 percent were white, researchers found. About half were age 40 or older and only two characters where 12 or younger.
“This is a new low for gender inequality,” Smith said. “The small number of portrayals of disability is concerning, as is the fact that they do not depict the diversity within this community.”
Just 10 movies featured a person with a disability in a leading or co-leading role while 45 films included no representation of this population at all, the report found.
Those with special needs were most likely to appear in action/adventure films, comedies or dramas, but were shown in just 2 percent of animated movies.
Of the characters with disabilities in last year’s top films, the analysis indicates that more than half had a physical impairment while about 37 percent had a mental or cognitive disorder and 18 percent had a communication disability.