Disability Portrayals In Hollywood Films Plummet
A report looking at last year’s 100 top-grossing films finds that representation of people with disabilities on the big screen is at a four-year low.
Only 1.6 percent of all speaking characters in 2018’s biggest blockbusters had a disability. That’s down from 2.5 percent the year prior.
The findings come from an annual report out this month from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The report analyzes all characters in the most popular films of the year by gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability status.
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This is the fourth year that the analysis has factored disability representation, with researchers concluding that “representation of characters with disabilities is still dismal.”
More than half of the films analyzed — 58 — showed no characters with disabilities at all, the highest level recorded in four years. And, the report found no movie depicted people with disabilities in proportion to their actual representation in American society.
“In 2018 we saw companies taking steps to ensure that certain groups were included in some of their most notable movies,” said Stacy L. Smith, the lead author of the report. “While we are pleased to see progress in some areas, efforts cannot end here. There are several arenas where much more growth is needed.”
Specifically, Smith noted, “we saw no substantial improvement in the percentage or representation of LGBTQ characters or characters with disabilities. It is crucial not to lose sight of these, and other areas, that still need to improve.”
Of the characters with disabilities portrayed in films last year, nearly three-quarters were male and 63 percent were white, the report found. More than half had a physical disability while 30 percent had a cognitive issue and about 28 percent had a condition affecting communication.
Lauren Appelbaum, of the nonprofit RespectAbility which works to promote disability inclusion in Hollywood, said that increasing portrayals in movies can have a big impact.
“What we see on screen influences how we act in real life,” Appelbaum said. “When filmmakers choose to include characters with disabilities, they can help to remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities.”