Even with gains in the number of characters with disabilities appearing in popular films, a new report finds that this population still remains largely nonexistent on screen.

In an analysis of the 100 top-grossing films from 2019, researchers found that the disability community was missing from 48 of them. Moreover, 77 of the movies had no female speaking character with a disability.

The findings come from a report out this month from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The annual analysis looks at representations of gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability status in the most popular films of the year.

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Just 2.3% of all speaking characters in 2019 had disabilities, the report found, up from 1.6% the previous year.

Most of those depicted — nearly 65% — had physical disabilities while 29% had cognitive disabilities and 28% had communication disabilities. More than two-thirds of the characters with disabilities on screen were male and a similar percentage were white. Most were over age 40.

One bright spot — the report found that there were twice as many movies in 2019 with a lead or co-lead character with a disability as compared to the previous year.

However, across five years of data on disability representation, the researchers said that “no meaningful change was observed in the percentage of speaking characters with disabilities.” Moreover, not a single film in the 500 studied since the researchers began tracking disability inclusion featured speaking characters with disabilities in numbers comparable to their prevalence in real life.

The report indicated that progress is lacking in the inclusion of women and other underrepresented groups as well.

“The erasure of girls and women from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, the LGBTQ community and those with disabilities remains a hallmark of top-performing Hollywood films,” said Stacy L. Smith, director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and an author of the report. “Intersectional inclusion on screen must be an area for targeted intervention.”

There could be more momentum for change on the way. Earlier this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that starting in 2024 films will have to meet certain inclusion standards — which factor disability representation — in order to be eligible for best picture at the Oscars.

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