Disability inequality in popular film

August 15, 2017

A recent comprehensive analysis of popular film reveals how little top-grossing movies have changed when it comes to representation of people with disabilities. Across the top 100 movies of 2016, only 2.7% of characters were depicted with a disability.

The report, commissioned by the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative (MDSC) at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, examined 900 popular films from 2007 to 2016. Here are their key findings for 2016.

  • 124 characters with disabilities were depicted in films
  • 38 of the 100 most popular films did not include a single character with disability
  • A total of 15 films featured a lead or co-lead character portrayed with a disability
  • Less than a third of characters with disabilities were female; 67.2 percent were male
  • Nearly 65 percent of characters were coded with a physical disability, 32 percent with a mental disability and 22 percent with a communication disability.

In an attempt to inspire change, the report offers suggestions on setting inclusions goals on and behind the camera to companies, content creators, industry executives and customers. However, “until solutions focus on changing the exclusionary hiring practices and countering explicit and implicit biases in Hollywood, it is difficult to expect real change anytime soon,” said Stacy Smith, a member of the research team. 

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