Study: Movie Viewers Want to See Themselves Reflected Onscreen

Movie viewers want to see themselves reflected on the screen, according to a new study from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and data analytics firm Movio.

Moviegoers being able to identify with the characters in a movie drives their attendance behavior, the study found. When there are characters of a certain cohort (group), this is likely to drive more moviegoers of the same cohort. The analysis shows across all films that the leading characters and audience are generally 50-50 female/male. In 2007, only 23% of leads were female, and in 2017 30% were female. The more female characters, the more female the audience, and the more male characters, the more male the audience. The effect of genre on the percentage of leading characters male versus female was clear, according to the study authors, as well as the corresponding gender split in the attending audience. Action movies, most notably, regularly have well over 50% male characters and well over 50% (and frequently over 60%) male audience.

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The opportunity for Black, Asian and Latinx moviegoers to see themselves represented on screen is significantly lower than for white moviegoers. Several movies tally 100% of their characters as White with the majority having over 50% white characters. For the remaining four race/ethnicity groups, the majority of films are clustered at below 25% (if not 0%) representation on screen. This is significant considering people of color (Black, Asian and Latinx) comprise 37.8% of the U.S. population, the study noted. Across the board in terms of ethnicity, gender, and age, the negative portrayal of characters from a certain group has little bearing on whether or not that group attends a movie. However, particularly with regard to race and ethnicity, the analysis again shows how minority audiences are given substantially fewer opportunities to even see characters from their racial or ethnic group on the screen, no less characters from their racial or ethnic group who are also not depicted negatively.

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The research was also able to determine what demographic cohorts are being represented in films geared primarily towards children. Both male and female leads are roughly evenly split in terms of on-screen representation for films with more child visits, suggesting that young moviegoers are getting a fairly balanced representation of genders in their on-screen media consumption. However, when looking at race/ethnicity there is less of a balanced representation. White characters are very well represented in children’s films, with the majority of films having 50% or more White characters represented on screen. There is not the same level of representation for Asian or Latinx characters in children’s media as the vast majority of films moviegoers are bringing their children to see have no representation of these cohorts. For example, of all the titles analyzed, only six titles had over 18% Latinx characters, despite Latinx comprising 18.4% of the U.S. population.

Data scientists at both organizations examined the following questions for the “I Want to See Me: Why Diverse On-Screen Representation Drives Cinema Audiences” white paper:

  • Does the presence of certain groups (Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Age) on-screen draw larger numbers of the corresponding audience?
  • What negative or positive portrayals of certain groups are different viewers seeing in the most popular films?
  • What portrayals of certain groups are child viewers seeing in the most popular films?

On-screen data (the Institute) and audience demographic data (Movio) for the top 100 films (by box office) in the United States were examined for 2018 and 2019.

“As we’ve said before, our goal is very simple: that the characters on screen reflect the population, which is half Female and incredibly diverse,” said Geena Davis, founder and chair of the institute, in a statement. “We know that increasing the presence of underrepresented groups in media can have a very powerful impact on shifting cultural perceptions. Our industry has a tremendous opportunity to foster inclusion in society by taking action to diversify who shows up on screen. As this new research shows, we have made progress, but we need to do better.”

“As the movie industry begins to recover from the effects of the pandemic, this research carries even more weight,” said William Palmer, chief executive and co-founder of Movio, in a statement. “Diverse audiences can go elsewhere to find entertainment options that speak to them and their lives, so if cinema is to remain relevant and continue having a cultural impact, it must attract these audiences by delivering more representative content.”

“When we consider the impact that the media children are exposed to can have, including in the cinema, it is vital for them to see from the beginning that fictitious worlds reflect the real world, and that they see themselves reflected on screen,” Davis added. “When you see someone like yourself reflected, you take in the message: ‘There’s someone like me, I must belong.’ It’s encouraging to see the progress we’ve made with gender representation, but we must show more diversity on screen, if we don’t show more diversity, we are contributing to the serious problem of racial inequity in our society today.”

Nightmare Origins of Lionsgate’s ‘Antebellum’

The frightening thriller Antebellum from Lionsgate and QC Entertainment — the producer of Get Out and Us — was fittingly inspired by a bad dream.

Filmmakers Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz trace the origins of the film to a nightmare Bush had. “This nightmare was about a woman named Eden,” Bush recalls. “The experience was horrific and so real that I immediately wanted to talk about it with Chris. It felt like my ancestors had visited me to tell me the story. We thought it had the makings of an exciting short story and film.”

Through Eden (Janelle Monáe), Antebellum — which became available through premium VOD Sept. 18 — explores a nightmare from which America seems unable to awake: the country’s original sin of slavery.

The story centers on Veronica (also played by Monáe), a Ph.D. sociologist and best-selling author whose books explore the disenfranchisement of Black people in the United States. Veronica travels to New Orleans for a speaking engagement and uncovers a horrific secret that connects her to the enslaved Eden.

“I felt like I know, love and respect so many women who reminded me of Veronica — powerful, community-serving, strong-willed women who refuse to have their voices silenced as they represent those who are marginalized,” Monáe says. “I wanted to take on a character that could make us feel proud, especially in today’s climate.”

As a speaker and writer, Veronica’s voice takes on a symbolic power.

“The concept of silencing Black people is pure horror,” Monáe explains. “Chris and Gerard leaned into the framework of a psychological thriller to depict these horrors.”

As in any horror tale, there are villains on the plantation where Eden is enslaved — played by Jack Huston, Eric Lange and Jena Malone (“Hunger Games” franchise).

“The way that Chris and Gerard move between these two worlds is not only clever, but necessary to tell the story,” Malone says. “They pull the rug out from under you so you can view these really intense things in a new way.”

(L-R): Gabourey Sidibe, Janelle Monáe and Lily Cowles in Antebellum

A world away from Eden’s plantation life, and before embarking upon her own harrowing journey, Veronica meets up with two friends, Dawn (Gabourey Sidibe) and Sarah (Lily Cowles), for a night on the town in New Orleans. Sidibe (Academy Award nominee, Precious) describes Dawn as “affluent and filled with black girl magic.” Her character lends a levity to the proceedings, but the frivolity of the trio’s night out is interrupted by moments of tension that create an ominous mood.

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“There’s a repeated micro-aggression that’s aimed at Veronica and Dawn — the two women of color — that Sarah is aware of but perhaps doesn’t completely understand,” Cowles says.

Throughout the production is the ominous feeling that history is encroaching on the present — made all the more potent by the fact that scenes were filmed on a real plantation, the Evergreen Plantation, located on the Mississippi River, about 40 miles northwest of New Orleans.

“We actually wanted and had committed to finding and identifying a real plantation, and honoring the ancestors,” Renz points out. “As soon as we arrived at Evergreen for a location scout, we knew we had to film there. The ghosts of enslaved people are stained on the trees and on the blades of grass. It’s in the air and soaked into the wood of those cabins. You can feel that energy; it’s palpable.”

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” reads the William Faulkner quote that begins the film.

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While Antebellum was meant to be a mind-bending mystery that unfolds as a metaphor for the current climate of racism, the filmmakers did not anticipate how the sins of the past would jump to the fore again in the current political climate.

“When we conceived Antebellum, we did not — could not — envision the way that systemic racism would break through to force the meaningful conversation we desperately need. But it has,” says Bush. “What we did intend was for the film to force the audience to look at the real-life horror of racism through the lens of film horror. We’re landing in the middle of the very conversations that we hoped Antebellum would spur. So to release the film in this environment is all we could ask for — as artists, we’re grateful to have the opportunity to add our voices in this cultural moment.”

Netflix Rolling Out Seven Classic Black Sitcoms From 1990s and Early 2000s

Netflix is rolling out seven Black sitcoms from the 1990s and early 2000s on its service in the coming months: “Sister Sister,” “Moesha,” “The Parkers,” “Girlfriends,” “The Game,” “One on One” and “Half & Half.”

“These shows made us laugh, and cry, and sing along with those catchy theme songs,” wrote Bradley Edwards, manager of content acquisition, and Jasmyn Lawson, manager of Strong Black Lead, in a company blog. “And mostly importantly, we felt like we saw ourselves on screen — in some cases for the very first time. Every week we were able to tune in to see people, families and friends that looked like us and characters whose everyday ups and downs reflected Black life in an authentic way.”

The shows have been on top of members’ wish lists, they wrote.

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“From the first days of Strong Black Lead in February 2018, our comment sections have been filled with members asking about this kind of classic Black content,” they wrote. “So we worked with our content team to make it happen — starting in 2019 with classic Black films like Love & Basketball, B*A*P*S, and Love Jones. The conversation on social media was larger than we could have ever anticipated. And once we had the wish list of series from our members, we were excited to discover they were available.

“We want to give each its due so we’re staggering the release of these beloved series to ensure our members have time to enjoy them.”

“Moesha” will bow Aug. 1, followed by the first three seasons of “The Game” on Aug. 15. “Sister Sister” arrives on Sept. 1, with “Girlfriends” launching on Sept. 11 to mark the 20th anniversary of its premiere. “The Parkers” debuts on Oct. 1, followed by “Half & Half “and “One on One” on Oct. 15.

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“The goal of Strong Black Lead is to celebrate and lift up Black Hollywood,” they wrote. “These trailblazing shows are a huge part of that story. From the classic clown funeral episode of ‘The Parkers’ to Moesha’s mind-tripping meet-up with Brandy, we’re thrilled that our members can now enjoy these amazing classics.”

Uplifting Films ‘Supa Modo’ and ‘Don’t Be Nice’ Available on DVD From MVD and Juno

Two uplifting films, the drama Supa Modo and the documentary Don’t Be Nice, are available on DVD from MVD Entertainment Group and Juno Films.

From first-time feature filmmaker Likarion Wainaina comes the Kenyan drama Supa Modo, about Jo, a witty 9-year old terminally ill girl who is taken back to her rural village to live out the rest of her short life after being diagnosed with cancer. Her only comfort during dull times are her dreams of being a superhero, which prove to be something her rebellious teenage sister Mwix, overprotective mother Kathryn and the entire village of Maweni think they can fulfill. With the entire village’s support, they decide to make dreams a reality and turn Jo into the superhero they know she is. Newcomer Stycie Waweru delivers a captivating and earnest performance, imbuing her character with a subtle strength that ignites the screen. The 2018 film was Kenya’s Oscar submission.

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In the documentary Don’t Be Nice, the upstart Bowery Slam Poetry Team, made up of five young African-American, Afro-Hispanic and queer poets, prepares for the national championships. Mentored by a demanding coach who pushes them past their personal boundaries to write from a painfully honest place, the poets break down, break through, and compose their best work ever. Will their soul-searching pieces about police violence and the whitewashing of black culture be able to compete against choreographed crowd-pleasers for the title? Lauren Whitehead coaches the Bowery Slam Team with the credo “Don’t Be Nice.” She explains that to “be nice” is to stay on the surface of things, is to perpetuate the status quo, and is, for black people, to be what white culture demands. Her team of poets brave their inner demons and buck societal expectations to write truthful poems, and to ultimately celebrate black joy.

AMC’s Acorn TV and UMC Launch on YouTube TV

Subscription streaming services Acorn TV and UMC are available on YouTube TV, AMC Networks announced.

Acorn TV is North America’s largest streaming service for British and international television, and UMC is the largest streaming service for black TV and film, according to AMC. The services join sister services Shudder, Sundance NOW and AMC Premiere as part of YouTube TV’s lineup of premium streaming service add-on options.

Acorn TV’s add-on channel is now available via YouTube TV for $6 a month, and UMC’s add-on channel is $5 a month.

Programming now available on Acorn TV’s YouTube TV channel includes:

  • “Manhunt,” a 2019 series starring Martin Clunes as a former police detective who tenaciously pursues a serial killer;
  • “Line of Duty,” a cop thriller that takes a probing look into modern police corruption with new guest leads every season;
  • “Agatha Raisin,” an Acorn TV Original series starring Ashley Jensen in adaptations of MC Beaton’s best-selling novels as an amateur sleuth who becomes entangled in mischief, mayhem and murder;
  • “Doc Martin,” a U.K. series starring Clunes as a tactless, self-centered, and uptight doctor in the town of Portwenn, where he clashes with the village’s quirky inhabitants;
  • “Keeping Faith,” an Acorn TV Original thriller starring Eve Myles as Faith, a lawyer with a happy marriage until her husband suddenly disappears; and
  • dramas including “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” and “Midsomer Murders,” as well as Acorn TV Original series “Queens of Mystery” and “Mystery Road.”

 

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Programming now available on UMC’s YouTube TV channel includes:

  • “A House Divided,” a new original drama series starring Demetria McKinney, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, Paula Jai Parker and Brad James;
  • “Beyond the Pole,” the channel’s first original reality series that follows six of Atlanta’s exotic dancers on their journeys out of the strip club world with the help of Stormy Wellington, a former dancer turned multi-millionaire;
  • “Craig Ross Jr.’s Monogamy,” which will return for its second season later this fall;
  • OWN’s “Black Love” and WEtv’s “Growing Up Hip Hop”;
  • classic sitcoms, such as UPN’s “All of Us”; and
  • classic films such as Set It Off, starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica Fox and Kimberly Elise, and B.A.P.S., starring Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle.

Over the past year, Acorn TV and UMC have expanded their availability across various platform partners, most recently joining Apple TV Channels and The Roku Channel. Others will be added later this year, according to AMC.