New Research on Portrayals of Black Women in Hollywood Signals Progress, But Colorism Persists

LOS ANGELES, CA – 1 MARCH 2021: The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media released the results of Representations of Black Women in Hollywood, a groundbreaking examination of the portrayals of Black girls and women in film and television. Find the report here.

While much of the previous research on race and gender in entertainment media analyzed representations of women and Black people as two distinct groups, this first-of-its-kind study focused specifically on the portrayals of Black girls and women in both film and TV.

The study revealed signs of progress. In family films, Black women are more likely to be depicted as working in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) occupations than other women of color (e.g., Asian or LatinX) and White women. Additionally, Black women are just as likely to be depicted as leaders as white women.

However, the study also indicates a strong bias toward Black women who conform with white standards of beauty. Nearly 80% of Black female characters have light or medium skin tones, which means that colorism is persistent in representations. 57% of Black leading ladies from popular films in the past decade are depicted with hairstyles that conform to European standards of beauty as opposed to natural Black hairstyles.

Of the findings, Geena Davis, Academy Award winning actor, Founder and Chair of the Institute said:

“This revealing new study shows we need to be more aware of the persistence of stereotypes affecting Black girls and women – and avoid repeating those mistakes when making writing, casting, and other content production decisions. While it is encouraging to see some positive trends, it’s clear that much more work needs to be done to ensure that women of all backgrounds have the same opportunities when it comes to being depicted on screen.”

About the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media

Founded in 2004 by Academy Award-Winning actor Geena Davis, the Institute is the only research-based organization working collaboratively within the entertainment industry to create gender balance, foster inclusion and reduce negative stereotyping in family entertainment media. For more information, please visit www.seejane.org.

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