Diversity and representation on screen has evolved so much over the last few decades – but what about the last decade in particular? The diversity gaps appear to be closing, but at a faster rate for some demographics than others.
A few weeks ago, Google Research, in collaboration with the Geena Davis Institute and the University of Southern California, revealed results from a to learn TV Representation for Scripted TV Shows from 2010 to 2021 to highlight the status of inclusion and representation on television in the United States and how it has evolved over the past 12 years.
“Entertainment media, like scripted television, shapes young people’s thinking and societal narratives. It affects how we perceive the world, how we see ourselves in society, what we should value, what we should respect, what careers we can pursue, who the hero will be and much more.” from the study. “Analyzing and measuring inclusion and representation in entertainment media helps eliminate unconscious biases that can reinforce negative behavior, prejudice, colorism, body shame, low self-esteem, and other harmful stereotypes. We hope this report will inspire the creation of fairer media content.”
The report entitled “See It Be It: What Families Watch on TV – A Longitudinal Study”, analyzed 440 hours of the most popular scripted programs of all genres, from comedy and political drama to romance and supernatural and sci-fi series.
Google Research’s MUSE (Media Understanding for Social Exploration) team was able to analyze this data by developing an AI-enabled system designed to understand patterns in how people are portrayed in mainstream media. For the study, the AI system processed more than 100 frames per second.
Fun fact: Joint Google 2017 study on gender equality in Hollywood films was the first use of AI to effectively study media representation. See It, Be It builds directly on this work.
Among the most interesting findings of the study are the gender differences in screen time between light and dark skin tones on television. Although the screen time gap between light and dark skinned characters narrowed from 81% in 2010 to 55% in 2021, the gap is still alarmingly large, with light skinned characters still accounting for the majority of screen time.
Over the past 12 years, medium- and dark-skinned male and female characters experienced an 8 and 9 percentage point increase in screen time, respectively; Screen time increased from 2.0% to 5.4% for medium-skinned female characters and from 0.3% to 6.9% for dark-skinned female characters.
Although black female characters have seen an estimated 7 point increase in screen time and an average 1.2% increase in talk time per year over the past 12 years, they are still the group with the most the lowest Total talk time, meaning they speak the least when they are on screen. (By comparison, black male characters speak 20% of the time they are shown on screen – there is a 4 point gender difference as black female characters only speak 16% of the time.)