A USC study released just before the Oscars this year declared that Hollywood doesn't just have a diversity problem, it has an "inclusion crisis." In a review of more than 400 films and TV shows released over the course of a year, researchers found women accounted for just one-third of speaking parts. Actors of color were even more poorly represented, making up only 28 percent of characters with dialogue.
To address this problem, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media turned to technology, working with Google and the USC School of Engineering to assess how women and people of color are represented in film. The software they developed will be used to create a kind of scorecard for film and TV—something akin to the Human Rights Council's Consumer Equality Index that lets both media makers and consumers know just how diverse a piece of media is.
The institute was quiet on specifics until the new software officially launches later this month, along with an initial analysis of films and TV. The automated analysis tool will scan films and scripts to gather data. Films and television shows will then be given a score.
One place the new tool will be put to use is the 2017 Bentonville Film Festival, a festival that focuses on diversity run by the Geena Davis Institute and ARC Entertainment.
For the film festival entrants will have to meet a minimum score. The research arm of the festival then plans to analyze whether the more diverse films fare better with judges and audiences, hoping to prove the point that people respond to more diverse content. It will also analyze how an audience's perception of a film's diversity measures up to how diverse it actually is and analyze changes in diversity of the festival's entrants over time.
"This tool will allow us to automatically take a movie or TV show and automatically spit out how many men and women are in the film in speaking roles," said Trevor Drinkwater, the director of ARC Entertainment and co-founder of the festival. "Our point of view is that the more gender balanced and diverse your content is, the more commercial it will be."
The downside of the algorithm, Drinkwater told me, is that it does not analyze diversity off-screen, like who directed, produced or wrote a film. The USC study earlier this year found that just 3.4 percent of film directors are female. And not one of the six film distributors evaluated received a passing grade for inclusion. In its own diversity score, the festival also takes behind-the-scenes diversity data into account.
The goal, Drinkwater said, isn't to call out filmmakers for doing a bad job. It's to give them the tools and information to assess themselves. The idea is to not just encourage diversity, but to make it commercially viable.
"Our approach is to provide information to decision makers," Drinkwater said. "We hope this will influence people to create better content."