Research that Leads to Change in the Entertainment Industry

Initiative Annenberg Inclusion Initiative
Grantee Partner University of Southern California

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (AI2) at the University of Southern California, founded by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, is the leading global think tank studying issues of inequality in entertainment and rolling out tangible solutions for change. AI2 engages research, advocacy and action surrounding entertainment on behalf of marginalized individuals to create a more inclusive ecosystem for content creators and audiences.

AI2 conducts all its research with an intersectional lens, looking at gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, disability, and mental health. Research focuses on five areas: 1) content patterns pertaining to on-screen representation (e.g. gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, disability, mental health) across media; 2) employment patterns behind the camera (e.g. directors, writers, producers, composers) in entertainment; 3) barriers and opportunities facing women and underrepresented racial/ethnic groups on screen and behind the camera in media; 4) economic analyses examining correlates of box office performance; and 5) solutions to inequality in entertainment. AI2 has become the gold standard for industry practitioners to turn to on issues of inclusion.

During 2019, the year of funding from The David and Lura Lovell Foundation, AI2 reported three major successes: the 4% Challenge, investigation into country music, and a report on representation of Latinos in film.

Launched at a panel discussion at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, in partnership with Time’s Up and Tessa Thompson, the 4% Challenge aimed to change hiring practices affecting female directors in Hollywood. Across 12 years and 1,200 films, only 4% of directors were female. By challenging industry members (actors, writers, producers, directors) to commit to announcing a film with a female director over the following 18 months, the 4% Challenge provided a practical and immediate way to change the numbers. Over 100 individuals signed on to the challenge, including Jennifer Lopez and Jordan Peele. Additionally, studios including Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Amazon Studios, and Warner Bros. Studios took the challenge, some pledging at a divisional level to announce projects with female directors. AI2 projected that 12-14% of top-grossing films would have a female director in 2019, which is the highest figure of any year the Initiative has measured dating back to 1980, and significantly more than any year since 2007. Moreover, studio films slated for 2020 also showed an increase in female directors. 

The second area of success for AI2 was in the arena of country music. Building on its successful work in both popular and Latin music, the Initiative investigated the prevalence of female artists and writers in top country charts, along with nominees for Academy of Country Music Awards. The results demonstrated that women are far outnumbered as country artists, as well as songwriters and nominees. The study was released ahead of the American Country Music Awards and generated notable press coverage–and was even mentioned by artists on the red carpet at the televised awards show. In addition, AI2 garnered commitments from four organizations: Universal Music Group Nashville, YouTube Music, LiveNation (via its WomenNation platform), and the Academy of Country Music. These commitments revealed the intent of these organizations to seek internal metrics and work to create greater understanding of how myths about country audiences influence decision-making regarding female artists. The study continues to be referenced in the press as artists, including Martina McBride, raise awareness of the lack of female representation in country charts, playlists and radio.

The third area of influence for AI2 came as the result of a report on the representation of Latinos in film. The first report on Latinos covered both quantitative data on the representation of Latino characters on screen, and Latinos as directors, producers and casting directors in top-grossing films from 2007 to 2018. The report was released in partnership with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers and Wise Entertainment. It garnered significant press attention, both on its own and through a follow up op-ed written by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and Eva Longoria. Prior to the release of the study, AI2 met with each of multinational studios, as well as other notable groups throughout Hollywood to share findings and ask for commitments toward change. The response to the report has been extraordinary. Examples include receiving a call from the Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus following the release of the report; appearances at the HispanicizeLA conference and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers ( NALIP) Media Summit. In the fall of 2020, Dr. Smith testified before the House Judiciary Committee regarding inclusion in entertainment, a result of the study and AI2’s body of work reaching key government decision-makers.

The entertainment industry and policy makers are increasingly aware of AI2, and demand for its work is increasing. AI2 has transitioned from primarily conducting research on film and TV to taking on a leadership role in developing and disseminating solutions for the entire entertainment industry.