Can A New Film & TV Ratings System Eliminate Gender Stereotypes And Promote Diversity?

Over the past few years, as a number of institutions and organizations release report after report showing the huge disparities for women and minority groups, we have seen a variety of initiatives being launched as an attempt to change the status quo. Whether it is the implementation of gender quotas, diversifying the board of major industry bodies such as the Academy Awards, or even individual change-makers like Ava DuVernay consciously choosing to hire only female directors for her OWN show ‘Queen Sugar’, there is certainly not going to be a one-size-fits-all strategy for this issue.

We definitely need these reports to continually remind us, especially people within the industry that have power to shift the conversation, what is at stake and how little the needle seems to be moving. What we love about Ava’s decision is that she deliberately chose to use her window of opportunity as a means to benefit others.

The ‘2017 Hollywood Diversity Report’ by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, analyzed 168 theatrical films released in 2015 and more than 1,200 television programs released during the 2014-15 season on broadcast, cable, digital and via syndication. They found that while TV is making modest gains more so than film, Hollywood still has a long way to go.

There could be another way to push the momentum for diversity in entertainment – a ratings system that allows content to be rated based on what parameters they are reaching in terms of how they are tackling gender stereotypes. Common Sense Media, the organization founded in 2003 to help kids, teachers, parents and policymakers understand the impact of media in our everyday lives, has added this particular metric to its existing rating system that helps the aforementioned targeted audience determine which TV shows and films give children a positive representation of the world.

Along with traits like courage, empathy and perseverance, it will now look at how content portrays gender and rate it according to whether it goes beyond stereotypes and limited definitions. According to the NY Times, they worked with the Geena Davis Institute for Gender In Media, another organization dedicated to fighting stereotypes and increasing diverse representations in entertainment, especially for younger generations.

“In trying to develop the new gender reviews, Common Sense examined existing research, finding that the way gender roles are portrayed in movies and television can shape career choices, self-image, tolerance of sexual harassment and dating behavior. It then surveyed parents in April and found that they were very worried about how gender stereotyping in the media could affect their children,” writes reporter Susan Chira.

Because gender representation can be so complex and nuanced (thank goodness society is finally waking up to this fact!), Common Sense Media knew they had an important task on their hands. Betsy Bozdech, the executive editor for ratings and reviews gave the example of Oscar-winning film ‘Moonlight’, which has been given the stamp of approval for 17 years and over, even though there are heavier themes such as violence and drugs included in the plot.

“I can’t think of any title that has prompted more talk about what it means to be an African-American young man, about opening up more possibilities, than that movie,” she said.

Other shows such as ‘MasterChef Junior’ and ‘Bones’ were approved because of the way they included representations of women in roles such as scientists and chefs, roles that are stereotypically thought of as jobs that men do, because of the majority of depictions we see on screen. Then there are the more obvious choices such as ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Billy Elliot’ which are a direct subversion of gender narratives – a woman playing a lead superhero, and a young man playing a classical ballet dancer.

So how can Common Sense Media potentially impact the industry on a wider scale? They are working with The Association of National Advertisers and a coalition of 1000 brand partners (which spend a total of $40 billion collectively in the US) who plan to advertise only with shows and films that have an approved CSM rating.

It should also be noted this initiative is not about shaming TV shows or films that don’t meed the CSM parameters, it is about promoting those that are going beyond what we now see in an attempt to better inform parents about what their children are viewing.

“Just because a movie doesn’t get the seal doesn’t mean it’s not funny or entertaining or not worth your family’s time. We’re just looking to call out the ones going above and beyond,” said Betsy.

For example, ‘Bridesmaids’ did not necessarily make the cut, despite it’s female-heavy cast, because it wasn’t necessarily breaking new ground the way ‘Moonlight’ did.

The focus on diversity isn’t just about ticking a box or pleasing the PC police, as some may paint this kind of initiative. Of course the long-term effects on a child’s worldview and capabilities will be impacted, but on the industry side, it makes a lot of sense financially.

A recent study released by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) found that across every budget level a film with a diverse cast outperforms a release not so diversified. Since agencies are often a powerful gate-keeping force in terms of representing talent and their relationships with networks, studios and production companies, CAA’s focus on being a change-maker is important to note.

They released the findings of their study in a conference held in Long Beach called ‘Amplify’, and shared with industry insiders how the average opening weekend for a film that attracts a diverse audience, often the result of having a diverse cast, is nearly three times on average a film with non-diverse audiences. All you have to do is look at the box office returns for ‘Hidden Figures’, $230.1 million worldwide (which also beat ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ in its opening weekend), and ‘Get Out’, $251.2 million worldwide, to see proof of this trend.

“One of the interesting things that the most successful movies share is that they’re broadly appealing to diverse audiences. People want to see a world that looks like theirs,” said Christy Haubegger, leader of CAA’s multicultural development group, who oversaw the study along with agency executive Talitha Watkins.

The talent agency decided to embark on this study after learning non-white moviegoers made up 49% of tickets sold in 2016, and 45% in 2015.

There are two bottom lines here: gender diversity is beneficial to the way a person grows up learning about the world and what they are capable of, and it is good for business. We hope to see the Common Sense Media rating system attracting more and more advertisers and becoming a standard that entertainment creators start to take notice of when making hiring and casting decisions.


One Comment

  1. Pingback: How 'Girls Trip' Proved A Black, Female-Driven Comedy Can Appeal To A Mass Audience - GirlTalkHQ

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