In a study whose findings are somewhat intuitive but nonetheless significant for the representation of African Americans in Hollywood, researchers have found that movies with black directors are far more likely to have black characters who actually speak.
The study, "Black Characters in Popular Film: Is the Key to Diversifying Cinematic Content Held in the Hand of the Black Director?" was written by USC Annenberg's Stacy L. Smith and project administrator Marc Choueiti and includes data from their ongoing, multiyear Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative.
It examined the top 100 grossing films from 2007 to 2008, six of which were headed by five African-American directors. The remaining 94 films were directed by non-African-American directors.
In those 94 films, less than 11 percent of characters were black with speaking roles. In the Hollywood movies headed by African-American directors however, nearly 63 percent of the characters were black with speaking roles.
"It could be that a person in a position of power is advocating on behalf of their group," Smith says. "But the flip side to this is that the people responsible for green-lighting the picture may be associating black directors and female directors with 'black' story lines or 'female' story lines."
The conclusions bring to mind one point made in Anthony Mackie's controversial commentary about the lack of black representation at this year's Oscars ("If we don't tell those stories, we can't expect someone else to tell them for us") and something we at The Root have been saying for some time: "[T]he race of directors may really matter," Smith said. "And one key to diversifying content would be to diversify who is at the helm."
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