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Cinema: “non-white” characters very much in the minority in the 7th art, according to a study

Characters perceived as “non-white” are more often confined to the roles of delinquents and are more likely to die on screen.

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French cinema does not represent society. Characters perceived as “non-white” are very much in the minority in French films, according to a study by the 50/50 collective unveiled on Monday 6 December. This is a rare initiative to quantify the phenomenon.

According to this survey, carried out by academics on a hundred French films, 81% had a main character “perceived as white”, 7.5% a main character “perceived as Arab”, 7.2% “perceived as black” and only 1.5% “perceived as Asian”. The films analyzed are the 115 feature films having the biggest budget or having met the greatest success in theaters in 2019. The imbalance is however slightly less marked than on television, underline the persons in charge of the study, baptized “Cinégalités “.

The difference is also marked by taking into account the gender. One in two main characters is “a man perceived as white”, compared to only 6% of main characters who ares “women perceived as non-white”.

The researchers looked at the roles assigned to non-white characters. They are three times more “likely” to interpret a criminal or an offender. As for the characters “perceived as Muslims”, they are six times more likely to play these roles. “The figures of marginality are first of all foreigners”, analyzes researcher Maxime Cervulle (Paris 8 University), who co-directed the study. Arab characters are twice as likely to die on screen: one in ten dies during the film, against one in twenty for all of the characters.

The study also makes it possible to pose figures on the way in which social classes are represented (one in two characters in films is an executive, while they only represent one in five French people), or the disabled (18% of the French population with disabilities, but only 2.9% of film characters).

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