Mariah Inger couldn’t believe she was in this position.
It was 2005. She was on a movie set, coaching another actress who was painfully struggling to get through a scene.
Inger herself had auditioned for the actress’s role but was given a bit part as a secretary.
Inger wondered why the casting director didn’t just hire her for the bigger role in the first place — until it dawned on her: the actress had blue eyes and blond hair. Ingers, whose parents are from Norway and Barbados, simply did not fit the Hollywood mould.
Thirteen years later, Ingers says, little has changed.
People of colour are underrepresented in Hollywood films, according to a new McGill University study. The study, called Racial Lines, found not only are they less visible on screen, they also speak much less frequently.
The study, produced by students at McGill’s cultural analysis lab, .txtLab, analyzed 780 films from 1970 to 2018.
It found white actors are three times more likely to appear as characters in movies than their population size in the U.S. would predict.
The findings are even more stark when it comes to speaking parts: White actors are just over three and a half times more likely to speak than their population size would predict, leading to the underrepresentation of all other groups.
The study also found that two leading roles are 111 times more likely to go to white actors than to visible minority actors.
For Ingers, as well as other Canadian actors of colour, the findings come as no surprise.
“As a woman of African descent, I don’t see a lot of women — a lot of black women — in leading roles,” says Sedina Fiati, who co-chairs ACTRA’s national diversity committee.