(Bloomberg) -- The University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which focuses on equal rights and minority representation in the entertainment industry, is expanding its areas of focus to include reproductive rights, marriage equality, voting issues and gun violence.
The group will study how film, television and other media portray those topics and report back to students and industry leaders. The report will come with suggested solutions, according to a statement from the initiative released Wednesday.
The effort comes after the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion access in June. Stacy L. Smith, the institute’s founder, said ongoing efforts at the state level to restrict or ban abortions make it “not only necessary to find legal solutions to protect marginalized communities, but it is essential to educate and inform audiences about these topics.’’ She added that: “Entertainment has a unique ability to reach viewers and provide that education.”
The institute listed actors Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria among the supporters of the effort, as well as Spotify Technology SA’s Chief Content and Advertising Business Officer Dawn Ostroff and Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro.
Filmmakers have depicted abortion onscreen since at least 1916. According to a database of films and television shows maintained by the University of California at San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards of Reproductive Health research program, such depictions have increased in recent years, including at least 33 related storylines in film and television in 2021. That’s almost three times as many as there were a decade ago.
Even so, Hollywood tends to portray a certain kind of abortion story, overrepresenting the number of teenagers receiving them, as well as the percentage of people who suffer adverse outcomes. According to the UCSF database, 81 of 549 film and television storylines that detailed abortion resulted in an adverse physical outcome for the character, and 55 resulted in death. A 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, however, found that most legal abortions are safe and effective and serious complications are rare.
“The entertainment community plays a critical role in educating people about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including abortion,” said Caren Spruch, the national director of arts and entertainment engagement at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a healthcare provider and advocacy organization.The Annenberg group’s work “will provide an invaluable tool to ensure audiences are reached with medically and legislatively accurate storytelling about these issues,” she said.
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