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“Gang Member” And “Thug” Roles In Film Are Disproportionately Played By Black Actors



In any given film, there are dozens of actors whose roles are unnamed in the credits — “nurse #1” or “man with balloons,” for instance. Their job is to go unnoticed, yet they are integral to the realism of cinema: In the background, they mill about naturally and seamlessly, transporting us into their world.

Last week, we took a look at the gender differences between the most common roles given to these background actors. We found a dramatic power dynamic at play: While “cop,” “guard,” and “doctor” topped the list for men, women were frequently relegated to such roles as “party girl” and “receptionist.”

But we noticed something else interesting: For men, “gang member” ranked in the top 10. We were curious: Who exactly is cast as a gang member in film?

To answer this question, we turned to Bruce Nash at the Numbers, who has spend years compiling a database of 160,000 acting credits from 26,000 major US movie releases. Using this data, we pulled a list of every actor who was credited as playing a “gang member,” “gangster,” “gangbanger,” or “thug,” then looked them up individually. We recorded each actor’s race (when noted on a CV or agency site) and omitted anyone nonverifiable.

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