Intersectionality and Overseas Content Drove Diverse Film and TV in 2021 and 2022 (Study)
The rising popularity of overseas content is partially behind an expansion of diverse representation on film and television, according to the new Entertainment Diversity Progress Report released today by Luminate from the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas. (Luminate, the new name for the collection of data brands formerly known as Nielsen/MRC Data and Variety Business Intelligence, is owned by Penske Media Eldridge, the joint venture between Eldridge Industries and Penske Media Corporation that also owns The News84Media.)
For feature and episodic content released in 2021 and 2022, Luminate (which published its last report in December 2021) analyzed the self-identification of race/ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, and disability classification of main cast members, film directors and episodic series creators, counting both total number of projects that included people of historically excluded backgrounds as well as the number of roles.
The company found that streamers are largely responsible for the proliferation of overseas content in the United States – in particular, Netflix originals represented 17% to 28% of all series regular roles for Latin/Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern/North African talent. But the study authors also cautioned against conflating the success of artists from other countries with conditions for those in the US from systemically marginalized identities. “This does not fix the problem of lack of diverse domestic casting and potentially risks segregation of talent from various racial/ethnic backgrounds to non-English-language content,” the report states.
Elsewhere, the study noted that some of the highlights of diverse content from the past two years were intersectional, such as the centering of Black women in both The Woman King and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and queer characters of color in Fire Island.
Overall, in comparing inclusion from 2021 to 2022, the researchers found that gender representation remained flat (female characters increased from 41% to 42.7% in film and decreased from 46.3% to 45.7% on TV), while LGBTQ+ representation remained low (in 2022 , queer characters represented 3.9% of all main title roles and 17% of films had an LGBTQ+ main title character, but just 4.5% of films had a storyline centered on such a character, down from 6.1% the year before). Just 0.5% of movie roles and 0.8% of series regular parts were played by nonbinary actors in 2022.
Two areas in which female representation is particularly strong are horror (Scream VI, American Horror Stories) and Shondaland. Bridgerton itself had 15 female series regulars in its second season, a third of whom are women of color, including one who identifies as lesbian.
In terms of race, the researchers found that studio commitments to produce Black-led projects in the wake of George Floyd’s 2020 killing led to Black characters playing 17.5% of main title film roles in 2022 – yet the overall number of movies centering narratives about those characters decreased to 5.3%, meaning just 35 movies telling Black stories were released in 2022. “While on the one hand it is a good sign that there are more opportunities for Black talent in film and increasingly in films that aren’t being typecast specifically around Black narratives,” the authors wrote, “it is disheartening to see fewer films depicting Black narratives.” In television, the share of Black movie directors and series directors saw a slight uptick from 2021 to 2022, but the percentage of Black series regulars and series with Black talent and centering Black stories decreased.
Change in Latin/Hispanic representation has been inversely proportional to their change in the real-world population, with drops in inclusion in front of and behind the camera both in film and television. Just six movies in 2022 (0.9%) centered Latino stories, and more than 31.6% of Hispanic series regular roles were in Spanish-language content (Netflix’s Money Heist, Control Z). “The plethora of Spanish-language content only draws into sharper focus the lack of opportunities for Latin/Hispanic talent in English-language content,” wrote the authors, “and illustrates Hollywood’s inability to find roles for them in a way that isn’t tokenized or relegated to only being viewed by a primarily Latin/Hispanic audience.”
Similarly, the uptick in Asian representation was heavily propped up by Netflix’s Korean dramas. In particular, the runaway success of Squid Game in 2021 led to a record boom of eight Asian series released by streamers the following year, leading to 17% of all Asian series regular roles coming from non-English language series. Just 1.8% of 2022’s movies centered on Asian stories, but one – Everything Everywhere All at Once – swept awards season and won seven Oscars.
Indigenous and MENA representation continues to hover just above zero percent. In film, just three Indigenous directors worked in 2021 and four in 2022, and just three movies centered an Indigenous story that wasn’t exploitative or tokenized, according to the researchers. “That leaves Indigenous movie fans with an embarrassingly low number of opportunities to see themselves on screen,” the authors wrote. Although 58 series (11.9%) in 2022 had at least one Indigenous series regular, there were just 10 Indigenous series creators and only three series centered an Indigenous narrative (FX’s Reservation DogsNBC’s Young Rock and Peacock’s cancelled Rutherford Falls). Meanwhile, just one movie in the two-year sample featured a MENA storyline.
Finally, the study notes that out of all the systemically marginalized groups examined, visibility for people with disabilities was by far the worst, partly because not all disabilities are visible, and researchers had to rely on self-disclosure. Ryan O’Connell was the only series creator with a disability across the two-year sample, and between his roles on Special and Queer as Folk, he represented more than 10% of series regular actors with disabilities during that time. In film, only a total of eight actors with disabilities were part of a main title cast in 2021 and 2022. “It’s hard to make a comment about progress one way or the other with a number that small, but it did decrease from five roles in 2021 to three in 2022,” they wrote. “This meant that only 0.5% of films in the past two years had a main title cast member with a disability.”
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