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Racial and Gender Diversity in Theatrical Film Regresses to 2019 Levels (Study)



The regression from the so-called racial reckoning of 2020 can be seen in representation and inclusion in film as well, according to the latest UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report.

This year, in separating employment data between theatrical and straight-to-streaming features, “the gains in diversity for theatrical releases melted away,” researchers found, noting that gender and racial diversity in many key jobs fell to 2019 numbers. This installment of the report focuses on film, specifically the 200 highest-grossing English-language releases worldwide and the top 100 English-language original streaming movies as ranked by total US household rating.

On the big screen, people of color comprised 22% of lead actors, 17% of directors and 12% of writers, while women were 39% of leads and 15% of directors. The researchers found gender parity among lead characters in streaming movies. Slightly more streaming than theatrical movies (64% and 57%, respectively) had casts that were less than 70% white. These films also tended to do better in Nielsen ratings and the box office, and audiences of color represented the majority of viewers for six of the top 10 theatrical releases and overindexed among all top 10 streaming films.

“Diversity should not be considered a luxury but a necessity,” Hollywood Diversity Report co-founder and UCLA executive vice chancellor and provost Darnell Hunt said in a statement. “Audiences of color are the bedrock of Hollywood and key to the bottom line as research shows once again that audiences prefer diverse casts.”

The two most-streamed movies of 2022 were Turning Red and Encantoboth coming-of-age tales about young girls of color.

“These films were culturally specific yet universally relatable,” said Ana-Christina Ramón, director of UCLA’s Entertainment and Media Research Initiative, which produces the report. “With more than half of the current population under the age of 18 belonging to communities of color, these young people will grow up and demand films with protagonists who look like them and who live like them.”

White men directed 73% of theatrical films, of which 60% enjoyed a budget of $30 million or more. Just over half (56%) of white women-helmed theatrical releases had sub-$20 million budgets. Directors of color were the most lowballed in streaming (76% of films budgeted below $20 million). Among writers, although theatrical movies penned by women have risen by 10% since 2019, just one woman of color wrote a top 200 theatrical release last year.

For the first time, the UCLA report also examined the representation of disabled actors (using publicly disclosed information on reliable third-party databases), finding that they comprised no more than 10% of leads and 5% of all onscreen roles – far below the 25% proportion of adults who live with a disability in the United States.

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