Film industry receives low marks in diversity report

Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — Despite “Everything Everywhere All at Once” earning seven Academy Awards — including an acting Oscar for its lead, Michelle Yeoh — women and people of color continue to be underrepresented in most job categories in the film industry, according to the latest UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report.

“Our research shows that diversity in the movies is just good business,” said Ana-Christina Ramón, director of UCLA’s Entertainment and Media Research Initiative, which produces the report. “People of color saved the theatrical industry during the pandemic and they are key to bringing the theatrical business back to its pre-pandemic levels.”

Representation of women and people of color in the film industry regressed in 2022 following three years of gains, with racial, ethnic and gender diversity among actors, directors and writers slipping back to 2019 levels.

According to the report, which examined English-language films among the top 200 theatrical releases and the top 100 English-language streaming films, found that people of color represented only 22% of lead actors in theatrical releases, just 17% of directors and 12% of writers. Women made up 39% of lead actors and 15% of directors.

Women did make some gains, representing 27% of movie writing positions, up from 17% in 2019, and 41% of overall acting roles, up from 40% in 2019, according to the report.

Streaming films tended to be more representative of the population overall, with people of color representing 23% of directing jobs, compared to just 17% in theatrical releases. But the report noted that streaming films tend to have smaller budgets, with 75% of the films directed by people of color having budgets of less than $20 million.

To Ramón, the new data offered a glimpse into audiences’ future viewing habits. The two films that were streamed the most in 2022 — “Turning Red” and “Encanto” (which was released the prior year) — were both animated movies that told coming-of-age stories about young girls of color.

“These films were culturally specific yet universally relatable,” she said. “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.”

She added, “Diversity is the key to competing globally and staying relevant domestically. Now is the time to push forward and renew a commitment to invest in the communities of color that have long invested in Hollywood.”

At 73%, white men continued to dominate the director’s chair for Hollywood’s biggest-budget films, according to the report. Researchers found that 60% of the films directed by white men had budgets of $30 million or more, while 56% of theatrical films directed by white women had budgets of less than $20 million.

“The pandemic has normalized diversity on screen, not just in theaters but at home,” report co-author Michael Tran, a UCLA doctoral candidate, said. “Audiences tuned in. If Hollywood reverses course on diversity in the theaters, they’ll lose audiences to streaming and to international offerings.”

According to the report, six of the top 10 theatrical films in 2022 had audiences that were at least 50% minority moviegoers.

“Hollywood has to look itself in the mirror and identify the concrete practices that actually work to move the needle on the industry’s diversity problem,” Darnell Hunt, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost, and co-founder of the report, said in a statement. “Diversity should not be considered a luxury but a necessity. 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 report found that theatrical films released last year with casts that were between 31% and 40% minority had the highest median global box office receipts, while films with casts that were less than 11% minority “were the poorest performers.”

For the first time, the report examined the disability status of the actors. Even though roughly a quarter of adults in the U.S. have disabilities, actors with disabilities made up no more than 10% of lead acting roles and no more than 5% of all on-screen roles in theatrical and streaming films.

The researchers identified disability status using actors’ public statements — information that only recently became available on reliable third-party sources. The authors hope to expand research on this subject in future reports.


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