Are Hollywood films falling behind in terms of diversity? What the latest numbers say

Despite efforts by Hollywood film studios to diversify talent following the murder of George Floyd three years ago, people of color remain underrepresented in films according to the latest figures.

In fact, diversity statistics have fallen behind in some aspects over the past year 2019 levels.

According to the latest UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, released Thursday, whites made up 78% of the leads in the top movies hitting theaters in 2022, up from 72.4% in 2019.

The variety of screenwriters also stagnated. Among top theatrical releases, the proportion of films with a black author fell to 12.4% last year, compared to 13.9% in 2019.

As studios grappled with the pandemic, fewer films were released in theaters as many people sheltered at home sought streaming services to entertain themselves. According to the experts behind the study, the reduced number of films limited opportunities for people of color to direct those films.

The cultural reckoning sparked by Floyd’s murder inspired the studios to announce increased efforts to raise the profile and expand the pipeline of underrepresented groups working in film and television.

However, as studios and streamers look to cut spending to make their businesses more profitable, cancellations and layoffs have hit various programs and content. This trend has raised concerns that some of the achievements of people of color will be lost.

The studios “are going to take the safe route and cite, not cite ‘surefire’ hits, and that’s just code for less diversity, more nostalgia, more white-led films and content,” said Ana-Christina Ramón, director of Entertainment and Media Research Initiative at UCLA and one of the report’s authors.

The report examined 89 of the top English language films based on box office data and 100 of the top English language films primarily for streaming based on Nielsen Household Ratings in 2022.

The slowness of change stems from a lack of diversity at the forefront of studios, the researchers said. The people making executive decisions continue to be mostly white men, said the report’s co-author Darnell Hunt, acting vice chancellor and provost of UCLA.

“There’s this kind of inertia in the industry that comes with what people are comfortable with, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve argued for years that if we really want to make a difference in terms of diversity, we need to diversify.” Executive suites… and we haven’t made much progress there at all,” Hunt said.

Nevertheless, there were some points for improvement. The proportion of white directors directing feature films fell by about two percentage points from 2019 to 83% in 2022.

Movies made for streaming services — like Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video — tended to perform better when it came to diversity. The proportion of female leading actresses in streaming was almost the same as the population at 48.5%. However, the proportion of female leading actresses in cinema films has declined. In 2022, women accounted for 38.6% of leading actors in motion pictures, up from 44.1% in 2019.

Streaming services also had higher numbers of directors of color, with whites accounting for 77%, compared to 83% in cinemas, according to the report. But those films directed by people of color tended to have smaller budgets, the report said.

The numbers were even worse for female directors, with just 14.6% representation in theatrical films and 25% in streaming films.

“Though the film industry has had to evolve rapidly in recent years, at its core it remains the same exclusive club for white male directors,” reads the UCLA report. “In the end, women and people of color have to be exceptional to survive in the industry, while white men have far more opportunities to thrive.”

While non-white actors accounted for a growing percentage of all roles (both leading and supporting) in motion pictures last year at 36.1%, the percentage of Latinx and Native Americans remained below their percentage of the US population. Less than 6% of actors in theatrical films last year were Latinx, while 0.4% were native, the report said.

In streaming films, nonwhite actors represented 42.5% of all roles, with 6.6% of the roles going to Latinx actors. According to the Latinos make up about 19% of the US population U.S. Census Bureau.

There is also much work to be done to raise the profile of stakeholders with disabilities. Nationwide, about 26% of the population has a disability. But actors with a disability made up 5% of theatrical roles and 4% of streaming films, the report said.

This is happening even though researchers and advocates have long argued that diverse casts and perspectives on filmmaking are good for business. For example, The Woman King and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever were box office hits last year.

Some of the top-grossing films of the past year were seen by large audiences, and those box-goers gravitated even more to films that had at least 31% black cast members, according to the UCLA report.

People of Color accounted for the majority of opening weekend ticket sales for six of the top 10 motion pictures last year.

But the report’s authors warn that if that audience doesn’t see films that appeal to them in theaters, they may be watching other, more relevant entertainment at home at a time when studios are trying to make a comeback at the box office to make pandemic.

“We see the same kind of assumptions when diversity isn’t viewed as an overriding business priority,” said Michael Tran, one of the report’s authors. “Diversity is seen as some kind of luxury or something extraordinary. Unfortunately, with the cuts in streaming, we are seeing similar cuts in diversity.”

The report was funded by UCLA, Netflix, Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., The Walt Disney Co., and Hulu.

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