Diverse Film Casts Keep Hollywood Execs Making Money at Box Office, Says Report

"Less-diverse product underperforms in the marketplace, and yet it still dominates," said Ana-Christina Ramón, co-author of the Hollywood Diversity report.

A scene from the blockbuster film "Hidden Figures."

Ahead of the 89th Academy Awards show on Sunday, UCLA has released its annual Hollywood Diversity report, which highlights that diversity means higher financial returns on productions.


The report, generated through the university's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, examined the 200 top-grossing theatrical film releases in 2015, as well as 1,206 television, cable and digital platform shows from the 2014–15 season.

Film and television content that is more diverse tends to be more successful — both among white and minority audiences.

The report found:

  • Films with relatively diverse casts enjoyed the highest median global box office receipts and the highest median return on investment.
  • Median 18-49 viewers' ratings (as well as median household ratings among whites, Blacks, Latinos and Asians) peaked during the 2014-15 season for broadcast scripted shows featuring casts that were greater than 40 percent minority.
  • Relatively diverse films excelled at the box office between 2011 and 2015, regardless of genre.

People of color bought 45 percent of all movie tickets sold in the United States in 2015, according to the report. Latinos accounted for 23 percent of ticket purchases alone.

Darnell Hunt, the report's lead author and director of the Bunche Center, said in a statement that stories that reflect our more diverse world would be critical for Hollywood's long-term success.

"When a business is overlooking the desires of its customer base, it is serving them poorly and leaving money on the table," Hunt said.

Representation in Film and TV

Minorities lost ground in fields such as writing and film directing, comprising only 10.1 percent of Hollywood directors, but were better represented in lead film roles — yet still only account for 13.6 percent of lead actors.

"Despite making up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, women got just 29 percent of lead acting roles in theatrical films, and only 7.7 percent of the directors of the top 200 films were women," according to the report.

Minorities had increased representation in TV roles, and as scripted show creators.

"While there have been some improvements, especially in television, the numbers remain disheartening across the board," Hunt said.

In this latest study, women were even more underrepresented than they were in the 2016 report among lead performers in broadcast reality and other programs, as well as among lead performers in cable reality shows.

"In terms of representation and opportunity, we still have a long way to go," Hunt said. "White men are still dominant, and women and people of color struggle to get the opportunities to succeed."

Ana-Christina Ramón, the report's co-author and assistant director of the Bunche Center, said in a statement, "Less-diverse product underperforms in the marketplace, and yet it still dominates. This makes no financial sense."

2017 Oscar Nominations

Mahershala Ali

The Hollywood Diversity report reveals that despite the 2017 Academy Award nominations, the exclusion of people of color and women from Hollywood remains a concern.

In January, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Black actors were nominated for 2017 Oscars in the four major categories — for the first time in the academy's history.

Denzel Washington ("Fences," Actor), Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight," Supporting Actor), Ruth Negga ("Loving," Actress), Viola Davis ("Fences," Supporting Actress), Naomie Harris ("Moonlight," Supporting Actress) and Octavia Spencer ("Hidden Figures," Actress) were all recognized.

In 2015 and 2016 Academy voters nominated all white actors, which resulted in the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

Also this year, Joi McMillon became the first Black woman ever nominated for the editing Oscar for her work on "Moonlight." And Ava DuVernay was the first Black female director to be Oscar-nominated for a documentary. Her film, "13th," explores how mass incarceration in the United States reflects the injustice of slavery.

However, in an interview with Reuters, DuVernay expressed being the first Black woman nominated in that category is not something she's especially happy about.

"It's bittersweet because I know I'm not the first Black woman deserving of these things," she said. "I hope that it is also really clear that we are way behind on where we should be and that we have a lot of catching up to do, and that women and people of color don't intend for it to be another 100 years for the second and the third."

#OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign said the hashtag was not only about Black actors but all communities marginalized in Hollywood, including women, Latinos and Asians.

The only non-Black acting nominee of color this year was British-Indian actor Dev Patel for his supporting performance in "Lion." The last Latino best actor nominee was Demian Bichir in 2012. The last Latina to be nominated for the lead actress award was Colombian actress Catalina Sandino Moreno in 2005 for "Maria Full of Grace."

Last year, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said a series of adjustments would be initiated to make the Academy's membership, its leaders and its voting members more diverse by 2020.

"A 'diversity' initiative should have solid business reasons behind it, clear goals with starting and ending points and the metrics and transparency necessary to understand the process," DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti said in a column regarding the Academy's diversity plan.

Some Academy voters, such as director Stephen Verona, are not on board with a diversity initiative. Verona wrote in a January 2016 opinion piece for The Hollywood Reporter: "Try telling the NBA to hire more white, Latino, Chinese or Eskimo basketball players and see the backlash."

Verona's sentiments reflects what Hunt, the diversity report's lead author, stated:

"Hollywood is simply not structured to make the most of today's market realities."

Read more news @ DiversityInc.com

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