Big and medium-sized Hollywood movies lacking a diversity of voices in front and behind the camera risk box office blues, according to UCLA’s latest Hollywood report on racial and cultural inclusivity.
Authentic diversity in storytelling goes well beyond ticking boxes to significantly bolstering a studio’s prospects for box office success, researchers with the UCLA-based Center for Scholars and Storytellers concluded in a study unveiled on Tuesday.
They forecast Hollywood tentpoles risk a significant loss in opening weekend box office revenues when there is little racial, cultural or other diversity among cast and crew. A $159 million movie, they predict, will lose $32.2 million in the first weekend, or around 20 percent of its budget, with a potential overall loss of $130 million, or 82 percent, in overall box office.
And a mid-sized $78 million movie, the UCLA researchers estimate, will lose $13.8 million during its opening weekend, with a potential loss of $55.2 million, or 71 percent of its budget, at risk over the course of a box office run.
Their analysis is based on 109 Hollywood films released between 2016 to 2019. “We asked, what is the cost of lacking diversity? Hollywood is a business, and no business wants to leave money on the table,” Yalda Uhls, a UCLA adjunct assistant professor of psychology and founder and executive director of the center, said in a statement.
For their study, the UCLA researchers created an “authentically inclusive representation” rating to identify films with diverse voices, people and cultures, both in front of and behind the camera, and those films that lacked diversity.
The risk in not including diverse voices across a film’s production team — from set decorator or costume designer to director or actor — is tentpole stories and characters will emerge as stereotypical and not ring true with movie-going audiences.
“While increasing numerical representation behind and in front of the camera is critical, truly empowering people from diverse backgrounds is the key. For example, make sure the writers’ room is open to dissenting opinions, that a wide net is cast for hiring, and that younger, less-tenured voices are encouraged,” Uhls, the lead researcher in the UCLA study, recommended.
UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity has similarly shown movies with racially diverse casts perform better at the box office, while adding minorities and women still have far to go to achieve parity with their white and male counterparts, particularly in writing and directing jobs.
“The U.S. has a long way to go to make sure that our stories and the stories we tell about our own history truly reflect all of its people. We hope that our findings act as a call to action for the industry,” Uhls said.