Women, People of Color Make Gains Onscreen But Not Off (Study)

Hollywood Sign on November 16, 2005 in Los Angeles, California - Getty-H 2020
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UCLA's latest Hollywood Diversity Report also finds that audiences of color are increasingly responsible for the majority of ticket sales for popular films (eight of 2019's top 10 movies).

Women and people of color made major strides onscreen in the past two years, according to the latest Hollywood Diversity Report, but gains in behind-the-camera talent and in the executive suite have been minimal. 

The seventh annual report was authored by Dr. Darnell Hunt and Dr. Ana-Christina Ramón out of the UCLA division of social sciences and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. The researchers have closed the one-year lag in their past reports, yielding twice as much data that now not only includes the past year but also necessitates splitting into two reports, film and television. This study covers the top 200 theatrical film releases in 2018 and 2019, ranked by global box office, while the TV report will be released later this year.

While people of color made gains in onscreen representation, making up 32.7 percent of the total actors in 2019's top-grossing films, they remained highly underrepresented in other top industry positions, including directors (14.4 percent) and writers (13.9 percent).

According to the study, women in film in 2019 made up 40.2 percent of total actors, 15.1 percent of directors and 17.4 percent of writers.

Also mentioned in the study was executive talent. As of the beginning of this year, studio heads were 91 percent white and 82 percent male, whereas senior execs were 93 percent white and 80 percent male, according to the study. What the report describes as "unit heads" — which include execs for casting, marketing and legal, among other functions — were a little more diverse in terms of gender (only 59 percent male), but remained overwhelmingly white (86 percent). By comparison, in 2015, studio heads were 94 percent white and 100 percent male, while senior management teams were 92 percent white and 83 percent male and unit heads 96 percent white and 61 percent male.

The study also looked at audience demographic information, noting that in 2018, people of color constituted 40 percent of the U.S. population and will become the majority of the U.S. population in the next several decades. People of color accounted for the majority of domestic ticket sales for eight of the top 10 highest-grossing films worldwide in 2019, up from six in 2018 and five in 2017.

Moreover, the study also took into consideration the role that cast diversity has on box office grosses. According to the report, in 2018, films with casts that were from 21 percent to 30 percent non-white enjoyed the highest median global box office receipts, while films with casts that were from 41 percent to 50 percent a race other than white enjoyed this distinction in 2019. By contrast, films with the least diverse casts in both years were the poorest performers. 

The full Hollywood Diversity Report can be found here.