By George E. Curry
The first detailed study of the relationship between diversity and the bottom line in the Hollywood entertainment industry has found that although diversity pays – literally –people of color and women are still woefully underrepresented throughout film and television.
The study titled, “2014 Hollywood Diversity Report: Making Sense of the Disconnect,” was conducted by the Ralph J. Bunch Center for African-American Studies at UCLA. It looked at 172 theatrical films released in 2011 and 1,061 television shows that aired during the 2011-12 season. It looked at race and gender and key production roles, including cast diversity, the show’s creator, the writer, the director, awards and domestic and international box office.
Frequent moviegoers represent just 10 percent of the population, but purchase half of all movie tickets, the report stated.
“It is important to note here that minorities are overrepresented among the ranks of frequent moviegoers, those who contribute most to overall box office.” it said. “In 2011, minorities accounted for 44.1 percent of frequent moviegoers, a figure that exceeded their 36.3 percent share of the overall U.S. population.”
But you wouldn’t know it by the roles people of color play in the industry.
“Historically, there has been a death of gender, racial, and ethnic diversity in film and television – both in front of and behind the camera,” the report stated. “This reality has meant limited access to employment for women and minorities and to a truncating of the domain of media images available for circulation in contemporary society…Media images contribute greatly to how we think about ourselves in relation to others.
“When marginalized groups in society are absent from stories a nation tells about itself, or when media images are rooted primarily in stereotype, inequity is normalized and is more likely to be reinforced over time through our prejudices and practices.”
The report found that although people of color represent 36.3 percent of the population, in film:
- Of the 172 films examined for 2011, only 10.5 percent of the lead roles were played by people of color and most of them were in such Black-targeted movies as “Jumping the Broom” and Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Big Happy Family.” Women, who make up 51.2 percent of the population, were cast as leads in only 25.6 percent of the movies.
- Over half of the films (51.2 percent) featured casts in which minorities were 10 percent or less.
- People of color directed 12.2 percent of the films studies, most directed at a targeted audience. Women directed 4.1 percent of the films.
- Minorities wrote 7.6 percent of the films, mostly ethnic-niche films; women wrote 14.1 percent.
- People of color were in only 5.1 percent of the lead roles
- Women accounted for 51.5 percent of the lead roles in comedies and dramas, matching their share of the population.
- People of color accounted for 15.4 percent of the broadcast reality shows.
- Of show creators, only one was a person of color – who created “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and “Scandal,” all on ABC.
The report proves that diversity pays.
“…The 25 films that were from 21 percent to 30 percent minority posted a median global box office of $160.1 million –a figure considerably higher than the medians for all other diversity levels,” the report found. “By contrast, the 88 films that fell into the 10 percent minority or less interval did not fare as well in terms of global box office, posting a median figure of $68.5 million.”
The report added, “If we consider return on investment, which factors a film’s budget into the analysis, we see a similar pattern.” In fact, the return on more diverse films was “significantly greater,” the report found.
Yet, Hollywood continues to travel down the same old tired road.
“The 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report has documented an apparent disconnect between the industry’s professed focus on the bottom line and actual staffing practices in film, broadcast television, and cable,” the report stated. “That is, while films and television shows with casts that reflect the nation’s racial and ethnic diversity were more likely to post high box office figures or ratings during the study period, minorities and women were nonetheless woefully underrepresented among the corps of directors, show creators, writers, and lead actors that animates industry productions.”
The report concluded, “This disconnect does not bode well for the future of the Hollywood industry. Women already constitute slightly more than half of the U.S. population, and more than a third of the population is currently minority and the population continues to diversity at a dizzying rate.
“The bottom line for the Hollywood industry – theatrical film, broadcast television, and cable –would be advanced by implementing forward-looking project development and staffing practices that are in sync with these changes.”
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.