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Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.

“My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences at UCLA. “And all areas still have a long way to go.”

The report, titled “Old Story, New Beginning,” is the sixth in six years from the center. The report points out that the nation consisted of nearly 40% minorities in 2017– the last year examined — and states the percentage will only increase in the coming years. The report is based on the top 200 theatrical film releases in 2017 and 1,316 broadcast, cable and digital platform television shows from the 2016-17 season.

“The gains in television during the past six years are due to the explosion in original programming,” noted Hunt. “There were six Netflix titles in 2011-12 and there are 93 in 2016-17. And millennials are the ones consuming digital shows. It’s their preferred platform, so diversity is a must.”

Minorities saw gains in broadcast scripted leads, cable scripted leads, digital scripted leads, broadcast reality and other leads, cable reality and other leads, broadcast scripted show creators, and cable scripted show creators. Minorities lost ground in only one of the 12 arenas (digital reality and other leads) and held their ground in the other three (film directors, film writers, and digital scripted show creators).

“Despite notable gains for the group since the previous report (particularly in television), people of color remained underrepresented on every industry employment front in 2016-17,” the report said.

Relative to their male counterparts, women posted gains in seven of the 12 key Hollywood employment arenas since the previous report — among film leads, film directors, broadcast scripted leads, broadcast reality and other leads, cable reality and other leads, cable scripted show creators, and digital scripted show creators.

But women remained underrepresented on every front in 2016-17, including 32.9% in film leads, 12.6% among film directors and film writers, 39.7% in broadcast scripted leads and 43.1% among cable scripted leads. Hunt said progress in film remains elusive.

“Despite films like ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Black Panther,’ you still have the same people in the executive suites,” he noted. “To the extent that you’re not catering to diversity, you’re probably depressing your business.”

Hunt also pointed out that new evidence supports findings from earlier reports that America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content.

“Films with casts that were from 31% to 40% minority enjoyed the highest median global box office receipts, while those with majority-minority casts posted the highest median return on investment,” the report said. “By contrast, films with the most racially and ethnically homogenous casts were the poorest performers. Minorities accounted for the majority of ticket sales for five of the top 10 films in 2017, as well as half of the ticket sales for a sixth.”

“Unfortunately, the industry has been much slower to accept the related truth that its success in providing today’s (and tomorrow’s) audiences with what they crave also hinges on the presence of diverse talent behind the camera — in the director’s chair, in the writers’ room, and in executive suites,” the report said. “The resulting missed opportunities, this report series has documented, are not good for Hollywood’s bottom line.”

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