A week after a GLAAD report warned that nearly a quarter of queer characters are set to disappear from television in the coming year, UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report has appears to show that the industry is making strides towards being more inclusive on the small screen, while representation on the big screen seems to be falling behind.
Separating out their findings between films made for streaming services and those made for theatrical release for the first time ever, representation for people of color in films that premiered on streaming services consistently outpaced those that appeared in box offices. Out of the top 100 streaming films in 2022, 64% had casts that had at least 30% actors of color, compared to 57% for theatrical films. Similarly, out of the top 200 highest grossing box office releases in North America, only 22% of lead actors, 17% of directors and 12% of writers were people of color, all which are below record-high numbers that were recorded by the study before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
As for women in theatrical releases, representation for female actors in lead roles dropped from 44% in 2019 to 39% in 2022, while the share of directors and overall cast members remained relatively consistent with 15% and 41% respectively in 2022 as opposed to 15% and 41% in 2019. By comparison, streaming films saw almost equal representation for women, who made up 49% of the lead roles. Streaming also outshined theatrical when it came to directors, with 25% being women and 23% POC, and writers, 36% of which were women and 20% POC.
“As the film industry continues to face unprecedented uncertainty, this report identifies a path forward,” co-author of the report Michael Tran, a PhD Candidate in the UCLA sociology department, said. “The pandemic has normalized diversity on screen, not just in theaters but at home. Audiences tuned in. If Hollywood reverses course on diversity in the theaters, they’ll lose audiences to streaming and to international offerings.”
The report also found that audiences have an appetite for more diverse stories and will show up to prove it. Both theatrical and streaming films that featured more than 30% minority casts consistently did better in both the box office and Nielsen ratings overall. Six out the ten top theatrical release last year had a majority minority audience while all of the top ten streaming films had an overrepresentation of audiences of color.
The report pointed to films like Disney's Encanto and Pixar's Turning Red as examples of diverse stories can still have mass appeal. “These films were culturally specific yet universally relatable,” said Ana-Christina Ramon, director of the Entertainment and Media Research Initiative at UCLA. “With more than half of the current population under the age of 18 belonging to communities of color, these young people will grow up and demand films with protagonists who look like them and who live like them.”
However, despite the data showing otherwise, UCLA found that a majority of Hollywood's big budget project are still disproportionately going to white men. The report found that 60% of projects that had budgets of $30 million or more were directed by white men, while 56% of films directed by white women and 76% of films from directors of color had budgets of less than $20 million.
There is perhaps no better illustration of this than A24's Everything Everywhere All At Once, which, despite having a budget under $30 million, swept award shows and took home the Oscar for Best Picture. Lead Michelle Yeoh also made history as the first Asian woman to win an Oscar for a leading role.
“People of color saved the theatrical industry during the pandemic, and they are key to bringing the theatrical business back to its pre-pandemic levels,” Ramón said.
Photo via Getty/Frederic J. Brown / AFP