Hollywood reaps the rewards of becoming more diverse

Of note:

HATTIE MCDANIEL was the first black person to win an Oscar, in 1940. She received her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of “Mammy”, a house slave in “Gone With the Wind”. Although critics allege that the film romanticised slavery in the antebellum South, McDaniel thought that her Oscar represented a watershed moment for America. “My own people were especially happy. They felt that in honouring me, Hollywood had honoured the entire race,” she wrote in the Hollywood Reporter in 1947.

Racial minorities have made significant gains in Hollywood in the 80 years since. Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramón of the University of California, Los Angeles, have tracked the diversity of film roles for the top 200 films (ranked by box-office revenues and viewers’ ratings) released in cinemas and on streaming platforms since 2011. They found that 2020 was the most diverse year yet. Actors from racial minorities were cast in 40% of leading roles last year, compared with an average of 27% for 2018-19. Women’s representation in leading roles increased towards parity, too (see centre chart).

Although racial minorities as a whole and women nearly match their shares of the American population in acting roles, they remain under-represented behind the camera. They made up about one-fifth to one-quarter of the directors and writers of the top 200 films last year. And in front of the camera some races are more present than others: Latinos, who make up 19% of America’s population, were cast in 5.7% of all acting roles last year (see right-hand chart).

The report also found that films with the most diverse casts tended to do better at the box office. Among the ten most successful films released in cinemas in 2020, eight had casts of which at least 30% were non-white. By a similar measure, the dozen poorest-performing films last year also had the least diverse casts. Although the covid-19 pandemic disrupted theatrical releases last year a similar pattern emerges among movies released through streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+. Six of the top ten rated films released online had casts that were at least 40% non-white.

Although audiences appear to be favouring a handful of blockbusters with more diversity, the most diverse films tend to have smaller budgets, on average. Nearly three-quarters of films with a minority leading actor had a budget of less than $20m, compared with 58% of films with white leading actors. A similar disparity exists between female- and male-led films. This may be because these films are also more likely to be directed by minorities or women, who are given smaller budgets and, in turn, cast actors who are female or from minority races.

The study also finds that films with the best chance of winning an Oscar in recent years have had the least diverse cast of actors. Since 2016 the social-media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite has brought attention to the lack of diversity among Academy Award nominees. Efforts have since been made to grapple with the problem. At the Academy Awards in April, half of the nominees for leading roles were racial minorities. Daniel Kaluuya, a British actor born to Ugandan parents, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Judas and the Black Messiah”—the first film with an all-black production team to be nominated for Best Picture. Youn Yuh-jung, of South Korea, won Best Supporting Actress, and Chloé Zhao, a film-maker born in China, won Best Director. More change is under way. From 2024 the Academy Awards will screen out films that do not meet strict diversity thresholds. What McDaniel started may at last be bearing fruit.

Source: https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2021/07/30/hollywood-reaps-the-rewards-of-becoming-more-diverse?utm_campaign=data-newsletter&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_source=salesforce-marketing-cloud&utm_term=2021-08-03&utm_content=data-nl-article-link-4&etear=data_nl_4

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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