After two years of #OscarsSoWhite, African-Americans made a strong return to the Academy Awards' acting categories. Nominees include Viola Davis and Denzel Washington for Fences.
But headlines proclaiming that diversity has triumphed might not reflect the big picture. Two reports on film and TV hiring practices, UCLA's “Hollywood Diversity Report” and San Diego State University's “It's a Man's (Celluloid) World,” were released this week, and both conclude that the industry has a long way to go when it comes to inclusion.
The UCLA analysis, led by sociologist Darnell Hunt, looked at 168 theatrical films and 1,206 television shows from 2015. Its findings include the following:
- Minority lead roles in films declined from 16.7 percent in 2013 to 13.6 percent in 2015.
- Women lead film roles went from 25.8 percent in 2014 to 29 percent in 2015. But that percentage had peaked at 30.8 in 2012.
- Minorities were directors in only about one in 10 of the films examined. That's down from 12.9 percent for the previous year analyzed.
- Women directed only 7.7 percent of the films, up 3 percent compared with 2014.
- Minorities wrote 5.3 percent of the films, a figure that's down from 8 percent the previous year.
- Minorities got more than one in 10 lead roles in broadcast scripted TV; that's an increase compared with 8.1 percent for the previous season.
- Women were the directors of zero Best Picture contenders for the 2015 Oscars.
The UCLA report notes that women represent more than half the U.S. population and that minorities now compose about 40 percent of the nation. People of color, particularly Latinos, are overrepresented among moviegoers. “Minorities accounted for the majority of ticket sales for five of the top 10 films in 2015,” according to the report.
The analysis has argued year after year that films with diverse casts tend to perform better at the box office. “Median box office peaked for films with casts that were at least 21 to 30 percent minority,” according to UCLA.
“It doesn't make sense for an industry not to figure out ways to better serve the market,” Hunt says. “Minorities collectively are buying a larger share of tickets than the general population. But the industry is not making films that are reflective of their role in society.”
San Diego State's analysis looked at the 100 top-grossing films of 2016. It found some improvements for women, including a 7 percentage point increase, to 29 percent of roles, for women protagonists on the big screen compared to 2015.
Women were cast in 37 percent of major-character roles, a 3 percent boost from the previous year. Women got about one-third (32 percent) of speaking roles overall, a 1 percent drop from 2015, the report found.
The percentage of women of Asian descent acting on the big screen doubled, from 3 percent to 6 percent, and African-American women saw a 1 percent increase, to 14 percent, in 2016, the analysis found. But Latinas on the big screen were rare, declining from 4 percent in 2015 to 3 percent in 2016. Latinos compose about half the population of L.A. County.
“Overall, the results indicate that while audiences were still more than twice as likely to see male characters as female characters in top-grossing films, females fared better as protagonists and major characters in 2016,” report author Martha Lauzen, director of San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, said via email.