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Arts and Entertainment

Movies And TV Still Very White And Male, Even Though Diverse Casts Draw Audiences, Says Report

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The cast of 'Hidden Figures' at the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Expo Hall. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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Looking at the current Oscar nominations, one might assume that the #OscarsSoWhite backlash has had an effect. Titles like Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and Fences—all led by a black cast—have gotten their fair share of recognition (it remains to be seen, though, if they'll come through with wins).

While the Oscar noms may paint a picture of a more diverse playing field in entertainment, a recent UCLA study says that the reality is different. The research, done by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, says that diversity in film and television has mostly plateaued since 2011, even though the evidence suggests that audiences are flocking to works with more minorities, notes The Hollywood Reporter.

The study took its data from the top 200 highest-grossing films in 2015, as well as 1,206 broadcast, cable and digital platform television shows. Among the findings was that, in film, the median box office average peaked with films that had a cast composed of at least 21-to-30% minorities. Researchers pointed out that detractors may claim that this is only true for certain genres like action (Furious 7 was a big hit). But the report says that their findings were true across all genres. Researchers added that, while minorities comprise of about 38% of the U.S. population in 2015, they accounted for about 47% of the audience for movies.

As for TV, broadcast scripted shows with at least a 40% minority cast had peak median ratings in the 18-49 age demographic (this was true across different ethnic households, including white households). The reports notes that, in spite of the clear popularity of diverse casts in television, the majority of broadcast scripted shows in 2015 had casts that were 20% minority or less. Another interesting finding was that, among broadcast scripted shows, diverse works had the most engagement on social media platforms—a big driver in terms of audience.

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The report also found that minorities were underrepresented three-to-one in film leads, four-to-one among film directors, more than seven-to-one among film writers, five-to-one among creators of cable scripted shows, and more than three-to-one among credited writers for cable and digital scripted shows.

Women (regardless of race) were underrepresented nearly six-to-one among film directors, and about four-to-one as film writers. It's also worth noting that a previous Variety report said that women comprised only 20% of the animation industry.

Minorities have made some gains since the department's previous report. Since 2014, there has been an uptick in film leads, as well as leads in broadcast scripted shows.

So why aren't films and TV shows more diverse? The study says it's possibly because the people working at the top don't reflect the rest of the population (i.e. a lot of white people are in charge). "The problem, as we have pointed out in earlier reports, is that the Hollywood industry is not currently structured to make the most of today's market realities," says the report. "The studios, networks, talent agencies, and academies are demographically and culturally out of step with the diverse audiences on which their collective future will increasingly depend."