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Diversity Sells

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By Kristen Hardy '17

Published Mar 3, 2017 8:00 AM


The 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report adds another year of data that shows diverse casts lead to a better bottom line.

If you think Hollywood is doing whatever it takes to increase profits, think again.

The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA has released the fourth edition of its Hollywood Diversity Report, which digs deeper into the causal link between cast diversity and ratings or box-office performance in television (network, cable and streaming) and movies. The annual report is the first research to connect diversity in Hollywood to the entertainment industry’s bottom line.

Taking a look at the top 168 films released in 2015, the 2017 report found that movies with relatively diverse casts excelled at the box office. Films with 21 to 30 percent minority cast members — such as Spectre, Ant-Man and San Andreas — had the greatest median box-office revenue of all the films. And though films with the least diverse casts (10 percent or less minority cast members) performed lowest at the box office, that group included more films than any other interval.

In broadcast television, the data demonstrates that for the 2014-2015 season a diverse cast led to better ratings. In fact, for white, black and Latino households, median ratings peaked for shows that had a majority of minority cast members — such as Empire, Black-ish and Hawaii Five-O.

Yet, despite the statistics showing once again that diversity is linked to market success, the majority of broadcast scripted shows had casts with 20 percent or less minority members.

And not only did viewers rate diverse shows highly, more audience members engaged with those shows — specifically on Twitter. In this domain, Twitter users were right in step with reality. The median volume of tweets (9,400) peaked for broadcast shows with casts composed of 31 to 40 percent minority members — the interval that contained the real percentage of minorities in the United States in 2015.

Shows in this interval that most accurately reflected society, such as Parks and Recreation, Grey’s Anatomy and The Flash, yielded the greatest audience engagement on Twitter. By contrast, social engagement for shows with less than 20 percent minority cast members was significantly lower, with a median volume of 5,100 tweets.

The trends indicate that Hollywood is actively engaged in trying to respond to its increasingly diverse audiences. But it’s a daunting task, and progress has been slow at best.

“While there have been some improvements, especially in television, the numbers remain disheartening across the board,” Darnell Hunt, the report’s lead author and director of the Bunche Center, tells UCLA Newsroom. “At the heart of it is the fact that Hollywood is simply not structured to make the most of today’s market realities.

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