The United States of America boasts a population is that is 40% people of color, and mostly female by a slight margin. But watching Hollywood movies and television, you’d have no idea as white men outnumber every other group by a wide margin. The old company line logic on this is that audiences don’t turn out for non-white stars or non-dude performers. But guess what? That’s actually and statistically bullshit.
THR reports that television shows and films that offer diversity are scoring higher ratings and bigger box office. The second annual Hollywood Diversity Report from UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies looked at the top 200 films by global box office (excluding foreign titles) and every American TV show from broadcast to cable to streaming digital from 2012 and 2013. Their findings showed that people of every demographic preferred titles that contained diverse casting. Co-author Ana-Christina Ramon put it succinctly, “Audiences, regardless of their race, are clamoring for more diverse content.”
Films where the cast was roughly 30% diverse did best—as a group—at the worldwide box office. Consider Fast & Furious 6, which featured stars like Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, and Sung Kang. In 2013, the diversely cast action movie made a whopping $788 million worldwide, putting it at #6 for highest grossing films of that year.
Ahead of it were two movies fronted by women: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at #5, and at #1 Frozen with $1.274 billion. The other three were The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Despicable Me 2, and Iron Man 3. So half were fronted by white men. And yet, 83.3% of movies studied were led by white actors, and 74.7% were led by men.
From 2011 to 2103, the diversity gap was shrinking. But with so many titles to keep track of, we don’t know yet if that trend is continuing. And with the lily white Oscars we just had, lead author Darnell Hunt, notes, “This year was a step backward from what might otherwise have been optimism from 2013.”
All the same, with numbers like those found in the study, you’d think producers might start to pay attention. Not only is whitewashing roles getting more ire of late, but also casts peopled with more than white men are proving more compelling to audiences. So even if producers and studios don’t give a damn about the positive aspects that better representation can have on society, here’s hoping the money will spur them to look outside the box of white dudes that is so often their go-tos.
Kristy Puchko dreams of pancakes more than she’d care to admit.