Here's the good news: Actors of color are now far more likely to land roles in movies and TV shows than ever before. But then there’s the bad news: “Representation is abysmal in the executive suites of Hollywood,” says Darnell Hunt M.A. ’91, Ph.D. ’94, dean of UCLA College’s Division of Social Sciences. And he should know. Hunt co-authors the annual Hollywood Diversity Report with Ana-Christina Ramón, director of research and civic engagement at the College’s Division of Social Sciences. And they make it their mission to instigate change by quantifying the presence of women, blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans and other marginalized groups within the movie and television industries.
Launched in 2014, the Hollywood Diversity Report breaks down the ranks of directors, writers, actors and executives by gender and ethnicity. No other independent study goes into such depth. This year’s report analyzed movie industry statistics in February, followed by television numbers later in the year.
The seventh annual report found that people of color posted gains in five key Hollywood employment arenas — film leads, total actors, film directors, film writers and studio heads — but they remain underrepresented.
For a town known for its liberal rhetoric, Hunt notes that “left-leaning” Hollywood remains drastically behind many other industries when it comes to reflecting people of color. “We’ve made huge progress on the acting front, but in terms of all the other positions behind the camera, we have miles and miles to go,” he says.
Minority film leads had a slight gain, increasing 7.8 percentage points, from 19.8% in 2017 to 27.6% in 2019. And minority film writers increased from 7.8% to 13.9%. However, the percentage of minority film directors remained about the same, increasing from 12.6% to 14.4%.
This was also the case for film studio heads: 9% are people of color, which is only 3 percentage points higher than 2014, the last time the report looked at executives.
One bright spot is among total actors, of whom about one-third are people of color (32.7%). Many actors of color have found a home in big box-office franchise movies, such as the Jumanji and Star Wars universes, which are calculated to appeal to global audiences. In 2019, the films whose casts were 41% to 50% minority actors had the highest median global box-office receipts, and films with the least diverse casts were the poorest performers.
Among women, who make up about half of the U.S. population, the numbers have increased, but they still remain low among film directors (15.1%) and film writers (17.4%).
Last fall, Hunt and his team created a five-step “By All M.E.A.N.S. Necessary” action plan to foster a more inclusive entertainment workplace. Hunt breaks down the M.E.A.N.S. strategy, letter by letter:
“Hollywood is run by white men who think they know best about what audiences want,” Hunt says. “But often, the stories they want to tell reflect their experiences more than the experiences of an increasingly diverse America. Modernizing your worldview recognizes that people of color make up more than 40% of the U.S. population, and by 2040, it’ll be more than 50%. If you continue to do business the same old way, you’re going to be out of sync with your markets, because the demographics are changing from where they were four or five decades ago.”
Expand the talent network
“Traditionally, Hollywood has been about who you know and who you’ve worked with before,” Hunt observes. “But in just six or seven years, streaming video on demand has changed everything by creating opportunities for people who never would have gotten a shot to produce a major Hollywood theatrical film or prime-time network show. A company like Netflix barely cares about ratings for a given show, because it sells subscriptions. The more diverse its portfolio, the broader its appeal to a global audience. This creates opportunities for first-time producers. Streaming has changed the pathways for people to do something major that simply didn’t exist before.”
Amplify the role of women
“We learned in our studies of TV writers rooms that when you have a woman in charge, it changes the entire ecosystem,” Hunt says. “The way people relate to each other tends to be more inclusive, because women themselves — particularly women of color — have been traditionally closed out. If you can move women into positions of leadership and creative control, that’s one surefire way of moving the needle, because they have been more likely than men to surround themselves with other diverse talent.”
“This industry sees itself as this privileged place, where you’re expected to work for barely any money before you’ll be taken seriously as someone with the potential to move up,” Hunt says. “This [attitude] is a barrier for people of color, because they’re less likely to come from families who can subsidize their apartments while they work. When you normalize compensation by paying people what they’re worth, that removes a major obstacle that prevents people of color from taking that first step toward a career.”
“People aren’t going to take action just because it’s the right thing to do,” Hunt says. “You need to put incentives in place to ensure that managers and executives get evaluated in their performance reviews in terms of how well they’re doing on diversity. Another example of structured incentives is inclusion riders. In their contracts, A-list actors can demand certain levels of inclusion for the cast and crew on projects they’re working on.” When it comes to diversity in Hollywood, Hunt notes, “It’s not enough to say, ‘This is what we want to do.’ You have to put in carrots and sticks to make sure it happens.”
Of 2019’s top five highest-grossing movies worldwide,
three had casts that were 31% or more minority.
|1||Avengers: Endgame||$2.8B||11% to 20%|
|2||The Lion King||$1.7B||More than 50%|
|3||Frozen II*||$1.4B||11% to 20%|
|4||Spider-Man: Far From Home||$1.13B||41% to 50%|
|5||Captain Marvel||$1.12B||31% to 40%|
Source: Hollywood Diversity Report 2020. *Still in theaters when figures were compiled.