“Wonder Woman” took moviegoers by storm in 2017, taking in more than $820 million in ticket sales worldwide. And Patty Jenkins’ role as director of the blockbuster was part of a positive — if possibly short-lived — trend for women directors that year.
Counting each year’s 200 top-grossing films, the number of women directors nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, according to the newest UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, published today by the UCLA College Division of Social Science. But women’s representation was still poor: Even with that increase, there were just 21 women directors among the 167 English-language films from 2017’s top 200, or just 12.6 percent of the total. And an early analysis of 2018’s top movies indicates the increase was just a one-year blip.
The report examined 12 different job titles among the creators, directors and top-billed cast of the top movies for 2017 as well as 1,316 broadcast television, cable and digital shows from the 2016–17 programming season. It found that behind the scenes and in front of the camera, advances for people of color and women remain fairly incremental, if not stubbornly static — and found that minorities and women remain mostly underrepresented compared with their share of the population overall.
“For six years the Hollywood Diversity Report has objectively taken stock of where the entertainment industry stands on racial and gender diversity, knowing that there can be no reform without a reckoning,” said Darnell Hunt, the report’s co-lead author and dean of the UCLA College Division of Social Sciences.
Recent box office results reaffirm that audiences do demand diverse content. For example, “Crazy Rich Asians” has earned more than $285 million globally, and “Black Panther” has earned more than $1.3 billion in addition to seven Academy Award nominations, including the first-ever best picture nod for a superhero film.
“Every year the data have shown that film and television content that feature diverse casts typically make more money and enjoy higher ratings and audience engagement,” Hunt said. “We feel confident our partners in Hollywood today see the value of diversity in ways that they did not before we began sharing our report.”
According to the report, women’s representation among actors in three types of TV content — scripted broadcast, cable and digital programming — is inching closer to women’s 50 percent share of the population overall.
“We’ve seen modest advances when it comes to movies and films,” said Ana-Christina Ramon, director of research and civic engagement for the Division of Social Sciences, and the report’s other lead author. “But deep-seated power systems — dominated by white male decision-makers at the highest levels — are hard to break. The kind of structural change necessary for a new order of business in the film industry has yet to happen, and pushing for it will require sustained vigilance and awareness.”
Among the top 200 films of 2017, the report found, those whose casts were 31 to 40 percent minority actors earned the most at the box office. And films with at least 51 percent minority actors earned the greatest return on investment, because they generally cost less to make than other top films but still performed well at the box office.
The report also found that minority ticket buyers accounted for the majority of ticket sales for five of the top 10 grossing films.
Among white, black and Asian-American TV viewers, ratings for broadcast scripted programs were highest when the shows’ casts were made up of between 31 and 40 percent minority actors. Among Latino households and viewers ages 18 to 49, the broadcast scripted shows that had the highest ratings were those with casts that had between 11 and 20 percent minority actors.
The report noted that the ever-broadening landscape for TV-related programming created by Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other streaming services has created a tailwind for gender and racial diversity.
“It’s clear the increased number of original programs alone has helped grow the share of the pie for minorities and women,” Hunt said.
Among the report’s other findings:
Gains for women and minorities
- The number of minority actors with lead roles in films increased from 13.9 percent in 2016 to 19.8 percent in 2017. But that’s a large difference from their share of the overall population, which is about 40 percent minority.
- Women held 32.9 percent of lead acting roles in movies, up from 31.2 percent in 2016, but still far short of their share of 50 percent of the overall population.
- Minorities held 21.3 percent of lead acting roles in scripted digital programming, a significant leap from the 12.9 percent tracked in last year’s report.
- Just 9.4 percent of show creators for scripted broadcast programs were minorities, up from 7.1 percent the prior season.
- The number of minority actors with lead roles in broadcast scripted shows increased to 21.5 percent from 18.7 percent.
- Women’s share of lead roles in broadcast scripted shows increased to 39.7 percent, from 35.7 percent in 2015–16.
- Women were 34.8 percent of the show creators for scripted digital programs, up slightly from 2015–16 at 31.5 percent.
Where women and minorities lost ground
- Just 12.6 percent of the writers of the top 200 box office movies in 2017 were women, down from 13.8 percent in 2016.
- Women held 43.1 percent of lead acting roles in cable scripted shows, down from 44.8 percent the prior year.
The status quo
- Among the directors of the English-language films from the 200 films, 12.6 percent were minorities, unchanged from 2016.
- Just 7.8 percent of the top films were written by minority writers, roughly equal to the 2016 figure.
- Minorities made up 16.5 percent of the creators of digital scripted shows, essentially unchanged.
Future reports from the Hollywood Diversity team at UCLA will focus on how the entertainment industry can adopt practices that are proven to increase inclusion of diverse talent, understand where such practices have been deployed and how they have factored into the creation of diverse content that diverse audiences demand.