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Hollywood’s diversity-driven returns don’t align with investments

March 20, 2024 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

In Hollywood, where creativity meets commerce, diversity is a central theme, not just on the screen but also behind the scenes. Box-office numbers demonstrate the power and profits wielded by audiences of color and women: People of color dominated opening weekend sales for 14 of the top 20 films in 2023, while while female moviegoers dominated sales for three films in the top 10, according to the latest Hollywood Diversity Report.

UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report, now in its eleventh edition, offers insight and guidance for the industry in representation, inclusion, and profitability. This report examines diversity within Hollywood’s top films and TV shows, showcasing the realities between demographics and the bottom line. It delves into dimensions such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, and disability status. The study offers a better understanding of Hollywood’s diverse landscape using data from sources like The Studio System, Variety Insight, IMDb, comScore, and Box Office Mojo. The report provides valuable insights into the industry’s efforts to reflect society’s diversity by tracking data and their correlation with audience preferences.

Cast diversity

Despite the demonstrated success of diverse casts, the report highlights disparities in gender representation. Despite significant gains, women’s share of top theatrical film leads declined to 32.1% in 2023 from 38.6% in 2022. This decline underscores women’s ongoing challenges in securing prominent roles within the industry.

Moreover, the report delves into the representation of individuals with disabilities, an area that has historically received less attention. While the report shows some progress, adults with disabilities remain underrepresented as theatrical film leads in 2023. Only 7.1% of all top theatrical film roles include actors with a known disability.

Further, the report uncovers disparities within racial and ethnic groups and gender identities. While certain groups, such as Asian and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) individuals, approach proportionate representation, others, including Black, Latinx, and multiracial individuals, continue to face significant underrepresentation.

Budget allocation and financial performance

Budget allocation also emerges as a factor affecting diversity within the industry. The report underscores the correlation between diversity and box office success, revealing that films with casts featuring 31 to 40% BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) enjoy the highest median global box office receipts. Notable titles include Barbie, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, and Shazam!

However, films with BIPOC leads are also likelier to have the smallest and largest budgets, highlighting the uneven distribution of resources and opportunities for diverse talent.

In addition, BIPOC audiences emerge as a critical demographic for the industry, with most opening weekend domestic ticket purchases by BIPOC moviegoers for seven of the top 10 and 14 of the top 20 films in 2023. Additionally, films featuring casts where more than 30% of the actors are BIPOC account for nine of the top 10 and 15 of the top 20 films at the global box office.

Global distribution and the importance of intersectionality

The report also sheds light on disparities in global distribution and representation, revealing that top theatrical films with Black and Asian leads are less likely to have distribution in China compared to other racial and ethnic leads. However, films featuring Latinx and multiracial leads are more likely to have distribution in China.

Moreover, the report highlights the importance of intersectionality. Films featuring casts from 41% to 50% BIPOC post the highest median domestic box office, and those with casts from 31% to 40% BIPOC dominate the international markets. These findings challenge the notion that “diversity does not travel,” emphasizing the global appeal of diverse storytelling. As the industry continues to navigate the dynamics of diversity and representation, this report serves as a vital resource for understanding Hollywood’s evolving landscape. Overall, the report offers insights into the state of diversity in Hollywood and the challenges in achieving true representation. Looking closely at this data shows that having various types of people in movies and TV contributes to their popularity, and profitability.

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