Posted on February 21, 2014

White Men Are Still King of the Silver Screen with Just 26% of Lead Roles Going to Women and 11% to Minorities

Kate Lyons, Daily Mail (London), February 20, 2014

The golden age of Hollywood may have ended in the 1960s, but it seems Hollywood’s not-so golden attitudes about gender and race are still stuck in that era.

The 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report released this week examines the gender and race of actors, directors and writers of film and television.

It reveals an industry that is still dominated by white men, with women and minorities dramatically underrepresented both on and off screen.

‘The report paints a picture of an industry that is woefully out of touch with an emerging America, an America that’s becoming more diverse by the day,’ said Dr Darnell Hunt, lead author of the study and director of Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.

The study, which is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive look at diversity in the entertainment industry, examined 172 films released in 2011–the top 200 grossing movies, excluding the 28 foreign films in that mix–and 1061 television shows from the 2011-2012 season from broadcast and cable networks, including dramas, comedies, and reality television, but excluding sport.

The study found that minorities and women were leads, directors, writers and creators in films and television programs far less often than would be expected given they make up more than 36 percent and slightly more than 50 percent of the overall U.S. population respectively.

Dr Hunt said this startling under-representation should be cause for alarm.

‘Much of what we know about the world around us comes from media,’ he told MailOnline.

‘So when you have a society that’s becoming more and more diverse, if you have an industry that is lagging, you have a distorted view of what’s going on in the world . . . You have a very narrow depiction of what is normal and what is American.’

The Hollywood Diversity Report also found a strong correlation between the inclusion of minorities and women in films and television and high television ratings and box office success.

The study found that films with a larger amount of minority involvement (21-30 percent) had the highest median global box office receipts (£96 million). In contrast, films with the least minority involvement (10 percent or less) posted much lower box office receipts (£41 million).

‘America’s becoming a lot more diverse, that’s clearly showing itself in terms of what people want to see, so the TV shows and movies that tended to do the best tended to have diverse casts,’ said Dr Hunt.

‘People want to see on television and in film things that reflect their experiences. Adding more diversity in storytelling in casts translates into box office and ratings.’

Dr Hunt offered the examples of Scandal, which has a black female show-runner and lead actor and Grey’s Anatomy, which has a racially diverse cast and was the only show on television with a writing staff that reflected the minority population in the U.S.–between 31 and 40 percent of Grey’s Anatomy’s writers were non-white.

These results were surprising, said Dr Hunt, in light of the conventional wisdom of the industry, which suggested that minority stories and female-led productions were risky financially.

The study also found that though commercially successful, films and television shows with more diverse casts and crew were not rewarded by the industry. Come awards time, it is white male stars and directors who scoop the prize pool.

The study reported that no minority-directed films released in 2011 won an Oscar in any category, though three were nominated–Kung Fu Panda 2, Jane Eyre, and Rio. Only one Oscar-winning film, The Iron Lady, had a female director.

Similarly, no films with minority lead won an Oscar in any category and only two films with female leads won Oscars in any categories–The Help and The Iron Lady.

The study also found that the likelihood of winning an Oscar falls to zero if a cast is made up of more than 30 percent minority actors.

Dr Hunt said this was not because minorities and women did not produce and star in exceptional productions, but that the academies who decide on award-winners were dominated by white men.

‘You have an academy that is overwhelmingly white and male and older making decisions about what is excellent, they’re probably going to look down on other types of production, they’re probably not going to recognise the stories of minorities as excellent,’ he said.

The report is released as minorities are outpacing whites in terms of media consumption.

Minorities, who account for 36.3 percent of the overall U.S. population, represent 44.1 percent of frequent moviegoers and tend to watch more hours of television each week than white viewers.

The Hollywood Diversity Report 2014 is the first in a series of annual studies on the topic to be completed by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.

Dr Hunt and his team are already at work on the report for next year, which will examine films of 2012 and television shows of the 2012-2013 season.