Posted on August 28, 2019

Hollywood Diversifies After Rebuke over Racial and Gender Inequality

R.T. Watson and Ethan Millman, Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2019

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{snip} After the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2015 called the industry out for inequality, all the major studios implemented policies geared toward increasing diversity, or they created executive roles to promote such goals.

Four years on, the percentage of nonwhite or Latino actors appearing in leading roles more than doubled, while the share of films with women playing leading roles increased to 61%, from 42% in 2015. During the same period, the number of women directing major motion pictures also rose to 16, from eight. {snip}

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Of the 70 live-action films being distributed to theaters by Hollywood’s top six studios this year, 51% showcase a nonwhite or Latino lead, versus 22% in 2015, the Journal’s analysis found. {snip}

Hollywood’s reputation as a bastion of liberal values took a major public beating in 2015 as advocates of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign targeted the movie business after all 20 acting nominations for that year’s Academy Awards went to white performers. Then, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements helped to galvanize criticism of movie studios for industrywide racial and gender inequality that many critics say has persisted for several decades.

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#OscarsSoWhite wasn’t the only event in 2015 to put Hollywood in the crosshairs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began investigating whether major studios had discriminated against women directors, following such allegations, a person familiar with the investigation said. The status of that probe is unclear, and the EEOC declined to comment.

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In a study released in January, USC’s Ms. Smith and her colleagues found that women held 22.8% of executive roles at major media companies, while only 6% of all executives were women of color.

Because movies can take years to produce, there is a delay before the changes Hollywood makes become visible. The biggest studio, Disney, for instance, has shown only minor gains in recent years, both on-screen and in the director’s chair. Yet its roster of future projects demonstrates it is moving toward increased diversity on and off screen.

Next year four of the studio’s nine movie titles will be directed by women. Disney had just one in 2015 and two in 2019.

Additionally, after raking in huge profits from Marvel superhero movies “Black Panther” and this year’s “Captain Marvel”—both showcasing black and female stars and directors—Disney at this year’s Comic-Con announced many movie and TV projects featuring women or nonwhite or Latino actors playing leading roles.

Disney is featuring African-American performers in leading roles in some of its live-action remakes of classic animated titles. Those include Will Smith in this year’s “Aladdin” and Halle Bailey in “The Little Mermaid,” set to begin shooting in 2020.

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Box-office receipts have been encouraging for studios as well as theater owners. Last year’s top-grossing film, “Black Panther,” with a predominantly black cast, made $700.1 million at the domestic box office. Warner Bros.’s comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” which featured an all-Asian cast, was also in the year’s top 20 titles, with $174.5 million in the U.S. and Canada. The prior year, “Wonder Woman” made $412.6 million domestically, destroying any perception that women are incapable of fronting a superhero movie. So far in 2019, five of the 10 top-grossing live-action films have had a lead actor who was either female, nonwhite or Latino, led by “Captain Marvel.”

Studios’ surging demand for diverse actors, directors, writers and cinematographers initially outpaced supply, according to several top talent agencies. That has sometimes allowed professionals from underrepresented backgrounds to command premium pay as rival producers compete for their services, according to a senior talent agent.

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