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2024 Hollywood Diversity Report shows success, increase in racially diverse films

Pictured is the Hollywood Sign. A recent report released by UCLA researchers concluded that while theatrical films have improved in racial diversity on- and off-screen, there is still work to do to ensure the industry reflects the diversity of the wider population. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Dylan Winward

March 26, 2024 9:36 p.m.

This post was updated March 31 at 9:55 p.m.

Researchers found in part one of UCLA’s 2024 Hollywood Diversity Report that while films have improved in racial diversity on- and off-screen this year, the number of female directors has stagnated.

The first part of the annual report examines diversity both in front of and behind the camera for theatrical movie releases, as well as how that diversity relates to box office revenue, said Michael Tran, the report’s lead graduate student researcher and a doctoral student in sociology. The annual report has been published since 2014 and analyzes diversity in categories such as gender, race, ethnicity and – as of 2023 – disability status.

This year’s report shows increases in the number of people of color starring in and directing films, with 29.2% of lead actors in 2023 identifying as Black, Indigenous or other people of color – an approximately 8% increase from the previous year, Darnell Hunt, report co-author and executive vice chancellor and provost. However, there has been no improvement in the proportion of women directors since last year, with female directors being outnumbered 3-to-1 by their male counterparts, he said.

While this year’s report indicated that there has been improvements in on-screen diversity, there is still sufficient work to do to ensure that representation in Hollywood mirrors the demographics of the United States at large, Tran said.

“Even after 10 years of putting out these reports, roughly speaking, for a lot of the employment arenas that we look at, you’d still have to double the amount of people of color in most of these roles to reach proportionate representation with the rest of the country,” he said.

[Related: UCLA releases part 1 of 2023 Hollywood Diversity Report]

The report has been crucial in showing industry executives the financial value of diversity, Hunt said. He added that films and television shows that mirror the wider population’s diversity consistently tend to be associated with better box office outcomes. This year, the report concluded that films in which 31% to 40% of the cast were people of color were the most successful.

Annie Myers, director of talent and operations at UCLA’s Center for Scholars and Storytellers, said demonstrating this impact is important in convincing Hollywood studios to promote better representation. The report also found that people of color dominated opening weekend ticket sales for 14 of this year’s top 20 films.

“People want to relate to characters, and they want to understand experiences and see themselves reflected in those experiences,” Hunt said. “Films that are very diverse in terms of having a multicultural cast tend to do really well on average, again for the same reason.”

One thing that could have driven this year’s upward trend in on-screen diversity is that many of the films released were commissioned in 2020 shortly after the murder of George Floyd, as many major studios pledged to create more inclusive films, Hunt said. He added that his team is keeping an eye on whether the trend of improvement will continue amid conservative backlash against diversity measures, which includes recent bans on diversity, equity and inclusion teaching in Florida.

Myers said the increased representation of people of color in lead roles was apparent at this year’s Academy Awards, with Lily Gladstone being the first Native woman from the U.S. to have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

[Related: Oscars 2024: Awards season is no Dreamhouse for women of color repeatedly snubbed by Academy]

This year’s report also showed that diverse films were doing better globally than they had in the past, combating notions that foreign audiences want to see mainstream films with predominantly white casts from Hollywood, Tran said.

“There’s an old myth that diversity doesn’t travel,” Tran said. “That’s definitely not true based on our data.”

In addition to race and gender, the report recorded data about disability status for the second time, something made difficult by a lack of available data, Hunt said. However, he said the report was able to conclude that people with disabilities are significantly underrepresented in the film industry, with only 7.1% of actors having known disabilities, compared to 26% of the wider population.

Ahead of next year’s report, researchers are monitoring how major Hollywood events, including recent writers’ and actors’ strikes, will impact diversity, Tran said.

“The cost of labor is higher. Fewer people are coming into movie theaters. What kind of movies are they going to green light in that uncertain environment?” he said. “Some might think that movies that cater to diverse audiences is not (a) priority. We’re making the argument, based on the data that we find, that it absolutely is vital to the survival and thriving of the industry.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also led to an increase in the use of streaming services to watch films, something that will be examined in a separate diversity report released later this year, Hunt said.

The Hollywood Diversity Report also publishes a separate part about the status of diversity in television.

[Related: Part 2 of 2023 Hollywood Diversity Report evaluates representation on TV]

Myers said she hopes industry executives take notice of how successful diverse films have been when commissioning future films.

“There’s a reliable audience and people from the BIPOC community, in particular, who want to see things in theaters,” she said. “Executives need to honor that audience by giving them better stories that reflect their experiences in life.”

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Dylan Winward | Features and student life editor
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year English literature and statistics student.
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year English literature and statistics student.
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