Recent films like Get Out and Black Panther have rewarded their studios with an undeniably heavy slab of anecdotal evidence suggesting that audiences will run toward a diversely cast movie — so long as there’s a quality product on the screen.
But even before Jordan Peele showed how to turn a tight budget into big profits, and before Marvel’s big-budget Ryan Coogler juggernaut helped break box-office records, real evidence compiled and analyzed by academics at UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies already was suggesting that global audiences want to see themselves reflected by the entertainment they consume.
The Bunche Center just released its latest annual study of diversity in the entertainment industry, and concluded that, as in recent studies past, evidence indicates “that America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content.”
The study examined data surrounding the top 200 theatrical film releases of 2015, as well as 1,206 “broadcast, cable, and digital platform television shows from the 2014-15 season” to uncover things like who’s making entertainment, who’s consuming it, who’s receiving critical acknowledgment, and who’s talking about it on social media.
What researchers found is that, while racial and gender disparities persist on the creative side, audience behavior demonstrates that people will flock to entertainment that reflects the diversity of the audience itself.
Interestingly, there appears to be a sweet spot for minority representation in films and TV shows when it comes to genre and audience preference.
For example, science fiction audiences spent the most money on films that featured casts made up of 21-30 percent minorities, according to the study. For animated features, the percentage shot up to 41-50. And for horror, audiences spent the most at the box office when a whopping 50 percent or more of the actors were minorities.
For all movies — even action, comedy, and family films — the data revealed that, “regardless of genre, median box office peaked for films with casts that were at least 21 to 30 percent minority,” the report emphasized.
Overall, the report finds persistent fault with the Hollywood studio system over practices that limit minority and female representation, especially on the creative side.
But, it concludes, “there is no tradeoff in Hollywood today between diversity and profitability. Diversity is clearly a plus factor for the bottom line. Nor is there a tradeoff between diversity and quality. Quality storytelling plus rich, diverse performances equals box office and ratings success.”
To check out the full report — and get your thinking cap on, because it’s a deep, deep dive — head on over the Bunche Center’s landing page.