Independent Staff Report
When it comes to influential positions in the entertainment industry, minorities and women are represented at rates far below what would be expected given their percentage of the general population, according to a new study done at UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.
In fact, the report shows, the proportion of female and minority actors, writers, directors and producers in films and TV ranges from just one-12th to one-half of their actual population percentage.
“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 lead author Darnell Hunt, the center’s director.
The underrepresentation is especially noteworthy because the study found that greater diversity in TV and film productions actually increases viewers, resulting in higher profits for studios and networks.
“Hollywood does pretty well financially right now, but it could do a lot better if it were better reflecting the diversity of America,” said Hunt, who is also a professor of sociology in UCLA’s College of Letters and Science.
The UCLA analysis focused on the top 172 American-made movies from 2011 and more than 1,000 television shows that aired on 68 cable and broadcast networks during the 2011–12 season. Researchers looked at the level of diversity both in front of and behind the camera, on the rosters of Hollywood’s most prominent talent agencies, and among the winners of such industry accolades as the Academy and Emmy awards.
The study, “2014 Hollywood Diversity Report: Making Sense of the Disconnect,” is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive look to date at diversity in the entertainment industry. It is part of a series of analyses that will be done for the Bunche Center’s Hollywood Advancement Project, which will track over time whether the TV and film industry is employing diverse groups of lead actors, writers, directors and producers and whether major talent agencies are representing them. The study also will identify best practices for widening the pipeline for underrepresented groups.
“Underrepresentation in Hollywood is not a surprise to anyone,” said Ana-Christina Ramon, co-author of the study and the center’s assistant director. “What’s different is we’re actually documenting the degree to which the problem is occurring in all these different arenas, and we’re showing how diversity affects the bottom line. Moreover, we’re going to document these trends over time so we can trace any changes.”
The study found that minorities were featured in starring film and TV roles far less often than would be expected given their share of the overall U.S. population, which stands at just more than 36 percent.
As lead actors in films, they were underrepresented by a factor of more than three-to-one — that is, they appeared as leads at less than one-third the rate that would be expected based on their proportion of the population.
They fared a little better in all forms of entertainment (not including sports) on cable television and in reality programming on broadcast TV, appearing as leads at about half the expected rate. But the situation was worse in broadcast TV comedies and dramas, where they were underrepresented by a factor of seven-to-one, the study found.
Top behind-the-scenes positions also went to minorities less frequently than would be expected. As film directors, they were underrepresented by a factor of three-to-one. As film writers and as creators of comedies and dramas on cable TV, they were underrepresented by a factor of five-to-one. Things were again worse with broadcast TV, where minority creators of comedies and dramas were underrepresented by a factor of nine-to-one.
Women enjoyed proportionate representation in just one category: On broadcast TV, they appeared as leading actors in about 52 percent of comedies and dramas in 2011–12. But they fared worse elsewhere. In fact, in the study’s single greatest example of disparity, women were underrepresented by a factor of 12-to-one as film directors. As film writers, they were underrepresented by a factor of three-to-one. In the other film and TV categories, they were represented at only 50 percent to 70 percent the expected rate.