Diversity in Hollywood Pays Off in Ratings and Box Office, New Study Finds

Diverse projects are good for the bottom line, but women and minorities still struggle to get hired

Audiences are more drawn to projects that feature a diverse cast, a new study finds, though mirroring the population in the United States remains a problem.

The report, published by UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, does note that women have made some strides in Hollywood in the past year and several television shows featuring diverse casts have been successful; but racial minorities and women remain severely underrepresented in film and television hiring.

“While there have been some improvements, especially in television, the numbers remain disheartening across the board,” said Darnell Hunt, the report’s lead author and director of the Bunche Center, in a statement with the study’s release. “At the heart of it is the fact that Hollywood is simply not structured to make the most of today’s market realities.”

The report examined the 200 top-grossing theatrical film releases in 2015, as well as 1,206 TV, cable and digital platform shows from the 2014-15 season, and is in its fourth annual edition. It also tracked the hiring of women and minorities, both on screen and behind the camera, in 11 job types.

Minorities make up 40 percent of the U.S. population but only 13.6 percent of lead actors in theatrical films and 10.1 percent of Hollywood directors.

The study found that diversity is good for business.

The median global box office peaked in 2015 for the 25 films with casts that were from 21 percent to 30 percent minority ($105 million). Films in this category included “Spectre,” “Ant-Man,” “San Andreas” and “Terminator: Genisys.”

By contrast, median worldwide box office was only $41.9 million for the 64 films with casts that were 10 percent minority or less. The numbers are also glaring in that while this category contained the poorest performing films, it also encompassed the highest number of movies.

On TV, too, shows with more diverse casts fare better in the ratings, with shows like “Empire” and “black-ish” thriving in primetime, and white, Latino and black households giving the highest ratings to shows that had a majority diverse cast. For the coveted 18-49 demographic, shows that are 41-50 percent diverse (like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “New Girl” and “Elementary”) had the highest ratings.

Even so, the majority of scripted shows on broadcast in the 2015 season had only 20 percent or less diverse casts (67 out of 123 shows).

“Less-diverse product underperforms in the marketplace, and yet it still dominates,” said Ana-Christina Ramón, the report’s co-author and assistant director of the Bunche Center. “This makes no financial sense.”

Ramon added: “Authentic storytelling humanizes those who are often depicted as stereotypes or not worthy of being depicted at all. Representation matters to the little girl who has yet to dream of who she will become and to the grandmother who has never seen someone like herself on screen.”