Study: Onscreen Diversity Boosts Movie Attendance – Even When Portrayal Is Negative

Report in partnership between Geena Davis Institute and Movio published Tuesday

A new study released Tuesday has found that increased representation in movies in terms of casting choices drives movie attendance, even if the portrayals are negative.

The study, produced in partnership between Movio and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, published the white paper study on Tuesday titled, “I Want To See Me: Why Diverse On-Screen Representation Drives Cinema Audiences.”

“As we’ve said before, our goal is very simple: that the characters on screen reflect the population, which is half Female and incredibly diverse,” says Geena Davis, Founder and Chair of the Institute in a statement to TheWrap. “We know that increasing the presence of underrepresented groups in media can have a very powerful impact on shifting cultural perceptions. Our industry has a tremendous opportunity to foster inclusion in society by taking action to diversify who shows up on screen. As this new research shows, we have made progress, but we need to do better.”

Some of the findings include:

People want to see themselves reflected on screen. Moviegoers being able to identify with the characters in a movie drives their attendance behavior. When there are characters of a certain cohort (group) this is likely to drive more moviegoers of the same cohort.

The analysis shows across all films that the leading characters and audience are generally 50/50 Female/Male. This is encouraging considering in 2007 only 23% of leads were Female and in 2017 30% were Female.

a) However it is worth noting that the more Female characters, the more Female the audience, and the more Male characters, the more Male the audience.

The effect of genre on the percentage of leading characters Male vs Female was clear as well as the corresponding gender split in the attending audience. Action movies, most notably, regularly have well over 50% Male characters and well over 50% (and frequently over 60%) Male audience.

The opportunity for Black, Asian and Latinx moviegoers to see themselves represented on screen is significantly lower than for white moviegoers. Several movies tally 100% of their characters as white with the majority having over 50% white characters. For the remaining four Race/Ethnicity groups, the majority of films are clustered at below 25% (if not 0%) representation on screen. This is significant considering people of color (Black, Asian and Latinx) comprise 37.8% of the U.S. population.

Across the board in terms of ethnicity, gender, and age, the negative portrayal of characters from a certain group has little bearing on whether or not that group attends a movie.

a) However, particularly with regards to race and ethnicity, the analysis again shows how minority audiences are given substantially fewer opportunities to even see characters from their racial or ethnic group on the screen, no less characters from their racial or ethnic group who are also not depicted negatively.

To read the full white paper, click here.