Hollywood movies are more ethnically diverse than ever according to a new report from UCLA, which found that women and people of color “have made enormous gains” over the past decade in their share of leading roles in top-performing films.
UCLA’s “Hollywood Diversity Report 2022,” released Thursday, found that the percentage of leading roles played by people of color in last year’s top 200 films has nearly quadrupled since 2011; that their share of writing credits has more than quadrupled; and that their percentage of directing jobs has nearly tripled.
It also found that the percentage of women in leading roles has nearly doubled over the last decade; that their share of writing credits has more than doubled; and that the percentage of women directors has increased by more than fivefold over the past decade.
The report, co-authored by UCLA sociologists Dr. Darnell Hunt and Dr. Ana-Christina Ramón, is the latest indication that inclusion efforts by Hollywood’s unions and employers – with pressure from the Motion Picture Academy and the press – are working, though it notes that more work still needs to be done for women and minorities to achieve parity in front of and behind the camera.
See the full report here.
“Following the significant advances for people of color and women in 2020, both groups made small gains, or at least held their ground, relative to their white and male counterparts in 2021,” the report says. “As a result, both groups enjoyed proportionate representation among film leads and top film roles for the second year in a row.”
Even so, some minority groups fared better than others. The report notes that African Americans, who make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, were “slightly overrepresented” in leading film roles (15.5%) last year. Latinx creatives, on the other hand, who make up 18.7% of the population, “remain extremely underrepresented” in all the major film categories surveyed, accounting for just 7.1% of leads, 7.7% of overall cast, 5.6% of writers and 7.1% of directors.
The report found that multiracial persons, who make up 10.2% of the population, were at “proportionate representation” among film leads in 2021, constituting 10.3% of film leads.
Asian Americans, who account for 6% of the population, got 5.6% of the leading roles, while Native Americans, who make up 1.3% of the population, got only 0.4% of the leading roles. Native Americans, the report says, “remain virtually invisible in Hollywood, making up less than one percent of each job category tracked.”
People of Middle Eastern & North African (MENA) descent, who account for approximately 0.9% of the population, didn’t get any leading roles at all in the top-performing films last year, though they did make up 1.1% of overall cast, 2.8% of writers and 1.6% of directors.
Female actors, meanwhile, failed to reach parity with their male counterparts among white, Black, Asian and MENA actors in 2021, which the report says, “is likely related to the fact that decisions about which film projects will be greenlighted – and which stories will be told – are still overwhelming made by white men.”
Overall, however, women have made great strides over the past decade, according to the survey, which looked at the top 200 theatrical – and all major streaming – English-language films released in 2021.
“Like people of color, women have made enormous gains over the course of this report series in their share of top film leads,” the report says. “Women accounted for 47.2% of film leads in 2021, virtually unchanged from the 47.8% evident in 2020 but nearly double the share the group posted in 2011 (25.6%).”
Women also posted gains among the ranks of directors and writers, though they remain underrepresented despite significant progress in recent years. “Since the previous report, women have inched forward relative to their male counterparts among the directors of top Hollywood films,” the report says. “Women claimed 21.8% of these critical positions in 2021, up just slightly from 20.5% in 2020.
Between 2011, the first year examined in this report series, and 2021, women’s share of directors increased more than fivefold – from 4.1% to 21.8%. Despite these significant gains, women remained underrepresented by a factor of more than two-to-one in this employment arena in 2021.”
Women’s share of the writer credits rose to 33.5% in 2021, an increase of more than seven percentage points over the 26% they posted for 2020. “This increase continues an upward trend for women screenwriters evident over the course of this report series. Indeed, women’s share of screenwriters in 2021 was more than double the 14.1% figure observed in 2011. Still, women would have to increase their 2021 share by nearly 20 percentage points to reach parity with men in this employment arena.”
Hunt, dean of the social sciences at UCLA and co-author of the report, said that “In 2020, minorities reached proportionate representation for the first time when it comes to overall cast diversity in films, and that held true in 2021. We suspect this is at least somewhat due to the outsize impact of the number of films we analyzed that were released direct-to-streaming. We also think this dual-release strategy is probably here to stay and could have a lasting impact on diversity metrics in front of and behind the camera in the future as studios think about how to finance content for different platforms.”
Audiences are also becoming increasingly diverse. “The minority share of the U.S. population is growing by nearly half a percent each year,” the report notes. “Constituting nearly 43% of the U. S. population in 2021, people of color will become the majority within a couple of decades.”
The report found that eight of the top 10 theatrically released films in 2021 featured casts that were greater than 30% minority, and that for the first time since researchers began tracking, the majority of Oscar-winning films from 2020 were helmed by directors of color and featured minority leads.
“Looking at last year, every time there was a big movie that exceeded expectations or broke a record, we see that between 53%-60% of opening weekend audiences were people of color,” said co-author Ramón. “People essentially were risking their lives to go the movies during a pandemic. For people of color and especially for Latino families, theaters provided an excursion when mostly everything was shut down. In a sense, people of color really kept the studios afloat the past couple of years. Studios should consider them to be investors, and as an investor, they should get their return, in the form of representation.”
“In 2021, diversity in front of the camera did not equate to more opportunities behind the camera for filmmakers who are women and people of color,” Ramón said. “They continue to receive less financing, even when they make films with white leads. Most of these filmmakers are relegated to low-budget films. The chronic underinvestment in women and people of color creates limited opportunities for them to showcase their talents to a wider audience.”
Looking at directors from the top films of 2021, 21.8% were women and 30.2% were people of color. In writing roles, 33.5% were women and 32.3% people of color. These were both incrementally steady gains over 2020.
“The final frontier is really behind the camera for women of color,” Ramón said.
The report found that of the 76 minority directors of 2021’s top films, just 23 were women. Black, Latino and multiracial women were outpaced by at least 2-to-1 by men from those groups. Asian and Native American women directors achieved parity with Asian and Native American men, though their numbers remain very small. Just nine Asian American men and eight Asian American women directed top-performing films last year. One Native American woman and one Native American man were in the 2021 directing data.
White women are also still greatly outnumbered by white men in the directing category – 32 total women compared to 143 men last year. And there was only one trans woman director in 2021’s crop of top films.
And as the percentage of people of color in key areas has increased, so too has the white percentage decreased. The white share of all top film roles dropped to 56.9% in 2021, down from 58% in 2020. “As a result, whites were slightly underrepresented among featured film roles in 2021,” the report says.
Considering each minority group separately, African Americans accounted for 9.5% of the directing jobs; Latinx 7.1%; Asian 6.7%, multiracial 4.4%, and Native Americans 0.8%. All were underrepresented compared to their share of the population.
The white share of writers of Hollywood’s top films also declined again since last year’s report, down from 74.1% in 2020 to 67.7% in 2021. The report notes that “almost all individual minority groups remained underrepresented last year, with African Americans receiving 10.4% of the writing credits; Latinx 5.6%; Asian 4%; multiracial 8.8%; and Native American 0.8%.
The trend towards diversity is also being reflected at the Academy Awards in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign.
“Findings from this report document that the groundbreaking collection of diverse nominees for the 2021 Oscar ceremony also resulted in an unprecedented number of diverse award winners,” the report says. “Indeed, English-language films with relatively diverse casts, directors of color, and leads of color gained considerable ground at the 93rd annual Academy Awards compared to the year before. Most notably, the majority of Oscar-winning films from 2020 were helmed by directors of color and featured minority leads, both firsts over the course of this report series. For women, however, the picture was mixed. While women directors treaded water relative to their male counterparts in helming Oscar-winning films, films with women leads fell further behind among Oscar-winning films.”
In its conclusion, the report says that its findings “document that increasingly diverse audiences continued to flex their muscles at the box office and on streaming platforms in 2021, driving domestic ticket sales for the top 10 theatrical releases and accounting for a disproportionate share of the audiences for the top 10 streaming releases. Findings also show that diverse audiences, now market anchors in the film sector, clearly preferred diverse content. That is, the lion’s share of the most highly rated films among diverse households in 2021 – and increasingly among White households and viewers 18-49 – featured casts that were at least 30 percent minority.
“Following our conclusion in the previous report, Hollywood would benefit greatly from embracing 2021’s (re)affirmation of the bottom-line possibilities associated with major advances on the diversity front – particularly in a sector reordered by the ascendance of streaming platforms. People of color constituted nearly 43% of the U.S. population in 2021, and their share is increasing by about half a percent a year. This trend, combined with diverse audiences’ heavy engagement with original, streaming film content, underscores the importance of diversity as a first-order business imperative for the film industry.”