The UCLA Division of Social Sciences has released the “2022 Hollywood Diversity Report,” which reveals that Hollywood’s major film productions showed a decrease in diversity during the pandemic, with fewer opportunities for people of color and women compared to previous years.
However, the report also found that streaming platforms provided more opportunities for women and people of color than theatrical releases.
The annual UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, published Thursday, presented one of the most detailed looks yet at how the film industry was shaped and, in many ways, set back during COVID-19.
In analyzing 2022 movie releases, academics found that ethnic and gender inclusivity in theatrical films reverted to 2019 or 2018 levels in many metrics, turning charts downward that had been slowly trending toward more significant equity on screen and behind the camera.
As the film industry sought to claw back moviegoers in 2022, it did so by leaning more on films starring and directed by white men, despite considerable evidence that more diverse films attract larger audiences. Black, Latino, and Asian American moviegoers make up nearly half of all frequent moviegoers and, for the biggest hits, often account for the majority of ticket buyers.
The film industry was still recovering in 2022, releasing fewer wide releases and seeing the box office return to about 67% of pre-pandemic levels. Though the 2022 movie year ended in a triumph for Asian American representation at the Academy Awards with the best picture-winning “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” researchers see a potential turning point where the opportunity for women and people of color is usually reserved for lower-budgeted streaming movies.
“It was not an industry that was back all the way. But I really think it gives a picture of a two-tiered system that’s been created,” says Ana-Christina Ramon, director of the Entertainment and Media Research Initiative at UCLA, which produces the report. “What will be interesting to see is what happens in 2023 if it continues to have this bifurcation.”
“The fear is that diversity is something that is temporary or could be easily cut at any point in either theatrical or streaming,” says Ramn, noting that streaming services, after years of torrid growth, are now pulling back on original productions.
In theatrical releases, people of color accounted for 22% of lead actors, 17% of directors, and 12% of writers. Women were 39% of lead actors and 15% of directors. While roughly double the percentages of a decade ago, the numbers are closer to those of five years ago and still easily trail U.S. population demographics. In addition, women have made gains in writing, composing 27% of writers in 2022 theatrical releases, up from 17% in 2019. Yet only one woman of color penned a top dramatic film in 2022.
At the same time, streaming releases are more inclusive, accounting for more films with diverse casts and female leads. About 64% of original streaming releases in 2022 had models that were over 30% non-white, as opposed to 57% of theatrical releases.
About a third of leads in top streaming films went to people of color – nearly 12% more than theatrical films but still about 10% below population demographics. Tips for women in streaming movies (49%) almost reached parity with men in 2022.
But by considering budget levels, which tend to be higher in theatrical releases, researchers found some of the most significant disparities. Studios are overwhelmingly choosing white male directors for their biggest productions. They accounted for 73% of film directors in theatrical release, in films that usually (60%) had a budget above $30 million.
Budgets tended to be lower for female filmmakers and directors of color. Films directed by white women were usually (56%) budgeted less than $20 million. For directors of color, 76% of their streaming films had budgets below $20 million.
“With the industry unstable, what we could see was the culture that Hollywood has always relied on when in need of a surefire hit,” says Ramón. “They think of surefire hits as a code for no diversity, for white-led. So it’s something that they’re comfortable with.”
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