According to a recent study by UCLA researchers, Hollywood’s major film productions experienced a decline in diversity as it recovered from the pandemic after years of incremental improvement. Opportunities for women and people of colour were noticeably better on streaming platforms than in traditionally distributed movies.
The annual UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, which was released on Thursday, provided one of the most thorough analyses yet of how the film business was affected by the pandemic and, in many respects, set back. Researchers who examined movie releases in 2022 discovered that, in many criteria, ethnic and gender inclusion in theatrical films had returned to 2019 or 2018 levels, reversing trends that had been gradually going in the direction of greater equity in front of and behind the camera.
Despite ample evidence that more diverse films draw greater viewers, the film business tried to win back moviegoers in 2022 by focusing more on films with white male leads and directors. About half of regular moviegoers in America are Black, Latino, or Asian, and they frequently purchase the majority of tickets for the top box office hits.
In 2022, the movie business was still recovering. Fewer broad films were being made, and box office receipts had roughly returned to their pre-pandemic levels. Though the best picture-winning “Everything Everywhere All at Once” brought an end to the 2022 film year in triumph for Asian American representation at the Academy Awards, researchers foresee a potential turning point where opportunities for women and people of colour are typically limited to lower-budget streaming movies.
“It was clear that the industry was not fully on its feet. But, Ana-Christina Ramón, head of UCLA’s Entertainment and Media Research Program, who oversees the report’s creation, believes it paints a picture of a two-tiered system that has been established. If the bifurcation persists, it will be intriguing to observe what happens in 2023.
According to Ramón, who points out that streaming services are currently cutting back on original productions after years of explosive expansion, “the fear is that diversity is something that is transitory or could be easily cut at any point in either theatrical or streaming.”
People of colour made up 22% of lead performers, 17% of directors, and 12% of writers in theatrical releases. 15% of directors and 39% of lead actors were women. Although the percentages are about twice as high as they were ten years ago, they are still well behind the demographics of the US population. Writing has improved for women, who will make up 27% of authors for theatrical releases in 2022, up from 17% in 2019. But, in 2022, only one woman of colour wrote a top theatrical picture.
Streaming releases, on the other hand, are more diversified and feature more movies with diverse casts and female leads. In contrast to 57% of theatrical films, 64% of original streaming releases in 2022 had casts that were more than 30% non-white. People of colour made up around one-third of the leads in the most popular streaming movies, which is about 12% more than in theatres but still 10% less than what the population as a whole looks like. In 2022, female streaming movie leads (49%) came very close to matching male leads.
Yet the researchers discovered some of the biggest variances when they took into account budget levels, which are frequently larger in theatrical releases. The majority of the directors for major studio productions are white men. They made up 73% of movie directors for theatrical releases, and 60% of those movies typically had a budget over $30 million.
For female directors and directors of colour, budgets have a tendency to be smaller. The average budget for movies directed by white women (56%) was less than $20 million. 76% of the streaming movies by directors of colour had budgets under $20 million.
According to Ramón, “With the industry in flux, what we could see was the culture that Hollywood has always turned to when looking for a definite smash.” They interpret surefire hits as a sign of no diversity and white leadership. It’s something they feel at ease with.