Audiences Prefer Films With Diverse Casts, According to UCLA Study

Ellise Shafer
·3-min read

According to a new study conducted by UCLA, U.S. audiences prefer films comprised of diverse casts.

UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report, this year subtitled “Pandemic in Progress,” reports that in 2020, films with casts that were made up of 41% to 50% minorities took home the highest median gross at the box office, while films with casts that were less than 11% minority performed the worst.

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These films include “Bad Boys for Life,” which was 2020’s top-earning film at the box office with $426.5 million; “Birds of Prey,” which came in at No. 5 with $201.9 million; and “Onward,” which came in seventh with $141.9 million. They all contained casts that fell into the range of 41% to 50% minority, with top-earner “Bad Boys for Life” actually having a cast that was over 50% minority. It is, of course, worth noting that all three of these films were released prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous films were postponed or released straight to streaming services in 2020, making comparisons to previous years more difficult.

The UCLA study also shows that people of color purchased the majority of domestic opening weekend tickets for six of the top 10 films released in theaters in 2020. The study notes that this figure is slightly higher than the proportion of people of color in the overall U.S. population, with people of color accounting for 40% of the total population in 2020.

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A similar trend was found when it comes to streaming. Within the top films released onto streaming services in 2020, ratings were highest for viewers in the 18-49 group as well as white, Black, Latinx and Asian households when the film featured a cast containing 21% to 30% minority actors. The top film on streaming was “Onward,” which contained a 41% to 50% minority cast, followed by “Spenser Confidential,” which fell in the 21% to 30% range. Both the third and fourth spots were claimed by films featuring a cast that was over 50% minority, “Hamilton” and “Extraction.” In fact, only one film on the top 10 streaming list was less than 11% minority: “The Wrong Missy.”

However, the study also notes that there is much more work to be done when it comes to representation in Hollywood, especially behind the camera. Though people of color neared proportionate representation among film leads with 39.7% in 2020 and exceeded proportionate representation among total actors with 42%, people of color remained underrepresented among film writers and directors.

Additionally, films with diverse casts did not make progress at last year’s Academy Awards, with films featuring casts that were 11% to 20% minority deemed most likely to have won in Oscar in 2020, while films with more than 30% minority casts did not win awards. “Indeed, not a single English-language film featuring a minority lead won at least one Oscar last year,” the study concluded, though films contending for the 2021 Oscars have considerably more diverse talent.

Read the full study here.

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