Annual Report Probes Diversity in Hollywood Ahead of 2020 Oscars

February 7, 2020
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What is the progress when it comes to diversity for actors, directors of color and women in the movie industry -- especially behind the scenes?

Hollywood has been slammed over the years for its lack of diversity both onscreen and behind the scenes. This year's nominees are still overwhelmingly white -- and the recent controversy has been how Greta Gerwig wasn't nominated for Best Director for "Little Women," even though the movie is nominated for Best Picture.

Darnell Hunt, Dean of Social Sciences at UCLA, and professor of sociology and African American Studies at UCLA, released the annual "Hollywood Diversity" report and stopped by KNX In-Depth Thursday to talk to co-hosts Charles Feldman and Mike Simpson.

This is the seventh annual report. Hunt discussed the report that shows little progress over the past several years at including more actors, directors, producers of color on film and TV crews.

The report also shows little to no progress on more women and people of color at studio executive positions. The report "considers the top 200 theatrical film releases in 2018 and 2019, ranked by global box office, in order to document the degree to which women and people of color are present in front of and behind the camera. It discusses any patterns between these findings and box office receipts by key audience demographics..."

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There's some good news and bad news. Hunt said it is a tale of two Hollywoods.

"The good news is we are seeing, finally, finally in film, some progress in front of the camera. In fact, people of color, among overall cast roles if you look at the top eight roles in each film, are actually approaching proportionate representation. They are not quite there yet but they represent about 32.7 percent of the major roles we saw in films in 2019 which is a huge increase..."

The bad news?

"It's what's happening behind the camera. That's where it all happens. It all starts with the writing - the stories that electrify audiences, the characters that people are asked to identify with. The writers are the ones who craft that material.

Unfortunately, women and people of color have had a hard time breaking into the core of creative writers for major Hollywood films. Again, we see very little increase for people of color," Hunt said.

He said women have made some progress when it came to being represented as directors, even though they haven't seen progress as writers.

What is behind the lack of progress? 

"It's really more about opportunity and less about talent," Hunt said. "We have seen the increases onscreen and that's because Hollywood has gotten the memo that diversity sells. One of the things we look at in our study is the relationship between onscreen diversity and the box office. Repeatedly, over the last seven reports, we have shown a clear relationship showing that films that look more like America, on average, do the best in terms of global box office," Hunt said.

He said diverse audiences are where the money is.

"Hollywood, now, is recognizing that fact, they are putting more people of color on the screen. What they're not doing is putting people of color and women behind the scenes, where a lot of the important decisions are made about what gets green-lighted, what type of budget is going to be attached to the project, who is likely going to direct the project -- all of which have an impact on the quality and nature of the images that appear in the project."

He said diverse people want to see themselves represented on film and are willing to pay. 

Hunt said it didn't long for the industry to understand, that in order to continue to make money, they'd have to change what they're showing. 

"The reason why they haven't changed what happens behind the camera is because, quite frankly, the white men who have dominated the industry traditionally simply don't want to share that power. It really does boil down to power," he said.

Hunt was joined by April Reign, an attorney/activist and founder of the #OscarsSoWhite movement in 2015.

This year's Oscars nominees are still overwhelmingly white.

"The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the people who run the Oscars, committed in 2016 when we saw the second consecutive year of no people of color nominated for any of the acting categories committed to doubling the number of people of color, doubling the number of women within their ranks by this year, by 2020. Even with that amount of progress, and they fell short in one of those categories, the overall voting membership is still 84 percent white and 68 percent male," she said. "So when the nominations came out I was disappointed but not surprised."

There may be more people of color in front of the camera, but is that a diversion from behind the scenes?

Hunt said that's called window dressing.

He said the industry needs to change the way it does business and needs to have more people of color and women directors and writers.

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