“The population is becoming more diverse over time and the question is: What is Hollywood doing relative to that population increasing in diversity?” said study co-author Darnell Hunt at a Tuesday night discussion.
Despite the emergence of film and television series heralded for their diversity, such as Black Panther, Girls Trip, Atlanta and Black-ish, Darnell Hunt, sociologist and co-author of UCLA’s 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report, maintains little has changed both in front of and behind the camera.
Hunt highlighted key trends of the five-year study that took place from 2012 to 2016, specifying how, despite the annual steady increase of the national minority population, representation in Hollywood remains disproportionate. The study, titled Five Years of Progress and Missed Opportunities, focused on 11 main arenas and their proportion of people of color and women in various film, broadcast, cable and digital sectors.
“The bad news in every arena, regardless of the progress we made last year, is that women and people of color remain woefully underrepresented,” said Hunt to the small gathering at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center on Tuesday night. “The minority population is increasing by about half a percentage per year. … So the population is becoming more diverse over time and the question is: What is Hollywood doing relative to that population increasing in diversity?”
In terms of gender parity in film director roles, Hunt said it was “the single worst statistic in our study” and called attention to the importance of highlighting female helmers like Gina Prince Bythewood and Felicia D. Henderson, who also spoke at the evening’s panel.
Henderson, currently working on the TV series The Quad and Marvel’s The Punisher, said the success story of Black Panther, while deserving of praise, was worrisome.
“You see change, but you don’t see consistent change,” she said. “The more you see a success story like Black Panther, while you celebrate it, you’re also freaking out because you don’t want it to be a moment. … So how do we do that, so it’s a movement instead of a moment?”
Behind the camera, statistics showed most of the executive decision-making is being carried out by white males in both television and film. The report also found that films and TV shows perform best with 21 percent-30 percent minority casting, and yet the trend of disproportionate casting remains.
“Films that have casts that look more like America in terms of diversity of the cast, on average, do the best,” Hunt said. “So it’s a contradictory sort of practice here where they’re making lots and lots of films that aren’t diverse that are bombing at the box office.”
Bythewood said she encountered such resistance while pitching Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State to four studios. After being rejected by three studios pitching to white men, she and Gay went to Fox Searchlight, where two women of color bought the project on the spot.
“It was like a warm cuddly blanket,” she said. “They just got it, they felt it in their soul. We’re passionate about it — they seemed even more passionate about it … they wanted to see it onscreen. That makes all the difference and that’s where the change has to happen. More women and more people of color in these positions.”
Henderson said the next step for the industry is to cast culturally specific roles in order to teach the next generation how to celebrate differences.
“What I still see is now people who all look different, but all behave like mainstream America,” she said. “You don’t see them necessarily being culturally specific. I still think that’s a huge problem and that’s, to me, the next shift I’d like to see. When I think of children, I think of how are they ever going to live in a world where difference is celebrated if they don’t see that cultural specificity depicted in the media?”