Film & TV Diversity: What Changed In 2019 And What’s Next In 2020

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If there is a common thread with all the reports that came out in 2019 about diversity in Hollywood, it would be that while there have been strides for representation for marginalized communities in film and TV, there is still a long way to go. It’s a familiar tune, yes, but also a song the industry needs to hear in order to move toward inclusivity.

Although Hollywood loves to talk about diversity and inclusion, its actions and implementation of initiatives don’t always match — but we’re getting there. In 2019, as we live in a time endlessly referred to as “divisive,” we have seen a greater surge in the need for diverse stories and content, this show will begin to show how the industry is answering the call.

Of the multitude of diversity reports released in 2019 that show how Hollywood has been improving or failing recently in representation, Dr. Stacy L Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have led the charge. In a report released in September, Smith and her team found that 2018 saw huge strides in diversity and inclusion in film — thanks to Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians. The report took a comprehensive look at the film industry, examining 53,178 characters in 1,200 top films from 2007-2018, and found that 27 movies had leading or co-leading roles that featured characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. The percentage of characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups rose from 29.3% in 2017 to 36.3% last year.

In another research brief released by USC and Smith, the 100 top-grossing films of 2018 were examined. It found that 40 films in 2018 featured a female in a lead or co-lead role, an increase from 2017, which only had 32 films that featured a woman in the spotlight. Going off of that, 11 films in 2018 featured a woman of color or from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group in a lead or co-lead role — nearly three times as many films as in 2017.

Black Panther Ryan Coogler
Marvel/Disney/Shutterstock

In addition, their report titled “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair” saw an strong increase in black directors who helmed movies in the 100 top-grossing films of 2018. On the flip side, USC and Smith partnered with the Sundance Institute to examine the progress made when it came to directorial inclusion and representation for women and people of color. Despite an increase of females represented at the Sundance Film Festival, it is still far below 50%.

Unsurprisingly, plenty of other reports had similar “things are good but could be better” sentiments when it comes to Hollywood diversity. UCLA’s 2019 Hollywood Diversity Report found there has been progress for people of color and women, but they still remain mostly underrepresented. Another study, titled “Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion and Equity in TV Writing,” delved into the treatment of diverse writers in film and TV — and the findings were not great. It found that diverse writers that manage to get their foot in the door are often isolated, relegated to lower levels where they have little power to contribute, and have little say in casting in order to improve on-screen representation.

When it came to Latinx and Asian representation in past years, reports were mixed, with the Latinx community leaning towards wildly underrepresented. USC and Smith collaborated with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers and Wise Entertainment for a comprehensive study that examined the prevalence of Latinx characters onscreen across 1,200 top-grossing films from 2007-2018. Only 4.5% of all 47,268 speaking or named characters across the past 12 years were Latino, as were a mere 3% of lead or co-lead actors. As the years went on, little to no change was seen. That’s a fail: In the real world, 77% of U.S. states and territories have a population of Latinos greater than the percentage seen in Hollywood films.

As for Asians representation on TV, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition gave out report cards to the four major broadcast networks in regards to Asian American and Pacific Islander representation for their 2017-2018 TV seasons. The results? ABC was at the top of the class with an overall grade of B, while CBS improved from the previous season and earned an overall grade of B-. NBC passed by the skin of its teeth with a C-, dropping from last season, while Fox earned a failing grade.

GLAAD in 2019 published ongoing reports that break down the representation of LGBTQ characters on TV and film. In its “Where We Are On TV” report, they found that LGBTQ series regulars were at an all-time high and there was a significant increase in racial diversity of LGBTQ characters on broadcast and cable — though there was a decrease in streaming. The new numbers come after last year when GLAAD issued a call to action for the TV industry to reach 10% LGBTQ inclusion among broadcast series regular characters on primetime scripted series by 2020. The 2019-2020 report found that networks met and exceeded this call in just a year with its record-high percentage of LGBTQ series regulars on broadcast television at 10.2%, besting last year’s record high of 8.8%.

On the film side, GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index found that of the 110 releases from major studios in 2018, 20 (18.2%) included characters that were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer. It is a significant increase from the previous year’s data, which saw an all-time low at 12.8% — 14 out of 109 films. However, transgender characters were absent from the 110 major studio releases, and inclusion of queer people of color saw a significant drop.

In a different lens on diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, WarnerMedia this year followed through on its commitment to release a diversity and inclusion interim report that covered 2018. The report, a first for WarnerMedia or any studio, examined D&I when it came to corporate operations as well as the films, series and digital content created by its various properties.(read more)

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