Hollywood’s Diversity Problem: Few Changes Made Behind The Camera Despite Nation’s Racial Reckoning, Study Finds

The brutal killings of Black Americans including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others this year have sparked a national reckoning on race and racism not seen in America since the urban uprisings of the 1960s. Hollywood was quick to join the chorus of institutional voices across the nation pledging support for the protesters and their calls for social justice. What was less clear, however, was the degree to which key industry players would put their money where their mouths were, stand on the right side of history, and take actions that might actually move Hollywood in a direction that advances movements for progressive change.  

In a “Dear Hollywood” letter, the Committee of Black Writers of the Writers Guild of America West called the industry’s bluff:

Hollywood, what you do next is paramount. As the most powerful entertainment industry in the world, we challenge you, the powers that be, those individuals with unmistakable privilege, the elite executives who gave the ok on those statements, to begin instituting real systemic change. Basically, either you commit to a new, institutionalized system of accountability with and to Black writers, or you prove that you’re putting on just another strategic, virtue-signaling performance deemed necessary to survive the times. But you won’t be able to survive without the radical inclusion of Black writers and artists on your sets and in your studios.1

The Committee of Black Writers’ claim about the necessary connection between the “radical inclusion” of diverse talent and Hollywood’s survival isn’t hyperbole. Not only is opening up the structures of Hollywood to more inclusive storytelling the right thing to do, it is also essential to the bottom line in an increasingly diverse America. As the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report series, which we write, has documented, people of color — 40.2 percent of the U.S. population in 2019 and growing — express a clear preference for storytelling that centers people like themselves, as well as narratives with which they can relate, in television shows. 

The most recent report in the series, which was released today, drives this point home by revealing critical differences in the top 10 shows by household race and ethnicity. For example:

  • Each of the top 10 broadcast scripted shows for Black households in 2018-19 featured casts that were at least 21 percent minority.
  • Nine of the top 10 broadcast scripted shows for viewers 18-19 and for Asian and Latino households in 2018-19 featured casts that were at least 21 percent minority.
  • Each of the top 10 cable scripted shows for Black households in 2018-19 had casts that were at least 21 percent minority; the same was true for four of the top 10 shows for Latino households.
  • Seven of the top 10 digital scripted shows for Latino households in 2018-19 featured casts that were at least 21 percent minority; the same was true for six of the top 10 digital scripted shows for viewers 18-49 and for Asian and Black households.

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