Hollywood Is Actually Progressing Backwards, According To New Study

A UCLA study on Hollywood found that gains in diversity for theatrical releases are back down to 2019 levels.

By Zack Zagranis | Updated

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Is Hollywood diversity backsliding? That’s the way it seems based on the newest UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the UCLA study report reveals that representation in Tinseltown has reverted to pre-COVID era levels.

Researchers learned that when they drew a distinction between Hollywood theatrical films and straight-to-streaming movies, “the gains in diversity for theatrical releases melted away.” The report focused on the 200 highest-grossing English language movies released globally and found that on the big screen, at least, diversity is suffering.

POC accounted for just 22 percent of lead actor roles in 2022’s crop of theatrical offerings. That number dropped to 17 percent for directors and 12 percent for writers. Women meanwhile made up 39 percent of the leads in Hollywood and only 15 percent of the directors–not a lot of diversity considering they make up half the population.

When it came to casting, streaming beat out theatrical for the title of the most diverse platform. Casts that were less than 70 percent white made up 64 percent of the movies released on streaming. Compare that to only 57 percent of theatrical movies, and it becomes clear that Hollywood has room for improvement when it comes to diversity.

hollywood diversity

While a certain faction of the country would have you believe the lack of Hollywood diversity is simply better business, that’s just not the case. Turning Red and Encanto–both movies about young women of color coming of age–were the two most streamed movies of 2022. It would seem that “Go woke, go broke” is a flawed idiom at best.

The report found that for both streaming and Hollywood films, the ones pushing diversity performed better. As UCLA vice chancellor Darnell Hunt put it, “Audiences of color are the bedrock of Hollywood and key to the bottom line as research shows once again that audiences prefer diverse casts.”

When it comes to Hollywood, it seems that diversity does matter…when it comes to a film’s budget. Of the 73 percent of theatrical releases helmed by white men, 60 percent had a budget north of $30 million. Meanwhile, that number drops to less than half for movies directed by women. Over 56 percent of white women-directed features had budgets smaller than $20 million.

Cocaine Bear, one of the few theatrical films directed by a woman with a budget higher than $30 million ($30-$35 million estimated), grossed over twice that amount at the box office. The Elizabeth Banks-helmed movie made over $82 million worldwide. To reiterate, the lack of Hollywood diversity is not a money thing.

One area where Hollywood actually upped its diversity was female writers. Theatrical movies written by women rose in number by 10 percent since 2019. Sadly out of the top 200 theatrical releases last year, only one was penned by a woman of color.

UCLA also looked at the percentage of disabled actors represented on screen for the first time ever. The report found that less than 10 percent of leads and 5 percent of onscreen roles were played by actors with disabilities. Much less than the 25 percent of adults actually living with a disability in the US currently.

The bottom line: if Hollywood wants to reflect the diversity of its audience better, then it needs to step up its game. Otherwise, streaming could replace theatrical releases permanently.