Generations growing up watching films like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” can finally feel like they belong.
Diversity in film is an important issue that has sparked social media movements like #OscarsSoWhite. However, diversity is not just about race. It includes culture, gender and sexual orientation.
The University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism releases a Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity (CARD) every several years. The 2016 report found that across all film and television releases in 2014, 84.8 percent of directors were male and 15.2 percent were female. This means that in popular media there are on average 5.6 males for every female.
The argument against diversity in film may be that filmgoers do not want to see a diverse cast because they would rather see a famous actor fill the role.
“Famous white men are the easiest to cast in movies in order to easily sell them in non-U.S. markets. And since selling these non-U.S. markets currently drives a large part of modern film finance, you may find people who believe in diversity still rationalizing non-diverse casting opinions,” said Paula Bernstein in an IndieWire article.
However, films like “Ghost in the Shell” and “The Great Wall” have featured whitewashed leads in order to fit into old ideas of what will sell, resulting in box office failures. Meanwhile, films like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” with diverse casts have become huge blockbuster hits.
“Across the 11,306 speaking characters evaluated [in CARD], 66.5% were male and 33.5% were female…28.3% of all speaking characters were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, which is below (-9.6%) the proportion in the U.S. population (37.9%),” according to USC Annenberg. They also found the sample to be about 70 percent white.
It is important to have a rich representation of different cultures because the stories of minorities might never be told otherwise.
Having a film that tells a culture’s story on the big screen is a huge moment for people.
When “Black Panther” and “Get Out” premiered they were both championed by the black community. Not only did these films have a diverse cast, but diverse writers and producers too. These films received outstanding recognition for their cinematography and were popular not just because of the diverse casts.
“Having a diverse cast, like what I saw in ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ was a huge moment for the Asian community. It was the first time in a while that I could see someone who looked like me in the pinnacle of entertainment. Asians in Hollywood have been pretty underrepresented and were usually depicted as martial artists, like Bruce Lee or Jet Li, and something like this was a fresh change,” said Cal Lutheran alumni and self-proclaimed film buff Emily Kliaoakkadej.
Kliaoakkadej said next she would like to see more female writers.
The 2016 CARD showed that for every female screenwriter there were 2.5 male writers.
That is not to say less diverse films no longer belong in the industry. Every year there are great films that meet the old standard and are excellent works of cinematography with great stories. These will still have a place on the marquee.
Minority representation in the entertainment industry will allow new stories to be told and open doors for those who think filmmaking, acting and writing are not for them.