Before the recent demand for diversity in entertainment, I would drive on Sunset Blvd and see tons of billboards that predominately featured white men in films that explored their story lines and no one else’s. Across decades, films like Rocky, Forrest Gump, and Braveheart were awarded with tremendous box office success regardless of their casts not reflecting the ethnicities of society. With American demographics changing every year, there is a demand for a change in the way images are portrayed.
Ultimately, people want to see themselves represented where they are spending their money. Recently, a report from the Motion Picture Association of America showed people that consider themselves Asian/Other is the ethnic group that goes to the movies most often. McNary (2016), concluded that minorities are over represented as audience members and underrepresented in the cast of feature films. The recent demand for people to see themselves represented where they spend their money makes studios ask themselves what are they doing to diversify their casts, crews and audiences.
Representation of minorities is below 9.6% of what their overall population is in society (Smith, Choueiti, & Pieper, 2016). Although Asians account for a large number of ticket buyers, more than half of storylines across all entertainment platforms have zero speaking parts for Asian characters (Smith, Choueiti, & Pieper, 2016). When it comes to lead roles, minorities are underrepresented by a 3 to 1 ratio (McNary, 2016). In the age of remakes, superheroes and animated films Hollywood has forged its way into a more diverse future. According to the MPAA, the film with the most diverse audience was The Jungle Book. Fifty seven percent of the tickets sold for The Jungle Book belonged to minorities, with Latinos account for 22% and African Americans accounting for 18%.
The expectation of how animals will interact is clearer than the interaction expectations of humans. For example, when a shark appears in front of a clown fish the threat is present but can be turned into comic relief because the shark is in the process of being a vegetarian. On the other hand, when people see interactions on screen it makes them reflect upon their own experiences. Based on a potential audience member’s recall, they may not be inclined to see certain films. Animated films make casting a diverse cast much easier because convention does not apply. In The Lion King, a world was created where James Earl Jones was the father of Jonathan Taylor Thomas and that film was the highest grossing film of the year.
Big Hero 6 is an example of a diverse cast of talent that was modified from its original all Japanese cast. When asked how he would approach diversity and creativity, Williams said “It’s not a story set in the historic past. It is very present and now and it’s futuristic, actually, and it should reflect the now.” (Carter, 2014). Big Hero 6 went on to make over 650 million dollars at the box office and win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. As studios and actors continue to challenge unspoken rules about who can play what roles, the public’s overwhelmingly positive response to diverse material is encouraging.
Carter, K.L. (2014, November 4). “Big Hero 6” Is Disney’s Most Diverse Movie Yet. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/kelleylcarter/big-hero-6-is-disneys-most-diverse-movie-yet?utm_term=.any0w755o#.hwj0O6AAK
McNary, D. (2016, March 22). Hollywood’s Diversity Problem Potentially Costs Industry Billions (Study). Retrieved from http:variety.com/2016/film/news/hollywood-diversity-report-industry-losing-billions-1201714470/
MPAA. (2017). Theatrical Market Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.mpaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/MPAA-Theatrical-Market-Statistics-2016_Final
Smith, S. L., Choueiti, M., & Pieper, K. (2016). Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment (Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, pp. 1-27, Rep.). Los Angeles, CA: Institute of Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg.