Silver Screen Green

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.

References

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.

 

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13 Responses to Silver Screen Green

  1. Krystina says:

    Hi Tyler,

    Your post brought to mind the National Geographic article, The Changing Face of America, which briefly touches on shifting demographics in the US and what it may mean. I appreciate that the heart of this post is about representation and customers looking to see a reflection of themselves in their products, even their entertainment. I believe this concept is what has made movies with relatively small budgets like Hidden Figures and Get Out more than exceed expectations at the box office.

    I still need to see Big Hero 6 so I can’t speak much to how diversifying the cast affected the movie, but you present two sides of an interesting crossroads in theaters these days.
    Thanks for such a great post!

  2. Barbara says:

    I think animation is really easy to diversify. Hollywood is getting live action diversification better bit by bit. Shows like American Horror Story (yes, I’m obsessed) and Orange is the New Black (also obsessed) have diverse casts and play to a wide audience. I think its in entertainment’s best interest to diversify. It also helps with character depth and the richness of the interaction in the story. Thought provoking post!

  3. Tracy Gohari says:

    Two movies I have really enjoyed recently are Zootopia and Sing. Your post made me think more about the voices behind the characters in both of these movies and now I want to go back and re-look at them in light of how diverse they are. Since both movies have a theme of tolerance and acceptance regardless of your “type”, I hope I won’t be crushed to learn all the actors are white…(I don’t think they are but you’ve made me want to take a closer look!)
    I do wonder, how does the MPAA know what ethnicities are buying what tickets? That statistic gave me pause and I wonder how accurate it can be. Not saying I disagree, just wondering how the data is collected.
    Thanks for your post!

  4. Paula Manuel says:

    Terrific discussion, Tyler! The gross under-representation of African Americans in Hollywood has been discussed ad nauseam. A couple of years ago the “OscarsSoWhite” hashtag had a life of its own during Oscar season. In the African American community, we have joked (with some semblance of seriousness) about how the black characters are often the first to die in horror films, or that the parts we are given are usually laborers, single parents, or in some way a part of the drug culture. Although animation is only the beginning, it is great to see that it is, indeed, beginning somewhere.

  5. Dena Lawless says:

    Hi Tyler, big Hero 6 was one of my favorite movies, along with Zootopia and I did like Sing as well. All had a “diverse cast”. And then there is Moana. Also in Television, Sofia the First, and a complete list of top rated tv series shows like Empire, Blackish, and the Bachelorette. I see all types of diversity happening in television and animation. I believe that your lack of diversity focus might be best served towards top box office films that portray leading A-cast actors like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. I agree with Paula’s comment that the roles need to be considered in box office movies. By the way, it’s not just the diverse audience that notices the unrealistic role portrayal. Not everyone looks like or identifies with the top 1% of celebrities supposedly representing the everyday women and men. 🙂 It’s eye-rolling to see the same type of people cast as regular people. The only way for Hollywood to change is for the ticket buying audience is to petition or cast their votes with their dollars.

  6. Larry Williams says:

    Great piece. This has been a sore subject of mine for centuries, literally. As the past owner of the world’s largest minority talent agency, I have seen far too many projects, read far too many scripts and been in far too many creative meetings that have all supported a generic look and feel to feature films. From my experience, all people inherently want to see something that reminds them of themselves or something identifiable to a personal experience. Similar to the thoughts on Brand building. Effective Brand communication stems from identifying some part of a universal truth in your story.

    I think all people strive to see a world on screen that reflects the one they live in. If you happen to live in a homogenous environment, you are in the minority. Specifically, when characters and story lines follow historical or geographical guidelines, the feeling of separation and privilege seem to permeate perception when products are not cast properly. Unfortunately, the ultimate affect is a disconnect from the human beings these films intended to connect. The audience looses the message dealing with the dissonance on the screen. So the message is for the creators and distributors of these films. You are losing your audience and actually doing society a disservice.

    • Dena Lawless says:

      Hey Larry! Good to see you in print. 🙂 I did not know that you owned the world’s largest minority talent agency – that’s pretty incredible. Your words echo true; in fact I often make a face when I see lack of reality in film or animation. One thing I’ve noticed in homogeneous film, is that no one ever really faces a true crisis and they all live in amazing homes. Good reply! -Dena

  7. Araz says:

    Great post, Tyler! I liked how you stated, “Ultimately, people want to see themselves represented where they are spending their money.” You touch on an important topic. It seems for many years that diversity falls short in major films, although it has progressed over the years, it still has a lot to go.

  8. LaRaye says:

    Tyler, reading your post took my mind back to 2006. I was living in Toledo and ecstatic to see my older cousin’s movie. I wrote nonfiction — news — and Kriss Turner’s success as a fiction writer had always been an inspiration. Her years of television writing had led her to the big screen. I was proud, overjoyed and inspired as I walked into the movie theater and bought a ticket to her movie. The older cousin who combed my hair when I was a toddler and always said she would be a writer had done it again! Then … disappointment. The person at the counter gave me a ticket for a movie with a majority white cast. When I pointed out the error and asked for a ticket to “Something New,” the staffer rolled her eyes and snapped, “It doesn’t matter.” I insisted on a correct ticket. She angrily printed one. The young girl had a handful of tickets to the other movie in her hand and seemed to be giving them to everyone behind me. It clearly wasn’t a mistake, but a ploy to inflate the numbers of the big premiere with the majority white cast. I wonder how many people noticed. Since then, I struggle to trust the box office numbers, especially when movies with majority minority casts are released. Did the minority movie really not do well, or did someone decide to give another movie the credit?

    We have a long way to go in reflecting our true society in movies and in awarding and recognizing the true ticket sales of movies with diversified casts.

  9. Stephanie Chavez says:

    Hi Tyler,

    Great topic to discuss. There has been a small shift in leading role representation and it is apparent. I believe Disney is leading the way with this, by placing different female characters ranging from different ethnic backgrounds. It was very interesting to read that Asian/Other Americans visit movie theaters more than other races and that almost no leading roles represent this group of movie goers. Big Hero 6 was a great example of a diversified cast that can help its viewers relate more to the story and cast. You would think that industry experts would begin considering incorporating more casts like this to expand its market and increase revenue. I believe in the next few years we will continue to see an increase of ethnic leading roles in movies and while Disney appears to be one of the only studios leading this change, I think others will soon follow. The importance of showing characters that represent the public is imperative if studios want to increase sales. This was also seen when Disney chose to portray a character in Beauty and the Beast that appeared to be a part of the LGBT community. I think it is also more important for Disney to continue this path because most of its consumers are small children that need actual representation of themselves on the big screen. Thanks again for sharing your input.

  10. Violet ward8 says:

    I do believe it gets tiring seeing the same actors play the same type of roles on the big screen. Diversifying actors in films from all different races and cultures does sound like a good idea. Exposure to different aspects of society can create a positive growth experience.

  11. Violet ward says:

    I do believe it gets tiring seeing the same actors play the same type of roles on the big screen. Diversifying actors in films from all different races and cultures does sound like a good idea. Exposure to different aspects of society can create a positive growth experience.

  12. Elia Sanchez says:

    It is true that major networks have slowly become more inclusive, but in my opinion, not inclusive enough. I dedicated over a decade to working in Diversity Development at a major network and I saw the needle ever-so slightly moving towards inclusion. However, although it appears that inclusion has become a greater conversation in Hollywood, seeing what happened on the set of CBS’s ‘Hawaii Five-O in the last few weeks is a testament that there is so much more work to be done.

    A few weeks ago, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, actors on CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O” quit the show as a result of not receiving equal pay than their white costars according to Variety. So, while at first glance, we may see more diversity on the small or big screen, this incident begs the question of- what truly is going on behind the scenes?