According to new research, TV networks are casting a more diverse range of actors, with an increase in leading roles going to women.
A new UCLA report found an uptick in tv shows created by women and people of color, but researchers see signs that could predict a drop in gender and racial diversity on big-budget shows.
Although the television industry has become more diverse recently, casting women in lead roles is still not guaranteed.
UCLA's new Entertainment and Media Research Initiative published the Hollywood Diversity Report for this year, which showed an overall increase in diversity since last season. Although this is good news, researchers fear these numbers could drop again due to a lack of big-budget shows and writing positions available to people of color and women.
"The next few years may be a true test of whether Hollywood is truly committed to the changes they promised during the nation's reckoning on race following the murder of George Floyd," Ana-Christina Ramón, co-author of the report, said.
The study discovered that series featuring diverse casts, like Netflix's Bridgeton and TNT's Snowpiercer, continued to draw in large audiences of non-white viewers. And social media engagement was highest for digital series with more people of color involved, such as those mentioned above from Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu. The social buzz for broadcast scripted shows was highest when the casts were between 31 and 40 percent minority.
Even though many people want to see TV shows with a lead cast of mostly minority actors, this group is still not adequately represented on broadcast TV. On cable and digital TV, there are nearly the same percentages of minority actors as in the general population.
The report showed that even though there were more female and minority show creators this season, they still did not have the same opportunities as their white male counterparts regarding high-concept shows.
"We saw an uptick in opportunity for people of color and women having their shows greenlit, which should be a marker of progress," Ramón said. "However, when we examined the episodic budgets of all the TV series, we see a strong pattern indicating that shows created by people of color and women tended to receive smaller budgets than those created by white men, particularly in the digital arena."
The study found that nearly half of all shows created by white men had budgets of more than $3 million per episode, whereas women and people of color had budgets less than that.
Not only does it track the gender and race of people who have key jobs in broadcast, cable, and digital, but this year's figures were also better than last year's. Although they didn't reach full representation for their respective groups, there was still progress.
"Diversity initiatives traditionally are the first to be sacrificed when there are economic downturns," co-author Darnell Hunt said. "We're already seeing it start with cutbacks at Warner and HBO. But rolling back efforts before equity has been truly achieved for women and people of color would be a major miscalculation."
He continued, "Any cost-savings studios realize now will come at the expense of alienating increasingly diverse viewers who expect increased representation in their TV shows and do not make good business sense in the long term."
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