Film & TV Diversity: What Changed In 2019 And What’s Next In 2020

If there is a common thread with all the reports that came out in 2019 about diversity in Hollywood, it would be that while there have been strides for representation for marginalized communities in film and TV, there is still a long way to go. It’s a familiar tune, yes, but also a song the industry needs to hear in order to move toward inclusivity.

Although Hollywood loves to talk about diversity and inclusion, its actions and implementation of initiatives don’t always match — but we’re getting there. In 2019, as we live in a time endlessly referred to as “divisive,” we have seen a greater surge in the need for diverse stories and content, this show will begin to show how the industry is answering the call.

Of the multitude of diversity reports released in 2019 that show how Hollywood has been improving or failing recently in representation, Dr. Stacy L Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have led the charge. In a report released in September, Smith and her team found that 2018 saw huge strides in diversity and inclusion in film — thanks to Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians. The report took a comprehensive look at the film industry, examining 53,178 characters in 1,200 top films from 2007-2018, and found that 27 movies had leading or co-leading roles that featured characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. The percentage of characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups rose from 29.3% in 2017 to 36.3% last year.

In another research brief released by USC and Smith, the 100 top-grossing films of 2018 were examined. It found that 40 films in 2018 featured a female in a lead or co-lead role, an increase from 2017, which only had 32 films that featured a woman in the spotlight. Going off of that, 11 films in 2018 featured a woman of color or from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group in a lead or co-lead role — nearly three times as many films as in 2017.

In addition, their report titled “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair” saw an strong increase in black directors who helmed movies in the 100 top-grossing films of 2018. On the flip side, USC and Smith partnered with the Sundance Institute to examine the progress made when it came to directorial inclusion and representation for women and people of color. Despite an increase of females represented at the Sundance Film Festival, it is still far below 50%.

Unsurprisingly, plenty of other reports had similar “things are good but could be better” sentiments when it comes to Hollywood diversity. UCLA’s 2019 Hollywood Diversity Report found there has been progress for people of color and women, but they still remain mostly underrepresented. Another study, titled “Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion and Equity in TV Writing,” delved into the treatment of diverse writers in film and TV — and the findings were not great. It found that diverse writers that manage to get their foot in the door are often isolated, relegated to lower levels where they have little power to contribute, and have little say in casting in order to improve on-screen representation.

When it came to Latinx and Asian representation in past years, reports were mixed, with the Latinx community leaning towards wildly underrepresented. USC and Smith collaborated with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers and Wise Entertainment for a comprehensive study that examined the prevalence of Latinx characters onscreen across 1,200 top-grossing films from 2007-2018. Only 4.5% of all 47,268 speaking or named characters across the past 12 years were Latino, as were a mere 3% of lead or co-lead actors. As the years went on, little to no change was seen. That’s a fail: In the real world, 77% of U.S. states and territories have a population of Latinos greater than the percentage seen in Hollywood films.

As for Asians representation on TV, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition gave out report cards to the four major broadcast networks in regards to Asian American and Pacific Islander representation for their 2017-2018 TV seasons. The results? ABC was at the top of the class with an overall grade of B, while CBS improved from the previous season and earned an overall grade of B-. NBC passed by the skin of its teeth with a C-, dropping from last season, while Fox earned a failing grade.

GLAAD in 2019 published ongoing reports that break down the representation of LGBTQ characters on TV and film. In its “Where We Are On TV” report, they found that LGBTQ series regulars were at an all-time high and there was a significant increase in racial diversity of LGBTQ characters on broadcast and cable — though there was a decrease in streaming. The new numbers come after last year when GLAAD issued a call to action for the TV industry to reach 10% LGBTQ inclusion among broadcast series regular characters on primetime scripted series by 2020. The 2019-2020 report found that networks met and exceeded this call in just a year with its record-high percentage of LGBTQ series regulars on broadcast television at 10.2%, besting last year’s record high of 8.8%.

On the film side, GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index found that of the 110 releases from major studios in 2018, 20 (18.2%) included characters that were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer. It is a significant increase from the previous year’s data, which saw an all-time low at 12.8% — 14 out of 109 films. However, transgender characters were absent from the 110 major studio releases, and inclusion of queer people of color saw a significant drop.

In a different lens on diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, WarnerMedia this year followed through on its commitment to release a diversity and inclusion interim report that covered 2018. The report, a first for WarnerMedia or any studio, examined D&I when it came to corporate operations as well as the films, series and digital content created by its various properties.

When it came to workforce and production staffing, WarnerMedia is close to gender parity. On a global level, the workforce is 54% male and 46% female, while the U.S. average is 53% male and 47% female. More good news: half of all new hires and promotions to Vice President and above are women. When it came to people of color, 42% of the workforce in non-manager positions are people of color, a percentage that tends to decrease as you move up the ladder to senior levels. In addition, the percentage of people of color who were hired or promoted in 2018 exceeds their total percentage across all levels.

The WarnerMedia report also shows that representation and tolerance for underrepresented communities pertain to what’s happening behind the camera and beyond too. This includes the behavior of prominent figures and tastemakers in film and TV and that behavior’s rippling effects — with the rampant use of social media, everyone in Hollywood is subject to astute policing.

Throughout 2019, several actors, producers, writers and directors have displayed behavior that didn’t help Hollywood’s cause. At the top of the year, Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting the Oscars after old homophobic tweets surfaced, while Liam Neeson came under fire and was forced to atone for his tale of racist revenge.

When Green Book won the Oscar for Best Picture, it prompted a polarized back and forth over how the film told a black narrative through a white gaze. In April, well after Green Book’s victory, Participant Media’s Jonathan King spoke about the film during a Milken Institute panel, saying the producers were conscious about diversifying those involved with the film. Co-CEO of Bad Robot and co-founder of Time’s Up, Katie McGrath chimed in, saying, “A lot of the criticism [of Green Book] was probably more exhaustion about stories less centered on people of color and told through a white lens.” The movie has remained a divisive title.

IMDb received backlash from the trans community when it deadnamed actors, putting their lives at risk. Most recently, J.K. Rowling was put on blast for supporting Maya Forstater, a British researcher fired for comments interpreted as anti-trans. Needless to say, the industry’s behavior towards marginalized communities off-screen affects representation and the Hollywood ecosystem as a whole.

As for awards ceremonies outside the Oscars, the Emmys plummeted when it came to diverse winners and nominees. This year, only 24 acting nominations were for people of color. If you add two nominated reality show hosts of color, it brings the total to 26, a significant decrease compared with last year’s record 38.

When Golden Globe nominations were announced this month, female directors were shut out of the Best Director category despite a strong roster of potential nominees including The Farewell‘s Lulu Wang, Little Women‘s Greta Gerwig, Hustlers‘ Lorene Scafaria, Honey Boy‘s Alma Har’el, Queen & Slim’s Melina Matsoukas, Clemency’s Chinonye Chukwu, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood‘s Marielle Heller and Booksmart’s Olivia Wilde.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association also failed to recognize people of color in various categories. No filmmakers of color were recognized for Best Director except Bong Joon-Ho for Parasite. However, Dolemite Is My Name, which has a predominantly black cast and Jojo Rabbit, from Taika Waititi who is of Maori descent, were nominated for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical. On the acting side, the HFPA nominated Cynthia Erivo for Harriet, Awkwafina for The Farewell, Eddie Murphy for Dolemite Is My Name, Jennifer Lopez for Hustlers, Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory and Ana de Armas for Knives Out. For TV, only Porter (Pose), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) and Ramy Youssef (Ramy) scored nods among people of color.

For TV, a noticeable lack of people of color comes as somewhat of a surprise, considering TV is ahead of film when it comes to representation. The biggest Globes snub was Ava DuVernay’s critically acclaimed When They See Us. The Netflix limited series based on the Exonerated Five received no nominations despite its cultural impact.

If this is an indication of what to expect for the Oscars this year, we might be facing #OscarsSoWhite the sequel.

For every two steps back Hollywood takes on its uphill climb toward diversity and inclusion, there will always be a giant step forward — and there have been good strides made in 2019 by outliers.

DuVernay’s new OWN anthology drama Cherish the Day achieved full gender parity with a production crew of more than 50% women, including 18 female department heads. Pose‘s Angelica Ross became the first female transgender actress to secure two TV series regular roles, while Clemency director Chukwu became the first black woman to win Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize. Wang’s The Farewell bested Avengers: Endgame in the 2019 record for per-theater average by earning $88,916 per theater. Jordan Peele subverted the horror genre with the black-led film Us starring Lupita Nyong’o and gave a new, fresh take with The Twilight Zone on CBS All Access. Billy Porter became the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy while When They See Us star Jharrel Jerome became the first Afro-Latino and the first Dominican to win an acting Emmy. We also saw TV’s first out and proud gay superhero in Kate Kane’s Batwoman played by Ruby Rose, who identifies as gay. Nicole Maines, who identifies as trans, also made history as the first transgender superhero on Supergirl. All of these were just one of many firsts and groundbreaking moments in the industry.

In addition, studios, networks and prominent names in film and TV are working to push the needle forward, and let the ladder down, to the underrepresented. At Sundance, Smith announced the “4% Challenge,” which urges producers to make a commitment to work with a female director — especially a female director of color — within 18 months.

Franklin Leonard and The Black List partnered with Latinx organizations, the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and GLAAD for the Latinx List, CAPE List and GLAAD List, respectively. Like The Black List, the trio of screenwriting initiatives served up a curated list of promising unmade film scripts centering on Latinx, Asian and LGBTQIA characters, experiences and narratives.

The Ruderman Family Foundation also stepped forward into the spotlight this year, advocating for the disabled community in Hollywood — a community often overlooked and severely underrepresented on screens. It honored the TV series Ramy, This Close, Speechless, NCIS: New Orleans, Special and The OA, as well as films Give Me Liberty and The Peanut Butter Falcon with its Seal of Authentic Representation for accurate depictions of people with disabilities. In addition, CBS became the first entertainment company to sign the foundation’s pledge to commit to auditioning actors with disabilities. Dozens of award-winning actors, writers, directors and producers signed an open letter to the entertainment industry urging studios and networks to be more inclusive in the casting of actors with disabilities. On top of that, Deborah Calla and Allen Rucker, members of the WGA Writers with Disabilities Committee and Chairs of the Media Access Awards, released “Employing Writers with Disabilities: A Best Practices Guide.”

Networks and production companies have also added initiatives and programs in an effort to grow representation behind the camera in TV and film. Lee Daniels Entertainment said this year it is partnering with Represent by Original Media Ventures, an inclusive community of diverse storytellers, to launch a new diversity-focused creative workshop. Walt Disney Television launched the Executive Incubator and Television Studios Intern programs while NBC launched its first below-the-line initiatives with two pipeline programs focused on diversifying representation among production coordinators and production assistants. In addition, the American Film Institute received a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for an unprecedented study of gender parity in the history of American film.

With all of the reports and initiatives, Hollywood looks to build upon the progress in 2019 and move the needle more than just a smidge with a barrage of inclusive films and TV projects for 2020 — and it looks like women and women of color are leading that charge.

Women are set to dominate the comic book movie space this year. In addition to Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984, Warner Bros will release the Harley Quinn spinoff Birds of Prey directed by Cathy Yan featuring a badass cast including Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez and Ella Jay Basco. Marvel Studios is set to release the long-overdue stand-alone Black Widow pic directed by Cate Shortland, with Scarlett Johansson reprising her role as the superhero assassin. The Rider director Chloe Zhao will also step foot into the MCU by helming The Eternals, which will include a diverse cast with gender-flipped roles, an LGBTQ character and the first deaf hero played by Lauren Ridloff.

There will also be a pair of Gloria Steinem-centric projects for the new year, the first being the FX limited series Mrs. America which will focus on the true story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, with Rose Byrne starring as Steinem, Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug, Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm, Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus, and Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan. During Sundance, Julie Taymor will release The Glorias based on Steinem’s memoir. The film will star Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander as the iconic feminist in various stages of her life.

The female-led movement of films and TV series in 2020 also will see Disney’s live-action Mulan directed by Niki Caro; the Candyman revival helmed by Nia DaCosta; as well as Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington’s adaptation of Celeste Ng’s bestselling book Little Fires Everywhere. Awkwafina will ride her wave of success with her new Comedy Central series Nora From Queens, while Rosario Dawson will star in the USA Network anthology series Briarpatch. And finally, Lashana Lynch will make history as the first female 007 in the upcoming Cary Fukunaga-directed Bond pic No Time to Die.

The Latinx community will get a much needed boost of representation in film with the big-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony award-winning musical In The Heights starring Anthony Ramos and directed by Jon M. Chu, while Steven Spielberg will release a new iteration of the seminal West Side Story with Latinx stars and Tony winners Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez, as well as newcomer Rachel Zegler and returning star Rita Moreno, who will also be seen in the return of TV’s One Day at a Time. Freeform will also debut their revival of Party of Five, which reframes the ’90s drama with a Latinx family and a timely immigration narrative.

More inclusive projects coming to TV and film include Apple TV+ series of immigration stories Little America from Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, who will also star opposite Issa Rae in the romantic comedy The Lovebirds. Rae will also star opposite Lakeith Stanfield in the romantic drama The Photograph from Stella Meghie. Amazon will release the Peele-produced drama series The Hunters, which follows a diverse band of Nazi hunters living in 1977 New York.

With all of the strides, new initiatives championing inclusion and upcoming projects, there’s hope that this year will better reflect the real world of diverse faces, stories and experiences. All the ingredients for a diverse Hollywood are there. It’s up to the gatekeepers and decision-makers as to how they make it work — or if they want to make it work.

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