Representation in TV and Movies at An All-Time High in 2022
Will Hollywood Continue to Tell Diverse Stories? Experts split on the matter.
This last year, popular TV series like “The L Word: Generation Q,” “Empire,” “Wednesday,”“Reservation Dogs,” “Euphoria” and so many others, grabbed us by the throat while providing us with representation of LGBTQ+, BIPOC, Indigenous, AAPI and disabled communities. Diverse casts and stories make people feel seen and heard but will Hollywood continue to tell diverse stories and hire diverse actors? Experts are split on the matter.
According to Nielsen data for the 2020-2021 TV season, 78% of the top 1,500 TV programs had representation of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. While there is more representation on TV than before, there are still issues with equitable conditions, budgets and pay. Experts warn that numbers don’t tell the full story and are concerned this may be performative and Hollywood won’t continue to deliver diverse stories.
“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, director of Entertainment and Media Research Initiative at UCLA, said in a 2022 press release.
Only 13.1% of show creators were non-white during the 2020-2021 TV season, according to the 2022 report from the Entertainment and Media Research Initiative at UCLA. This number increased from the 2019-2020 season (9.8%) but is still incredibly low.
The increase in racial diversity for lead performers in scripted shows, however, is promising. While still low, the 2020-2021 season saw 27.4% of BIPOC lead actors, compared to 23.2% between 2019-2020 and 5.1% for the 2011-2012 season.
The increase is promising, but it’s been slow. Experts warn that this could be at risk and to tread lightly.
But quality is more important than quantity, experts say. Currently, the United States population is 42.2% non-white and the number is projected to increase in the future. That being said, Hollywood, specifically white TV and movie writers need to be careful about portraying characters from a community, culture, race, etc. that is not their own because no group of people are the same and cannot be represented as such – this is why it’s important to have a diverse writers room.
Misrepresenting a group can lead to problems or even violence later down the road. Race to a Cure states that when a TV show, movie, book, etc. gets something wrong about a group of people, it can lead to people forming inaccurate and negative stereotypes about a group of people in their head, which can lead is discrimination and racism towards the group of people.
“Diversity initiatives traditionally are the first to be sacrificed when there are economic downturns,” Darnell Hunt, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost, and co-founder of the Hollywood Diversity Report 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.”
For example, women have reached an almost comparable level of representation in scripted lead roles this past season. Women held 44.3% of lead roles and men held 55.7% of lead roles. This number is an increase from last year but the number was higher in the 2011-2012 which clocked in at 48.5% women and 51.5% men. In addition to this, the majority of these roles are held by white women.
In addition to this, UCLA researchers found there are not any databases that have consistent or verifiable information about people working in Hollywood who are LGBTQ+ or have disabilities as they “are not always publicly known or necessarily visible.” This makes tracking those areas of representation difficult.
As of right now, the roster of upcoming productions seems hopeful, but only time will tell if Hollywood keeps it up.