Story at a glance

  • The film industry has taken a huge hit this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • A new study by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) provides key insights into how diversity in front of and behind the camera can affect a studio’s bottomline.
  • Researchers have found that movie studios can expect to lose up to $130 million per film when it lacks authentic diversity.

In a year that’s already been devastating for Hollywood and the entire movie industry, every dollar earned (or lost) counts. Would-be blockbusters have been relegated to digital debuts or had their opening days pushed back to the following year because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and movie theatres remain closed or partially open with not much new content to screen. Cineworld Group, the owner of Regal Cinemas, said Sunday it has even made the decision to suspend operations at all of its theaters in the United States and the United Kingdom as coronavirus cases continue to spread.

"Imagine if you were on a cruise ship lost in the Bermuda Triangle — that's about how bad the domestic cinema situation is right now," Jeff Bock, a senior analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations told CNN Business.

Amidst the chaos and depleted revenues, a new study has emerged from the UCLA-based Center for Scholars and Storytellers with key information on what single factor could mean a $130 million loss per film for movie studios. The study is titled “Beyond Checking A Box: A Lack of Authentically Inclusive Representation Has Costs at the Box Office,” and its researchers now have solid evidence that bringing authentic diversity to film improves financial performance at the box office, while a lack of diversity can result in major losses.

The report analyzed 109 films from 2016 to 2019 by utilizing a metric for authentic and diverse storytelling called Authentically Inclusive Representation (AIR), which represents the inclusion of diverse voices, people and cultures both in front and behind the camera. 

What it found was that movies that presented viewers with authentic diversity, such as the Pixar animated film “Coco,” Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” and Warner Bros’ romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians” can actually bring in higher profitable grosses at the box office. Conversely, it found that movie studios can expect to lose up to $130 million per film when they lack authentic diversity in their storytelling. Researchers found that large-budget films can now expect significant costs in the opening weekend box office for a lack of diversity — a film with a budget of $159 million, for example, would lose $32.2 million in the first weekend box office. 

“We asked, what is the cost of lacking diversity? Hollywood is a business, and no business wants to leave money on the table,” senior author Yalda T. Uhls, a UCLA adjunct assistant professor of psychology and founder and executive director of the Center for Scholars and Storytellers, told Deadline. “While increasing numerical representation behind and in front of the camera is critical, truly empowering people from diverse backgrounds is the key. For example, make sure the writers room is open to dissenting opinions, that a wide net is cast for hiring, and that younger, less-tenured voices are encouraged.”

Besides explicit analysis, researchers also offer recommendations to film studios on how to foster more authentic representation, like implementing explicit norms and guidelines that ensure all viewpoints will be shared. Other recommendations include hiring diverse casting directors who can bring in diverse talent, bringing in expertise at the beginning of the development process, and including counter-stereotypical, multi-dimensional characters in their movies. A key tip offers that if there is a writers room, studio heads should ensure that all voices, viewpoints and experiences are heard and welcomed.

“This study demonstrates that studios are leaving money on the table by not showcasing stories that are authentically diverse,” said Stephanie Allain, founder of Homegrown Pictures. “Perhaps now is finally the time that Hollywood movies, which shape hearts and minds throughout the world, will start to reflect all of us in ways that resonate deeply with the multicultural audiences that make up the USA.”


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Published on Oct 07, 2020