UCLA Report Finds Improvement In Diversity Among TV Actors, Majority Of Hollywood Execs Remain White And Male

Dino-Ray Ramos
·6 min read

UCLA released the second part of their Hollywood Diversity Report which puts the last two seasons of TV under the microscope and the findings are not that surprising. As Hollywood tries its best to bolster inclusivity behind and in front of the camera, the report proves that getting to an even playing ground of equity is going to be a long journey because the people in the top executive positions tend to be dominated by white men — and that’s not necessarily inclusive. However, the good news is that diversity among TV actors continues to improve.

The report is a continuation of the February report which examined film and found similar results: that women and people of color are overwhelmingly absent in top studio positions. This seems to be a trend that definitely needs to be addressed if Hollywood wants to become more inclusive.

An analysis by researchers at the UCLA College found that women hold only 32% of studio chair and CEO jobs while people of color (or POC, which, in the study is defined as people of Asian, Black, Latinx, Middle Eastern & North African, Multiracial and Native descent) are at a mere 8%. On broadcast, cable and digital, only 24% of credited writers are people of color while 22% of episodes were directed by people of color in 2018–19. The silver lining is that the representation of women and people of color in acting roles has improved since last year’s report. However, this presents a disparity in diverse voices creating their own narratives and having authentic representation in front of the camera. According to the study, diversity is what audiences want as ratings and social media engagement data show that audiences respond to diversity.

Women and people of color made gains in nearly all of the 13 television employment categories tracked by the report, but both groups still are not represented proportionately to their share of the U.S. population overall.

“There has been a lot of progress for women and people of color in front of the camera,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College and a co-author of the report. “Unfortunately, there has not been the same level of progress behind the camera. Most notably in the executive suite, there has been very little change since we began compiling data five years ago. That’s very telling, particularly in light of our current racial reckoning.”

Upon further unpacking, the report, which is compiled and published by researchers in the UCLA College social sciences division, took a deep dive into two seasons of scripted broadcast, cable and digital programming. The total tally was 453 shows in 2017–18 and 463 shows in 2018–19. In 2018–19, POC actors were almost proportionally represented (35.0%) among lead roles in scripted cable shows. (POC represent 40.2% of the population overall.) Women actors achieved parity in lead roles for digital scripted shows (49.4%) and almost did so among lead roles in scripted cable shows (44.8%).

Broken down further, Black actors reached proportional representation (12.9%) among lead actors in cable scripted shows in 2017–18 and lead actors in cable scripted programs (14.1%) in 2018–19. Black actors were also overrepresented in total cast diversity for broadcast (18%) and cable shows (18.2%) in 2018–19. The U.S. population is about 13% Black. Latinx and Asian Americans remain significantly underrepresented in nearly all industry positions. There is minimal inclusion of people of Middle Eastern and North African descent and representation for Native Americans practically non-existent.

As for other job categories reviewed in the report, the findings were expected as they were disappointing. Men hold almost twice as many jobs as women and whites hold at least twice as many as POC. However, the needle is moving forward at a glacial pace. Of all lead acting slots on broadcast shows in 2018–19, people of color held 24.0%, almost a fivefold increase from 2011–12 when it was 5.1%.

As mentioned, the greatest racial and gender disparities are in behind-the-camera jobs such as show creator, writer and director. Among digital programs, just 10.3% of show creators were POC; in broadcast, 10.7%; and for cable, 14.7%. Meanwhile, women held 28.6% of show creator titles for digital programs, 28.1% for broadcast and 22.4% for cable. In 2018–19, only 24% of credited writers were POC and only 22% of all episodes airing or streaming were directed by POC, on average, across broadcast, cable, and digital platforms.

Still in the top ranks are white men. As of 2020, chair/CEO positions were overwhelmingly held by white people (92.0%) and men (68.0%); and the statistics were similar for senior executives (84.0% white, 60.0% male) and unit heads (87.0% white, 54.0% male).

“Just as with film, it’s those at the top of the television industry who have the most power to foster talent and invest in programming,” said Ana-Christina Ramon, a co-author of the report and director of research and civic engagement in the UCLA division of social sciences. “The underrepresentation of people of color in the executive suite as creators, writers, and directors is problematic, even if there are more people of color in acting roles, because their characters’ storylines may lack authenticity or will be written stereotypically or even ‘raceless’ if the disparity continues.”

After the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and numerous members of the Black community, there has been a long-time coming reckoning in the film and TV industry — and the entire world. A mirror was put in front of many faces to address issues with race that have been in plain sight long before the death of Black people at the hands of the police. Hunt wonders if this racial reckoning will have an impact on hiring practices — and we’ll definitely see that in next year’s report.

As mentioned, the report continues to prove that TV audiences respond to diversity. In other words, audiences are craving stories and faces that are inclusive and reflect the real world we live in. Among Black households, all 10 of the top-rated broadcast TV shows in 2018–19 featured casts that were at least 21% POC — this was the same story for white households: eight of the top 10 broadcast scripted shows among white viewers had casts that were at least 21% POC. Social media engagement tends to be strong when casts are more diverse, too. Judging viewers’ activity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter activity around scripted cable TV shows, figures spiked when the shows had majority-minority casts.

“Over time, work has been done to improve representation among certain groups — like Black actors in particular — but the near absence of Native Americans in these jobs is potent evidence that systems of racial erasure continue to exist,” Hunt said.

Read the full report here.

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