UCLA Report: Cast Diversity at Decade High But BIPOC & Women Remain Underrepresented Off-Camera

The latest Hollywood Diversity Report from UCLA has found, for the first time since the study commenced nine years ago, that BIPOC “collectively reached or exceeded proportionate representation among the main cast” across broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms. This milestone has been enjoyed by mostly Black and multiracial folks in top roles, while Latinx persons remain drastically underrepresented on the small screen. The report has also found that the TV industry has become more segmented in the wake of the pandemic and that job opportunities are not equally distributed to women and minorities working in the field as White men creators continue to receive bigger budgets. 

The annual research project from UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) examines the relationship between diversity and the bottom line in the TV sector. This year’s edition evaluated 407 scripted broadcast, cable, and digital platform TV programs to document the representation of women and BIPOC behind and in front of the camera during the 2020-21 season. Bearing in mind that “people were still primarily confined to their homes for the beginning of the season and only slowly started to venture out as the season progressed due to businesses re-opening,” this year’s report had a thematic focus of mid- and post-pandemic entertainment consumption. 

“This report series has consistently documented the fact that diverse audiences demand diverse television content,” explained authors Dr. Ana-Christina Ramón, Michael Tran, and Dr. Darnell Hunt. “As the minority shares of audiences have grown, so too have the conventional ratings and social media engagement for relatively diverse shows.” 

All viewer groups had the highest median ratings for scripted cable programs with casts that were at least 41 percent minority. Such programs also enjoy increased Facebook and Instagram engagement.

The report also found, in comparison to its last edition, an increase in BIPOC employment relative to White counterparts in the 12 key employment arenas of the TV sector that were considered – including leads, show creators, credited writers, and episodes directed across broadcast, cable, and digital.

“Though people of color were approaching proportionate representation among cable and digital scripted leads, cable episodes directed, and credited cable writers,” the report details, “they remained underrepresented on every industry employment front during the 2020-21 television season.”

Sure enough, BIPOC show creators made up only 13.1 percent in scripted broadcast programs and 25.6 percent in digital. Scripted cable programs boast the most – although not much – racial diversity of the three platforms, with 26.6 percent of creators being BIPOC. Similarly, BIPOC writers constituted only 30.5 percent of credits on broadcast series, 32.6 percent on digital, and 38 percent on cable – the last platform once again leading in the metric. People of color directed 28.8 percent of broadcast scripted episodes, 27.3 percent of digital episodes, and 38 percent of cable episodes. 

Women in TV saw gains in 11 of 12 key employment arenas across all platforms since the previous study. The report points out that even though women make up slightly more than half the population, they remain “underrepresented on every front” except among cable and digital scripted leads in 2020-21. 

Only 31.2 percent of show creators on scripted cable series are women, with broadcast programs following closely at 31.8 percen and digital shows having the most women creators of the three, at 36.1 percent. When it comes to episodes directed by women, cable series lead the way with 38 percent, compared with digital’s 34.4 percent and broadcast’s 33.9 percent. 

The figures are more encouraging for women scribes, who account for 45.2 percent of credited broadcast writers, 46.8 percent of cable writers, and 46.4 of digital writers. 

The report emphasizes that the increased opportunities for BIPOC and women show creators to get their projects greenlit does not translate to equitable access to resources. “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.”

In broadcast, white women (86.9 percent) and BIPOC (71.4 percent) show creators were more likely to receive smaller budgets (under $3 million per episode) than White men (58.5 percent). The same could be said for cable programs, where White women (86.7 percent) and BIPOC (70.8 percent) were also more likely to have smaller budgets than White men (52 percent).

According to the report, digital platforms offered creators bigger budgets than broadcast and cable: “But again, creators of color (66.6 percent) and White female creators (51.4 percent) were more likely to have smaller budgets under $3 million per episode than White male creators (38.8 percent). White male creators also benefited the most at the higher end of the budget continuum, particularly with budgets more than $7 million per episode (21 percent).”

The report concludes that the 2020-21 season reflects a “precarious tipping point” in the TV industry, a watershed period instigated by increased costs related to COVID, which prevent many series from returning for renewed or final seasons. This is a bad sign for diversity initiatives, which are “treated as optional instead of essential,” and as history shows us, are at risk of being sacrificed during economic downturns.

“The next few years may be a true test of whether Hollywood is truly committed to the changes they promised on the diversity front during the nation’s reckoning on race following the George Floyd murder,” the report stresses. “Rolling back these efforts before equity for people of color and women has been truly achieved would be a major miscalculation by Hollywood.”

Read UCLA’s latest TV Diversity Report in full here.

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