The conversation around representation in the entertainment industry seems to be getting better every day.
The industry has a historical problem of lacking diversity and portraying minorities in harmful ways. In turn, more efforts have been made to ensure a more diverse cast of people make it to the silver screen, with the level of diversity increasing year by year. Maybe the issue isn't completely solved, but it's headed in the right direction in most people's eyes.
Well, despite the welcomed changes in casting leading roles, there's next to no difference being made behind the scenes. While we're seeing more stories and works showcasing groups of people we wouldn't have seen otherwise, the people at the top of the chain are still primarily white men.
The changes in the entertainment industry seem to be shallow at best and only occur at the level of lead actors, the biggest name attached to a movie. However, according to a University of California, Los Angeles study done in 2020, only 15.1% of directing credits went to people of color. In the same study, they also claim only 13.9% of writing credits were people of color.
Still, the lack of diversity in the production of a film doesn't mean movies haven't gotten more diverse. In fact, some studies found 2020 to be the best year in film for diversity on screen. Of course, this is also met with a substantial gain in revenue.
"The previous reports in this series have consistently shown that films with casts reflecting America’s diversity are, on average, the top performers in terms of global box office," the UCLA study said.
Diverse movies are not only just a positive for the critical side of things but the commercial as well. The entertainment industry gets to make more money, and the public gets to have more films and shows about underrepresented groups. While this may be a win-win scenario in most views, it still shows a lack of change in Hollywood when only the casting is affected.
When people say representation matters, it can mean a few different things. The most common meaning is seeing stories and casting in films that reflect and relate to an audience. It's important for a young Black girl to see people who look like her on the big screen, and studies support this. But representation isn't only about who gets to see what in the next movie — it's also about who gets to tell these stories.
It's also worthwhile to note that films and shows that are more diverse also seem to follow a pattern of racial trauma. More recent Black movies are centered around the fearful realities Black people had to face in history, to the point where some audiences are getting tired of it. Very rarely do we see examples of works that show minority characters simply living life — it almost always has to center their strife.
While we can — and definitely should — celebrate the increase in casting diversity, the data shows the same can't be said of the actual people making these stories. It begs the question if whether or not the increase in diversity on screen is from a genuine drive to create a better industry, or if it's just a convenient way to make money while appeasing critics. Considering both how much tension there is in America around race and social justice and the historical failings of Hollywood, I'm less than optimistic.