Film Forward

Casting More Diverse Films Isn’t Just The Right Thing To Do — It’s Also The Best Bet Financially, Too

After all, it's hard to deny facts.

The argument before now has always been that it's the right thing to do to feature more diversity on the big screen because it helps the moviegoers feel more seen and represented. Now, though, thanks to a report from Creative Artists Agency (CAA), there's a hard financial reason to make strides in assembling a more diverse cast in the film landscape.

Basically, it seems that the box office successes of films such as 2016's Hidden Figures and 2017's Get Out are the norm, and are simply prime examples of diversity winning in the long run. (Outside of racial diversity, though, Hollywood still deals with representing women, the elderly, and LGBTQ folks — sometimes even a combination of groups.)

Seeing data, which showed non-White moviegoers making up 49 percent of ticket sales in 2016 (up from 45 percent in 2015) while only counting for 38 percent of the total U.S. population prompted CAA set out to see if there was a correlation in more diverse films actually grossing more money than those with an overwhelmingly White cast.

So, to accomplish this feat, CAA looked at 413 films that were theatrically released from January 2014 through December 2016, and checked the ethnicity of the 10 top-billed actors. This led to a total of 2,800 people.

Here's a quick rundown of data discovered by the study: For the 10 movies that grossed the most in 2016, 47 percent of moviegoers on opening weekend were people of color. Of those 10, seven actually had opening weekend audiences which were more than 50 percent non-White. And films at every budget level that were at least 30 percent non-White — CAA's benchmark for what constituted a "truly diverse" movie — did better than those featuring a cast that was overwhelmingly White.

As for the best-performing of all the films examined, interestingly enough, that honor belongs to 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The first of the new Star Wars films had a cast which was approximately 40 percent diverse and an audience that was 38 percent diverse.

"The hope is that seeing real numbers attached to the success of the inclusion of more voices and diverse casts will be further motivation for studios, networks and others to be really conscious of the opportunity," said CAA's president, Richard Lovett, via the L.A. Times.

Hopefully, now that there's a monetary benefit — not that this should outweigh the fact that it's just the right thing to do — diversity will become more of the norm in Hollywood, and occurrences such as #OscarsSoWhite will soon be a thing of the past.

Cover image via tarajiphenson / Instagram


The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.


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