Diversity pays in Hollywood.
Early last year, UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies found that movies with more racially diverse casts were far more profitable than those with "majority white" casts in 2011 — 2.34 times more, to be exact.
The next two years saw a similar trend, says Bunche Center director Darnell Hunt, though those figures won't be published until Feb. 25. Given that knowledge, let's look at how much more money this year's Oscar nominees might have made had they featured more diverse casts:
Assuming the 2011 model stands, their profits would have more than doubled.
This GIF is an exercise in imagination, of course. While the difference in median global gross between films with more and less diverse casts, defined respectively as 21% to 30% minority and "10% minority or less," was an impressive $91.6 million in 2011, it's hard to claim with certainty that American Sniper would double its money simply by throwing in an extra brown face or two.
But the overarching point that Hollywood might be able to save its sagging profit margins by prioritizing diversity is a strong one. The numbers support it. Why, then, in an age of plummeting box office receipts, has the industry failed to pay more attention to the link between diversity and profit?
There are many potential reasons. For one thing, from studio heads to talent agencies, Hollywood's "gatekeepers" — that is, the people who choose which films get produced as well as who makes and stars in them — are overwhelmingly white. The Bunche Center found that just three talent agencies represented a staggering 72.1% of lead actors in the 172 films analyzed from 2011, for example. You can probably guess the result: The talent they represented (this 72.1% of lead actors) was less than half as diverse as the talent represented by the remaining agencies.
This lack of diversity at the top levels of the industry measurably affects how many films get made that star, are written by or are directed by racial minorities. And the toll of these decisions will only grow more impactful with time, as minorities account for an ever-increasing share of the movie-going public — not to mention the population as a whole. Meanwhile, the numbers suggest everyone, white people included, gravitates toward films and TV shows with more minorities onscreen.
"The evidence from 2012 and 2013 supports these findings from 2011," Hunt told Mic. "And in many cases, the new data is even more compelling."
This conversation is especially relevant in the context of the upcoming Academy Awards. Of the 15 films nominated for best picture, best director, best actress, best supporting actress, best supporting actor, best actor and best original screenplay, just one — Selma — features a cast with more than one racial minority in the top eight billed stars.
The remarkable whiteness of the other 14 nominees has sparked criticism and ridicule, perhaps best exemplified by the Oakland Tribune's front-page headline the day after the announcement of the nominations: "And the Oscar for Best Caucasian Goes to..."
2015 also marks only the fourth time in 19 years that everyone nominated in the acting categories is white. If Hollywood hopes to boost its earnings in the future, it would do well to make sure the selection pool gets significantly more diverse.