Study Shows Movie Audiences Aren’t As Racist As Hollywood Execs Think (2018)
By Hannah Sparks
The blockbuster community got busted.
The movie industry has continued to claim that white actors sell more tickets, despite the smash successes of “Get Out,” “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” all of which featured primarily nonwhite casts.
Now, a new study — using data collected from the 2014 Sony Pictures hack — reveals that diversity actually makes bank, and Hollywood execs might be just plain racist.
The Sony emails leaked by North Korean hackersrevealed intel such as international profit and loss statements, financial statements and emails between executives debating Denzel Washington’s profitability. Using this information, Northeastern University assistant professor Venkat Kuppuswamy and University of Oregon researcher Peter Younkin found conclusively that diversity is more profitable in the US and abroad.
“Diversity has a premium both domestically and abroad,” says Kuppuswamy. “Even the argument that foreign box-office figures would be hurt by diverse casting is false.”
Internationally, Kuppuswamy says audiences were found to be “pro-diversity, or at worst, agnostic” about seeing movies with diverse lead actors.
With even more public data available for domestic results, Kuppuswamy and Younkin were able to cross-reference ticket-sales numbers by region with profit data for movies produced between 2011 and 2015.
The researchers also conducted a survey by producing would-be movie scripts with cast listings that included more black lead actors, and showed them to audiences in mostly white and mostly nonwhite cities.
They found that communities throughout the diversity spectrum roundly enjoyed racially diverse films with nonwhite lead actors.
“Diversity had no negative effect on white audiences, and different kinds of diverse populations all reacted very favorably to movies with at least two black actors,” says Kuppuswamy. “These executives always seem surprised when movies with diverse casting do well, instead of just realizing there’s a market for them.”
He noted that they only evaluated results of hiring black actors because “there are so few movies with a diverse cast that include Hispanic or Asian cast members,” which would then not sufficiently produce relative results.
by Gillian G White, May 2016
Blaming the lack of diversity on customer preference, a recent analysis suggests, is an irresponsible punt.
….That may be true, but the reason that the more minority-heavy films in Kuppuswamy and Younkin’s data set still outperformed whiter ones is that American moviegoers are getting progressively less white.
A recent study from UCLA finds that from 2013 to 2014, minorities bought the majority of tickets for the highest grossing film that year, along with three of the year’s other 10 top-grossing films. Overall, minorities purchased 46 percent of all movie tickets that year.
So while there may be some truth to the notion that some portion of white moviegoers still aren’t quite ready for movies to become more diverse, this is a segment that will represent less and less relative buying power as time progresses.
This trend is relevant to the American economy in other ways, too. Studies have shown that some employers are less likely to interview and hire black employees for consumer-facing roles, such as those in sales or customer service.
This rationale mirrors that of some movie companies, which protest that their traditionally white customer base might be put off by too many minority employees and take their business elsewhere. But according to Kuppuswamy and Younkin’s research, that claim is likely a flimsy one.