One of the most powerful talent agencies in Hollywood has put out a report that pushes back against many preconceived notions about the way movies with diverse casts perform at the box office.
Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which lays claim to many of Hollywood’s most famous actors and actresses, was inspired to look into film diversity after discovering that non-white Americans purchased a disproportionate number of movie tickets last year.
To be specific, non-white Americans scooped up 49 percent of all tickets sold in the U.S. last year, even though they make up a smaller percentage of the U.S. population ― somewhere around 38 percent.
So researchers sifted through 413 films released between the beginning of 2014 and the end of 2016, documenting the ethnicity of the top 10 billed actors for each of them. They wanted to find out how films with a significant non-white presence ― which they defined as 30 percent and up ― performed at the U.S. box office.
Lo and behold, they did well. Really well. As CAA put it in an email to HuffPost:
At every budget level, a cast that is at least 30% non-white outperforms a release that is not, in opening weekend box office.
The audience side of things tells a similar story. Films that had what CAA called a “truly diverse” audience ― meaning the audience was between 38 percent and 70 percent non-white ― pulled in around $31 million on opening weekend on average, versus $12 million for overwhelmingly white films.
“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.”
The findings are significant. Despite increased interest in Hollywood representation due to #OscarsSoWhite and other moments, people of color have continued to struggle to convince studio executives to green-light their ideas. Last year, Angela Robinson, a black woman who directed “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” described it as a “my kind of people” problem.
“If I were to give someone $50-100 million dollars ... I’d really, really want to feel super comfortable with that person,” she told HuffPost at the time. “Racism and sexism kind of go into it, but it’s more just a comfort thing. Like, you are my kind of person. I grew up with people like you. Or I went to college with people like you.”
Christy Haubegger, leader of CAA’s multicultural development group, told the Los Angeles Times that she hopes the company’s research shows that “people [actually] want to see a world that looks like theirs,” and that movie executives are hindering themselves if they only rely on white friends and try to appeal to white audiences.
“One of the interesting things that the most successful movies share is that they’re broadly appealing to diverse audiences,” Haubegger added.
Richard Lovett, CAA’s president, told the Times he would like the hard data in the report to help studios confront some of their longstanding assumptions.
“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,” Lovett told the outlet.
In recent years, CAA has made a point to promote a culture of inclusion. The agency has emphasized minority recruitment, especially at historically black colleges and women’s colleges, and used its internship program to help people of color get a foot in the door. (In the last half decade, a majority of the company’s interns worldwide have been people of color.)
Things are changing at the higher ranks of the company, too. Between 2016 and 2017, so far, the revenues of CAA’s multicultural clients have risen by 14 percent.
“The issue of diversity and inclusion is a very important one for us,” CAA executive Ryan Tarpley said last year. “We believe more diverse voices from diverse backgrounds make our company stronger, with a better quality experience for everyone — our company and clients. It’s good business.”
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that CAA’s multicultural clients have risen by 14 percent between 2016 and 2017. The revenues of CAA’s multicultural clients have risen by 14 percent.