Diversity on screen equals bigger box office bucks, study finds

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Films whose casts more accurately reflect the racial makeup of U.S. and global populations perform better at the box office than their less diverse counterparts, according to an annual study released on Tuesday.

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The University of California, Los Angeles study, which analyzed 2016 film and TV data, comes as debates on race and gender dominate Hollywood, and led to a push by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to diversify its membership.

The study, which covered the top 200 grossing films, found that movies like “Captain America: Civil War” and “Suicide Squad,” in which more than a fifth of the cast were minorities, grossed more globally than movies with primarily white actors, undercutting long-held Hollywood conventional wisdom that diversity does not sell abroad.

“Our findings reveal that, regardless of race, audiences want to see diversity on the screen,” study co-author Ana-Christina Ramon said in a statement.

The study’s findings have been underscored by the success this month of “Black Panther,” which grossed $400 million in North America and $304 million internationally in its first 10 days, and Oscar best picture contender “Get Out.” Both films deal with racial themes and are notable for their black lead actors, directors and writers.

Last year’s superhero movie “Wonder Woman,” which grossed more than $821 million worldwide, and current Oscar best picture contender “Lady Bird” each tackled female stories told by women directors.

Films in which minorities represent at least 21 percent of the cast also attracted a higher proportion of black, Latino and Asian moviegoers, sharply driving up total ticket sales, the study found.

Minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population and women 51 percent.

The median global box office for a film that consisted of 21 percent to 30 percent minority actors was $179.2 million. In contrast, films with less than a fifth of minority actors, a majority of the films studied, failed to gross a median of $40 million worldwide, the worst-performing segment, the authors found.

Six of the top 10 U.S. scripted broadcast television shows in 2016 in the 18-49 age demographic, the one that advertisers covet most, had a cast whose actors were at least 21 percent minority, the study said.

While representation of minorities and women for acting roles generally improved between 2015 and 2016, it was stagnant and fell in some areas, in particular behind the camera.

Reporting by Eric Kelsey