At least one good thing came out of the pandemic: viewers tuned into more content created by diverse writers and showrunners and featuring diverse casts, according to the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, which was released on Tuesday.
“We have seen this appetite for diverse content repeated over the history of our analyses,” said Darnell Hunt, co-author of the report and UCLA’s dean of social sciences, in a statement. “The fact that shows with diverse writers rooms did well last year also illustrates that audiences are looking for authentic portrayals.”
The report, which covers statistics for the 2019–20 TV season, tracks racial and gender diversity among key job categories, as well as ratings and social media engagement for 461 scripted shows across 50 broadcast, cable and streaming providers.
The new study found a continued correlation between the racial makeup of shows’ writers and TV ratings. For example, among households of all races in 2019–20, the scripted broadcast shows that earned the highest ratings were those in which people of color made up between 31% and 40% of the credited writers.
Overall, racial diversity improved in almost every job category tracked by UCLA, and representation among women improved in about half of the job titles.
And for the first time in the report’s history, people of color had a higher percentage of scripted broadcast TV acting roles—43.4%—than their overall percentage of the U.S. population.
Across all three platform types (broadcast, cable and streaming), there were more people of color credited as writers than in the previous report. Overall, people of color made up 26.4% of credited writers for broadcast series last season (up from 23.4%), 28.6% of credited writers for cable (up from 25.8%) and 24.2% of credited writers for streaming (up from 22.8%). Most of those gains were recorded by women, according to the study.
People of color are still largely underrepresented among TV writers, however, given that 42.7% of Americans are nonwhite.
Latinos Still Lack Representation
Latino representation, in particular, remained flat in all job categories from the previous year, and Latinos hold far fewer TV jobs than their share of the U.S. population overall.
Latino actors held just 6.3% of broadcast TV roles, 5.7% in cable and 5.5% in streaming. Meanwhile, Latino directors were responsible for only 5.4% of broadcast TV episodes, 3.5% of cable episodes and 3.0% of streaming episodes.
“This UCLA report clearly demonstrates that more work is necessary to achieve more accurate representation and truly authentic portrayals in American television,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) in a statement. ”I hope this report encourages entertainment executives to reevaluate their systems for recruiting, retaining, and promoting Latinx talent, work in earnest to make changes, and create a more inclusive culture.”
According to the report, a significant proportion of TV content made in the 2019-20 TV season — 35% of broadcast shows, 22.9% of cable and 25.7% of streaming — was produced in Los Angeles. In that market, census data reveal 48.6% of the population is Hispanic or Latino.
Diversity More Prevalent in Casting
The change toward more diversity in and on television is most visible in casting, according to the report.
For the first time since the researchers began tracking data, 28.1% of shows on cable and 26.8% of shows on streaming platforms featured casts in which the majority of actors were nonwhite. And 32.1% of broadcast shows had majority-nonwhite casts, up from just 2.0% in the first UCLA Hollywood Diversity report, which covered the 2011–12 season.
Among white households in 2019–20, ratings for scripted broadcast shows were highest for shows with casts that were 31% to 40% diverse. Among Black households, scripted broadcast shows with the highest ratings were those in which casts were more than 50% diverse.
Streaming programming, which is dominated by Netflix, was similar to broadcast TV with ratings among White, Black and Asian households highest for shows with casts that were 31% to 40% diverse.
Shows with diverse casts also tended to have the highest engagement with viewers across social media, the report found.
Mixed Progress Among Show Creators
Another area in which diversity improved was among show creators. That’s an important datapoint because show creators have influence over which stories are developed, whose stories they represent and how they’re told, The report also found progress among show creators, with women making up 29% of scripted cable series, up nearly 7% over the 2018-19 TV season and marketing the largest one-year gain for female creators. People of color made up 20.6% of scripted cable show creators in 2019–20, up from 14.5% the previous season and nearly triple the share—7.4%—from 2011–12.
However, women held creator positions for fewer broadcast shows in 2019–20 (24.1%) than they did the prior year (28.1%) — and even fewer than women held in 2011–12 (26.5%).
“We also see that when women and people of color hold high-level creative positions, there is greater diversity down the line in casting and likely for crew hiring,” said Ana-Christina Ramón, co-author of the report and the director of research and civic engagement in the UCLA Division of Social Sciences, in a statement. “Women and people of color are still very underrepresented in these and other behind-the-camera jobs, which is why this report continues to exist.”
Other takeaways from the report:
—The number of acting roles for women in 2019–20 was nearly equal to those of men across all three platform types. Women made up 46.3% of total cast in scripted broadcast shows, 45.3% in cable and 46.9% in streaming.
—Trans and nonbinary actors were virtually absent across all platforms.
—Out of a total 2,932 credited actors, just 13 were Native people, including just three Native women.
—People of color directed 25.8% of broadcast episodes, 27.2% of cable and 21.4% of streaming, up from 24.3%, 22.9% and 18.2% in the 2018–19 season.
—Women directed 30.6% of broadcast episodes, 31.3% of cable and 33.4% of streaming, up from 29.3%, 29.7% and 29.1% the prior season.
[Image of Insecure courtesy of HBO]