This Sunday, Hollywood will celebrate itself and its exploits, as it has done for almost a century, during the 94and Oscars telecast. Best Picture favorites are two films, CODA and The power of the dog, which were released on streaming platforms. If the predictions hold true, it would be the first time a movie from a streamer has won the Best Picture Oscar. If either film wins, it would also be the second year in a row that a film directed by a woman has won Best Picture. So, does this mean a “new” Hollywood has arrived, where streamers and female-directed movies rule? Well, not exactly.
Over the past nine years, we’ve looked at how racial/ethnic and gender representation relate to the bottom line in Hollywood. Today we released the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report 2022: A New Post-Pandemic Normal? Part 1, Movie, which examines the best films at the global box office in 2021 and, for the second time in our annual report series, those released on streaming services. The cinema year has been defined by most top movies released in a hybrid format, either as a “day and date” release (in theaters and on streamers) or with a modified theatrical release window. In 2020, most major blockbusters have been shelved for the year. But in 2021, most of these major films have been released in various formats, giving moviegoers the chance to watch major releases at home much sooner than ever. How does 2021 movie viewership compare to pre-pandemic behavior? For people of color, the year’s non-traditional broadcast schedule hasn’t dampened viewing habits. Instead, he emphasized how vital people of color are to the film industry. They arguably kept Hollywood’s film industry afloat during the pandemic.
Films are powerful agents of socialization, whether people see them at the cinema or at home. It’s even more vital now, with the rise of streaming content, to examine on-screen representation, movie audience demographics, and which movies are preferred by an increasingly diverse audience.
A new post-pandemic normal?
By 1915, a critical mass of motion picture companies had moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles, laying the foundation for the entertainment industry we recognize today as Hollywood. This year also marks the release of what many film historians consider to be the first true Hollywood film, DW Griffith’s racist epic, The birth of a nation. Not only did the film glorify the Ku Klux Klan’s efforts to protect white supremacy and featured white actors in blackface portraying powerful black stereotypes, but it also introduced advanced editing techniques and other cinematic innovations that cinema audiences take it for granted today.1 Birth of a nation was so popular with white audiences that US President Woodrow Wilson screened the film for dignitaries at the White House, describing the film as “like a story written in lightning.”
Three years from now, of course, America and the rest of the world would be grappling with a deadly pandemic unprecedented until the emergence of the COVID-19 virus nearly a century later. Certainly, the current pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on Hollywood’s business as usual, which was still in its most nascent form during the days of the “Spanish flu”.
Although moviegoers have been avoiding theaters for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly accelerated the trend. The plurality of top movies released in 2021, as today’s report notes, were only available on streaming platforms, while reboots and flagship franchises dominated a deflated box office. The question raised by our previous Hollywood Diversity Report, and posed again by today’s report, is whether the current situation signals a new post-pandemic normal for Hollywood? If so, what could that mean for an industry that has struggled with equity, diversity and inclusion since its racist beginnings?
The film sector’s findings from today’s report reinforce those of the previous one: Following the significant advances seen for people of color and women in 2020, both groups have made small gains, or at least held on, by compared to their white and male counterparts in 2021. As a result, both groups enjoyed proportional representation among Leading Movies and Best Movie Roles for the second year in a row. The previous report noted that many of the most diverse films slated for 2020 might not have made it into the top 200 films (ranked by global box office) had the analysis been limited, as in previous reports. , to films originally released in theaters. Given the continued dominance of streaming platforms in 2021, so do the films considered in today’s report. Just as the previous report questioned whether the on-screen diversity peaks documented for films released in 2020 were just an artifact of the pandemic, we must also question the stability of the diversity peak that the report documents for 2021. We are still too close to the pandemic to definitively answer this question, but the findings of today’s report, combined with other trends in the film industry, suggest that it is the post-pandemic normal is unlikely to resemble that which immediately preceded it.
But the more things change, as they say, the more they stay the same. The magnitude of the gains made in front of the camera in recent years are far greater than the small incremental gains made behind it. Additionally, the disparity in film production budgets reveals the continuing inequality in a system that makes it difficult for women and people of color to break through. Replicating the results for 2020 in the previous report, the top films directed by people of color and women in 2021 were more likely than those with white male directors to have the lowest budgets.
Streaming is here to stay
Despite the allure of the theatrical experience – the community aspects and the “peculiarity” of going out to watch a film – the film industry has reorganized itself in recent years. As two industry watchers put it, “movies about human beings dealing with more human issues” seem tailor-made for streaming platforms because “big-budget franchise movies with massive audiences built, produced by giant corporations, are squeezing space once occupied by the original mid-budget fare Admittedly, streaming services have picked up some of the hottest projects on the market during the pandemic, when theater closures demonstrated, like never before, the potential of these platforms to serve as dominant distributors of original cinematic content. Film release strategies will continue to evolve, but the industry appears to be coalescing around a cinema window of 45 days, and simultaneous releases seem likely to stay.Indeed, studies show that 49% of pre-pandemic moviegoers no longer go to the cinema, and 8% of this male group quant could be lost forever. The current multiplicity of film release modalities (documented in today’s report for 2021) has thus led to changes in the way companies measure, “or at least shoot”, the success of a film.
Findings from today’s report show that increasingly diverse audiences continued to show strength at the box office and on streaming platforms in 2021, boosting domestic ticket sales for the top 10 releases in theaters and representing a disproportionate share of the audience for the top 10 streaming releases. The results also show that diverse audiences, now market stalwarts in the film industry, clearly preferred diverse content. That is, the lion’s share of top-rated movies among various households in 2021 (and increasingly among white households and viewers 18-49) featured casts that were at least 30% minority. Following our conclusion in the previous report, Hollywood would greatly benefit from embracing the 2021 (re)affirmation of outcome possibilities associated with major advances on the diversity front, particularly in an industry revamped by the rise of entertainment platforms. streaming. People of color made up nearly 43% of the U.S. population in 2021, and their share is growing by about 0.5% per year. This trend, combined with the massive engagement of diverse audiences with streaming original film content, underscores the importance of diversity as a prime business imperative for the film industry. The lack of investment in filmmakers who are women and people of color, as noted earlier, must change in order to meet the demand of this diverse audience.
Hollywood has come a long way since the days of Birth of a Nationbut still has a lot of work to do.