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Report: TV diversity on screen improved – behind the scenes not so much

Last month’s Emmy Awards were notable for their glaring lack of diversity, with shows by White creators and starring predominantly White casts...

By Carol Ozemhoya

Last month’s Emmy Awards were notable for their glaring lack of diversity, with shows by White creators and starring predominantly White casts taking home most of the night’s top prizes, reports the Huffington Post. The same pattern is documented in the newest edition of an annual study on diversity in Hollywood. There have been gains in some areas ― especially in on-screen representation — but many of them are modest at best.Published Tuesday, the Hollywood Diversity Report from the University of California, Los Angeles, examines hundreds of television shows released in the 2019-20 season. Led by UCLA researchers Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramón, the report found that of the 2019-20 shows on broadcast or digital platforms, “not a single scripted show created solely by a person of color won an Emmy.” In addition, “for broadcast and digital, the shows most likely to win an Emmy for 2019-20 were among those with the least diverse casts.”Awards like the Emmys are important because they mean visibility for the people and projects that win. They can also influence what projects get made in the future. Their lack of diversity reflects larger, industry-wide problems, as documented in the UCLA report, which breaks down the representation of women and people of color among the lead actors, casts, creators, directors and writers working on 461 scripted broadcast, cable and digital platform TV shows during the 2019-20 season. (Earlier this year, the researchers released the first part of the study, which focused on movies released in 2020.)For nearly a decade, Hunt and Ramon’s annual reports have found that audiences gravitate toward movies and TV shows with more diverse casts – meaning that when Hollywood executives don’t prioritize diversity, they’re leaving money on the table.Moreover, their research, like many other studies on diversity in front of and behind the camera, has repeatedly shown that movies and TV shows with more equitable representation on screen are more likely to get made in the first place when there’s more equitable representation off screen. But Hollywood has been slow to catch up, making largely incremental progress over the years.About 42.7 percent of Americans identified as people of color in last year’s Census. According to Tuesday’s report, people of color overall reached proportional representation in terms of the racial diversity of broadcast TV show cast members during the 2019-20 season. On cable and digital shows, people of color are likewise close to reaching proportional representation. Those gains, however, have primarily been among Black and multiracial lead characters.