During the From Day One conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Steve Koepp, co-founder of the conference spoke to Darnell Hunt, UCLA dean and professor who authors their annual Hollywood Diversity Report. Hunt talked about how the newly established UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute researches kindness and how it translates into real-world practices, therefore empowering leaders and others to build more humane societies. And with that in mind, Hunt connected it to their annual diversity report.
Hunt points out that he became interested in media because of the way it shapes reality and in particular racial politics. He also said that kindness and inclusive workplaces work the same way in Hollywood as it would in other industries — and it serves other goals. In the case of Hollywood, it’s the bottom line.
“Showbusiness is about making money,” he said at the From Day One conference. “We are able to see that diversity sells…if you are inclusive you stand to make money.” He is right considering that films like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians were some of the biggest moneymakers and record breakers at the box office. The Marvel superhero pic earned a worldwide gross of over $1 billion while the Warner Bros. rom-com earned over $238 million globally, becoming last year’s highest-grossing romantic in 10 years.
In UCLA’s 2019 Hollywood Diversity Report (which can be read here), they evaluated 200 top-grossing films from 2019. The report said that there has been progress for people of color and women, but they still remain mostly underrepresented. In addition, they found that the number of women directors nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017. Even so, representation for women in the industry is still fairly low. There were just 21 women directors among the 167 English-language films from 2017’s top 200. This amounts to 12.6 percent total. To add to that, an early analysis of 2018’s top movies indicates the increase was just a one-year blip.
Speaking to female representation in Hollywood, Koepp asked Hunt about the recent Golden Globes nomination and how women were absent in the director category and how awards affect representation and inclusion in film and TV.
“The reason we look at [awards] because they actually, we theorize, dictate how things operate in the industry,” said Hunt. “To win an Oscar is that you have been affirmed by your peers. Networks and studios want to be part of that prestige. It shapes who wants to be affiliated with you. It does mean something.”
He continued, “The Academy has traditionally has been very white, much older and male. They have attempted to diversify its membership with hopes at chipping away at the membership that’s not white — it’s gonna be a slow process.”
Hunt said they are moving in the right direction with diverse people in the room, but there needs to be better and diverse projects for the Academy to recognize.
“You need to be telling stories that resonate with audiences today — not only putting them in front of the camera but also behind it,” he said. “There’s lots of change but the bad news is there is a long way to go.”