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Is Hollywood still #SoWhite?

The BAFTAs have once again come under fire for their lack of diversity. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

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At the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards this year, not a single person of color was nominated as best actor. Not a single woman as best director.

But at least by some measures, Hollywood is getting more diverse. Women were main characters in 40% of the top-grossing movies last year, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. That’s up from 30% the year before.

Women of color, though, aren’t seeing the same gains: only 20% of women with speaking roles were black; 7% were Asian; 5% were Latina.   

But films and TV shows that are more diverse make more money, according to Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences at UCLA. “Quite simply, people want to see their own experiences reflected on the screen,” he said.

He says streaming services are helping improve the industry’s diversity, because it’s key to their survival. “Streaming, they’re selling subscribers. Around the globe. And what they are selling, rather than individual shows, is a portfolio,” Hunt said. “Which means, that portfolio has to be as diverse as possible, in order to attract the largest number of subscribers.”

In his 2016 opening monologue, Chris Rock addressed the show’s glaring lack of diversity.

Activist April Reign created the #OscarsSoWhite movement in 2015 to protest the award’s lack of diversity. She said streaming shows are a natural medium for better diversity. Companies are willing to take more bets, and it’s less expensive for them to do so. She points to Netflix’s “When They See Us” or Hulu’s “Wu Tang: An American Saga.”

“I think it’s always easier to make those changes in TV as opposed to big budget film, and a film that’s going to be in the theaters,” Reign said.

But Reign said those big budget theater films and awards ceremonies still matter. And it’s not just the prestige. For some, that statuette means “you may be able to add a zero to your next salary check if you’re an actor or actress. Or you may not need to audition for that next role,” she said.

Correction (Jan. 13, 2020): A previous version of this story misstated the year the #OscarsSoWhite movement was founded.

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