UCLA, CAA Expand survey of Authentically Inclusive Representation in Film (Exclusive)
UCLA, CAA Expand Study of Authentically Inclusive Representation in Film (Exclusive)
UCLA’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers reports that accurate diverse stories boast better reviews and box office returns.For its update to its 2020 report on authentically inclusive representation (AIR) in movies, UCLA’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers teamed up with a major Hollywood player to broaden its reach and deepen its analysis.
CSS partnered with the CAA Foundation’s Full Story Initiative to take advantage of both technological and expert human resources to examine how the industry’s efforts in producing more accurate and diverse films have fared over the past decade. The bottom line: Consistent with its 2020 findings, movies with higher AIR scores made more money and were better reviewed by critics and audiences.
Led by CSS founder Yalda Uhls, the researchers began by running the annual 100 highest grossing movies in the U.S. from 2010 to 2019 (1,000 titles in total) through Mediahound, a company contracted by CAA that used machine learning to filter movies considered to feature historically excluded identities and/or storylines. That process yielded 257 titles, which were then sent to FSI’s network of cultural media advocacy organizations – 1 in 4, CAPE, Color of Change, Define American, Geena Davis Institute, GLAAD, Illuminative, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the National Hispanic Media Coalition – to vet whether the tagged films indeed centered story elements relevant to the respective communities they purported to reflect.
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From there, 101 movies were given an AIR score (on a scale of 1 to 5, from poor to excellent) by the relevant FSI organizations based on three questions:
How well did the film portray authentic and inclusive representation?
How much did the film avoid replying on problematic stereotypes or tropes?
How much did the film’s representation of a culture or identity increase the complexity of a general audience’s understanding of that culture or identity?
After then looking up the commercial and critical performance of the AIR rated films, the researchers concluded that big-budget titles ($150 million-plus) in particular saw an impact on opening weekend correlated with their AIR score. According to the report, movies earned $18.8 million per one-point increase in AIR rating. And across all budget levels, films with high AIR scores (3.5 and above) had higher Rotten Tomatoes audience and critic scores (6 percent and 22 percent higher, respectively) compared to low-AIR films.
The researchers acknowledged that its double-screening process for qualifying films featuring historically excluded characters or storylines yielded just 101 movies out of 1,000 in 10 years. “While this sample size is smaller than our initial dataset, it is also reflective of the overall lack of diversity in films over the last 10 years,” they wrote. In other words, nearly 90% of Hollywood’s filmic output in a decade didn’t even have enough historically excluded content to analyze.
However, they also noted that of the 101 movies that qualified, not only were nearly two-thirds (63 titles) released in the latter half of the decade, but those films also had a higher average AIR score (3.4) than the movies released in 2010-14 (average 2.5 AIR score), with AIR scores rising 0.15 points year-over-year. “The work of advocates for authentically inclusive representation is making a difference,” the researchers declared.
The new AIR report also includes five industry recommendations for studios, networks and production entities:
Commit a specific percentage of your slate to projects from historically excluded creatives.
During the development stage, seek out and collaborate with community and subject-area experts.
Decouple the idea of taking so-called “risks” (on historically excluded content) from a greenlight executive’s job security in your workplace culture.
Before production begins, train your entire cast and crew on the subject matter of the film and educate them on the reasoning behind decisions about its representation.
Ensure that your film will be marketed to all audiences, not just the people it depicts.
CSS is currently further refining its methodology to allow studios to measure AIR in the development stage.