Streaming Films Are Far More Diverse Than Theatrical Features, Study Finds

Streaming Films Are Far More Diverse Than Theatrical Features, Study Finds

When it comes to diversity in film, streaming far outpaced theatrical releases last year, according to a new report from UCLA, which found that diversity has taken “a step back in theatrical films but strides forward in streaming.”

The report found that women and people of color fared far better in the streamers than in theatrical releases in every job category surveyed, which included directors, writers, lead actors and overall casts. And despite recent progress, the report’s authors say that in 2022, diversity in many key jobs on theatrical releases saw a “backslide to 2019 levels.”

Even so, the percentage of women directors of theatrical films has nearly tripled since 2011 – from 4.6% to 14.6% last year – though they remain underrepresented by a factor of more than 3-to-1.

Women writers and cast members have also gained ground in theatrical films. Last year, 27% of writers and 41% of cast members were women, compared to 17% and 40%, respectively, in 2019. And on streaming films, women’s 49% share of leads has almost reached parity with men.

But with the exception of one Asian female film writer, the report found that “women of color were nonexistent among writers for top theatrical films in 2022,” and that White female writers “also lagged far behind their White male counterparts.”

UCLA’s 63-page “Hollywood Diversity Report,” now in its 10th year, surveyed the top theatrical films – specifically the 89 English-language theatrical films that ranked among the top 200 theatrical releases for 2022, based on global box office receipts – and the top 100 English-language films released originally on streaming services in 2022, as determined by U.S. household rankings.

It noted that the minority share of the U.S. population, which now stands at 43.1%, is growing by nearly half a percent each year and will become the majority within two decades. And that will create business opportunities for those companies that best stay tuned to their audiences.

“New evidence from 2022 continues to support findings from earlier reports in this series suggesting that America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film content in both theatrical and streaming releases,” the report says. “In 2022, theatrical films with casts that were from 31% to 40% minority enjoyed the highest median global box office receipts, while films with casts that were less than 11% minority were the poorest performers.”

“Diversity should not be considered a luxury but a necessity,” said Darnell Hunt, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost, and co-founder of the “Hollywood Diversity Report.” “Audiences of color are the bedrock of Hollywood and key to the bottom line as research shows once again that audiences prefer diverse casts.”

The report’s authors also found that as films have become more diverse, their audiences have grown, “largely fueled by an increase in the number of people of color” choosing to watch them – which is also true with streaming films.

“Our research shows that diversity in the movies is just good business,” said Ana-Christina Ramón, director of the Entertainment and Media Research Initiative at UCLA, which produces the annual reports. “People of color saved the theatrical industry during the pandemic, and they are key to bringing the theatrical business back to its pre-pandemic levels.”

The report also found that Hollywood’s “conventional wisdom” – that minority-led films, or those with diverse casts, don’t do well overseas – “is in fact a myth.” When these films are distributed in international markets, “The world’s diverse populations welcome the diverse film content just as much as domestic audiences do.”

“As the film industry continues to face unprecedented uncertainty, this report identifies a path forward,” said Michael Tran, a Ph.D. candidate in the UCLA sociology department who co-authored the report. “The pandemic has normalized diversity on screen, not just in theaters but at home. Audiences tuned in. If Hollywood reverses course on diversity in the theaters, they’ll lose audiences to streaming and to international offerings.”

See the full report here.

With regards to the race and ethnicity of all theatrical film roles, the report found that the White share of these roles dropped to 63.9% last year, down from 69.1% in 2019, thus continuing a downward trend in the percentage of White performers cast in top theatrical releases.


Black actors received 14.8% of all roles, and “continued to be overrepresented among all theatrical film roles,” the report says, “while Latinx (5.5%), multiracial (8%), and Native (0.4%) persons remained underrepresented among all theatrical film roles. Asian (6.5%) and Middle East and North African (0.9%) persons reached proportionate representation among all theatrical roles in 2022.”

According to U.S. Census data from 2020 and 2022, 18.9% is of the population is Hispanic/Latinx; 13.6% is Black; 2.9% is multiracial; 6.1% is Asian, and approximately 1.6% is Indeginous. Altogether, people of color now make up 43.1% of the U.S. population.

Among the top streaming films, the report found that White actors received 57.5% of all roles in 2022. Asian actors – who received 5.8% of all roles – and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) actors –  who received 1.2% of all roles – “Were close to or at proportionate representation among streaming film roles. Black (16.2%) and multiracial (12.1%) persons were overrepresented. By contrast, Latinx (6.6%) and Native (0.7%) persons were underrepresented.”

People of color, however, saw a significant decline in the percentage of leading roles – defined as the central characters around whom a film’s narrative primarily revolves – in theatrical films last year, when they got 21.6% of the leads, compared to the 27.6% of leading roles in 2019. “At 43.1% of the U.S. population in 2022, people of color would have to more than double their 2022 share to reach proportionate representation among film leads,” the report says.

Actors of color fared considerably better in the top streaming films, accounting for 33.3% of the leading roles last year, but that still puts them at about ten percentage points short of proportionate representation with the U.S. population.

Female leads in the top theatrical films are also lagging behind their male counterparts. “Like people of color, women’s share of top theatrical film leads has taken a step backward despite enormous gains over the course of this report series,” the report says. “Women accounted for 38.6% of film leads in 2022, a more than five-percentage-point decrease from the 44.1% figure evident in 2019. Female lead actors would have to increase their share by more than 11 percentage points to reach proportionate representation.”

But again, women fared much better in leading roles on streaming films. “In 2022, women’s 48.5% share of top streaming film leads placed them just shy of proportionate representation in this important employment arena,” the report says, noting that only one lead actor identified as non-binary in 2022.

Women and minorities also got a higher percentage of directing jobs on streaming films than on theatrical features. “Compared to 2019, a slightly larger share of theatrical films was directed by a person of color in 2022, while a smaller share was directed by a woman,” the report found. “For streaming films, directors of color and women fared much better. Almost a quarter of the top streaming films were directed by a person of color and exactly one quarter of those films were directed by a woman in 2022.”

Only MENA directors achieved proportionate representation among people of color on the top streaming films. Otherwise, the report notes, “Women and people of color, regardless of type of release, remained underrepresented among film directors in 2022, despite some recent gains.”

Meanwhile, among all racial and ethnic groups except Black persons, “Women lagged behind their male counterparts as directors in top theatrical releases. Among directors of top streaming releases, women trailed their male counterparts for most racial/ethnic groups except Asian and multiracial persons, where they approached parity. There were no top streaming films with a female MENA director.”

In 2022, 16.8% of the year’s top theatrical films were directed by a person of color, up from 14.4% in 2019. But people of color would have to more than double their 2022 share to reach proportionate representation among theatrical film directors.

And once again, directors of color fared better on streaming films than on theatrical films. Last year, 23% of the directors for the year’s top streaming films were people of color, but they’d still have to nearly double their 2022 share in order to reach proportionate representation among film directors.

Despite the progress they’ve made, White women directors tend to get theatrical film projects with the smallest budgets. The report found that 55.5% of the films directed by White women had budgets smaller than $20 million, compared to just 29.2& for White men and 20% for directors of color.

On streaming films, women got 25% of director jobs last year. “Despite being closer to proportionate representation than in the theatrical space, women remained underrepresented by a factor of 2 to 1 in this employment arena in 2022,” the report says.

And the top streaming films directed by people of color were also the most likely to have the smallest budgets. According to the report, 76.2% of the films directed by people of color had budgets smaller than $20 million, compared to 70.6% for White women and 56.9% for White men.

This year’s report also included data for the first time about the employment of actors with disabilities, and here theatrical films finally outperformed streamers. “At 26% of the population, people with disabilities are underrepresented as leads in the top theatrical releases (9.1%) and in the top streaming releases (6.1%),” the report found. “Among the leads with known disabilities, the majority have reported either mental health issues and/or learning disabilities. Only two leads with disabilities had a physical or hearing disability in the top theatrical releases (2.3%) as well as in the top streaming releases (2%). Lead actors with visible disabilities are rarely represented in top Hollywood films.”

The report concludes by noting that “Diversity is the key to competing globally and staying relevant domestically. Now is the time to push forward and renew a commitment to invest in the communities that have long invested in Hollywood.”