Diversity on the screen is good. Authentic inclusive representation is better.
That’s the conclusion of a new report published by UCLA’s Center for Scholars and Storytellers (CSS), which finds that meaningfully representing marginalized communities drives higher box office performances and more positive acclaim for films.
Working with the CAA Foundation’s Full Story Initiative (FSI) and 9 affinity-based partner organizations, researchers searched the top 1,000 films from the past 10 years and identified 101 films with storylines relevant to marginalized communities. These 101 films were then rated on a scale from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent), based on the extent to which the film avoided harmful stereotypes, increased the complexity of understanding a group, and portrayed real aspects of the group experience.
For example, the 2017 romantic comedy The Big Sick received a 5 from Define American, a partner organization that reviewed films that represented immigrant stories. Meanwhile, Jess Ju of the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment praised Justin Lin, director of the 2011 action film Fast Five, for focusing on a “beautifully diverse and multicultural cast.”
The findings were significant. Using US box office receipts at three different times, the researchers concluded that authentically inclusive representation, or AIR, dramatically boosted a movie’s success on the big screen. For every one point increase in the AIR rating, revenue at the box office increased by $18.8 million. In addition, high AIR movies (AIR rating of 3.5 and above) scored 22% higher in critical ratings than their low-rated competitors.
AIR scores were also found to be significantly higher in the most recent 5 years of the 10-year period, indicating that advocacy for inclusive representation has an impact.
Looking ahead, the report recommends ways for teams to implement authentic inclusion throughout the manufacturing process. For example, the center suggests devoting a significant percentage of a production company’s slate to underrepresented creatives. It also proposes to provide production-wide training on the importance of representing specific themes or communities.
“Our findings, along with previous research, make it crystal clear that achieving AIR is a necessity for the industry, both from a financial and moral point of view,” the researchers conclude. By thinking beyond numerical indicators of on-screen representation, the report emphasizes the seriousness of wholeheartedly representing marginalized communities in film.
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