Brow Beat

A New Study Finds—Surprise!—That Hollywood Diversity Pays Off

Hidden Figures made $230.1 million worldwide.

20th Century Fox

As it turns out, movie audiences like it when movies have diverse casts and tell diverse stories. Who would’ve thunk it?

According to a Los Angeles Times report, a study conducted by Creative Artists Agency CAA found that movies with diverse casts consistently earn more money than movies whose casts aren’t as diverse.

CAA examined 413 theatrical films released from January 2014 through December 2016, detailing cast ethnicity for the top 10 billed actors per movie, a total of 2,800 people. They found that for the top 10 grossing movies in 2016, 47% of the opening weekend audience (and 45% in 2015) were people of color. Moreover, seven of the 10 highest-grossing movies from 2016 (and four from 2015’s top 10) delivered opening weekend audiences that were more than 50% non-white.

From there, the study notes that at every budget level, a film with a cast that is at least 30% non-white — CAA’s definition of a “truly diverse” film — outperforms a release that is not truly diverse in opening weekend box office. And on the audience side of things, the average opening weekend for a film that has a “truly diverse” audience, pegged at 38% to 70% non-white, is $31 million versus $12 million for films with non-diverse audiences.

The numbers suggest a more diverse cast brings a more diverse audience, which brings in more money.

Another interesting tidbit from the study is that, castingwise, horror films and fantasy films are the least diverse, while comedies and thrillers are the most diverse. White audiences, according the study, prefer drama and romance; black audiences lean towardsbiopics and thrillers; Hispanics toward horror and animation; and Asians toward animation and fantasy.

It’s nice to have some numbers to back up what many people have known all along: Diverse audiences like it when diversity is reflected on screen. If this study has done anything, it’s to put the importance of diversity in terms—i.e., those involving dollar signs—that Hollywood is more willing to listen to.

CAA’s study is a nice piece of supportive evidence to justify why diverse casting should be an imperative for the movie industry. But economic studies shouldn’t be the only argument for Hollywood to start giving us more diverse casts and more diverse stories. “Diversity pays” shouldn’t be the argument for why historically marginalized communities should be represented in film. “Diversity matters” should.

If Hollywood can let Matt Damon maintain his star wattage and industry leverage after so graciously saving the Chinese people in this year’s flop The Great Wall, then surely Hollywood can afford John Cho to be in a box office bomb or two and have those films not serve as referendums for his and other Asian movie stars’ box-office worth.

It’s great that diversity pays, but even if it didn’t, it would still be consequential. And for the love of God, let’s please get John Cho in more summer blockbusters.