Hollywood’s track record on showcasing minority talent and storylines is pretty awful, even considering some recent efforts to diversify programming. Some studios argue that the fault lies not with them, but with consumers, who—they claim—prefer predominantly white casts. But is there any truth to that?
Venkat Kuppuswamy and Peter Younkin, business-school professors at the University of North Carolina and McGill University, respectively, took a look at data on the film industry in order to measure how diverse casts went over at box offices.
For their study, Kuppuswamy and Younkin took a look at 723 mainstream English-language movies released in major theaters between 2011 and 2015, and determined the number of black actors in lead roles in each film. In nearly two-thirds of the films, there were no black actors cast in any lead roles. In 23 percent of the films, there was one. Only in 11 percent were there two or more black principals.
The relative rarity of diverse casts might suggest that they have little money-making potential, but after parsing the data, the researchers came to the conclusion that audiences don’t reject films with diverse lead actors—they actually prefer them. According to Kuppuswamy and Younkin, adding more black actors in principal roles had a beneficial effect on box-office outcomes. The films that had only one black lead actor performed about as well as those films that had none. But films that had two or more black actors playing main roles performed even better, boosting box-office revenues by more than 60 percent compared to films that didn’t have any black lead actors.