#itsabouttime: Diversity takes centre-stage in the entertainment industry

Much of MTM’s work involves helping our clients understand the huge changes happening in the distribution and monetisation of content. Yet at the same time, in parallel, we are seeing that throughout the entertainment and media industry there has been a shift in the content produced. In particular, more film and television content is now showcasing a spectrum of perspectives and voices.

Mirror, mirror… media is becoming more reflective of audiences

Whereas before this diversity was seen by some as tokenistic, now it is expected. Audiences are more diverse than ever and are demanding and consuming stories from marginalised communities. Production companies have now realised, as Forbes notes, that this attracts viewers. Television’s engagement with more diverse voices is evident through the emergence of shows such as ‘Grownish’, ‘Insecure’ and ‘Master of None’ that have people of colour as leading characters.

Individuals who previously have not been accurately represented in the media (as evidenced by the likes of the Bechdel test or the DuVernay test which assess the on-screen characterisation of women and people of colour) now have on-screen heroes they are able to relate to. We appreciate witnessing figures on-screen who are relatable. For a viewer, being able to see a character that looks and talks like them is invaluable. It gives ordinary individuals icons, reflecting the multicultural communities in which most media consumers now live. Not only is more diversity reflective of reality, but it also enhances viewer relatability and allows viewers to immerse themselves in content.

Seen on screen: diversity is proving a hit

Current audience demand within the entertainment industry has led studios to invest in films that feature diverse casts. Marvel’s 2018 blockbuster ‘Black Panther’ is the first film from a superhero franchise to feature a black superhero. In an interview with Vulture, Kevin Feigel explains that the resources and investment funnelled into ‘Black Panther’ exceed those of previous Marvel blockbusters. ‘Black Panther’ emerges in the wake of the success of the DC comics’ 2017 blockbuster ‘Wonder Woman’. With total earnings of $821 million worldwide, ‘Wonder Woman’ was the highest-grossing superhero film of 2017, and has both a female-lead and a female director, Patty Jenkins. At the Forbes’ summit, Jenkins suggested that the market was ready for a female-focused narrative to disrupt the stream of superhero movies that had primarily focused on men. It is not only less risky to invest in marginalised voices, it is extremely commercially successful.

Shifts in content have expanded beyond blockbuster movies, with television also producing increasingly diverse content. Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine, for example, is an enterprise solely focused on creating female-led content, showcasing female talent both in front and behind the camera. Running off the success of shows such as ‘Big Little Lies’,  Apple has agreed to pay some $240 million for an upcoming TV show starring both Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, produced by Hello Sunshine. We’ve seen a similar occurrence in the UK, with two of the BBC’s leading crime dramas, ‘Line of Duty’ and ‘Collateral’, casting females and people of colour in the lead roles.

Oscars no longer #sowhite

Not only is diverse content generating box office success and investment from leading broadcasters and production studios, it is also garnering critical acclaim. This year’s Academy Awards on 4th March, 2018 are challenging the #Oscarssowhite hashtag that emerged in 2015 and 2016, after a slew of nominations for work by white individuals, and predominantly work by men. Since then, the nominations have progressively reflected a more diverse roster of films. Last year ‘Moonlight’, a portrayal of a gay black man’s life, won the Oscar for Best Picture, and this year’s nominations including the queer love story ‘Call me By Your Name’, and interracial romance ‘The Big Sick’. With ‘Get Out’s’ black director Jordan Peele nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director, and Greta Gerwig’s nomination for Best Director for ‘Lady Bird’, the grip white men have had on the Oscars is slowly loosening, even if currently no woman of colour has been nominated for Best Director.

Recognising a more diverse body of work through awards emphasises that the diversification of the entertainment industry is becoming more commonplace – though as the L.A. Times suggested, the hashtag for the 2018 Oscars may be “#itsabouttime”. The future of the film industry and the Academy Awards suggests greater inclusivity, and more diverse content for audiences to enjoy. For companies producing content for film and TV, it is now not enough to merely accommodate diversity, it’s about making it a staple of content.

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If you would like to discuss diversity in media further, do not hesitate to get in touch.

About Raniyah Qureshi

A lover of spreadsheets, and all things television and film, Raniyah recently joined the strategy team at MTM, as an intern. Occasionally, she dreams of being Oprah, but only so that she can provide free doughnuts for all.