Commentary: Movies need more diversity

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I love watching movies. All movies. Even movies in black and white that have all-white casts. And I love movies that have people who look like me, Black and LGBTQ, in them, too.

Movies don’t have to have folks of my race/ethnicity as stars. I love “Crazy Rich Asians,” which came out in 2018. But I’d rather see a poorly executed movie with a diverse cast, in terms of gender and race/ethnicity, than one with mostly or only straight white people.

And why isn’t blind casting more of a thing? Like in 2017, when Anthony Revolori from Guatemala was cast as a white character from the comic book, in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Or how about when Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who is Black, South African and British, and Audra McDonald, a Black American, voiced roles that were previously portrayed as white in the 2017 remake of “Beauty and the Beast?”

The folks at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative recently published a research brief that examined the gender and race/ethnicity of leads and co-leads in the top 1,300 box office movies from 2007 to 2019.

Regarding gender, the report found, 43% of the top 100 movies in 2019 featured a woman as lead or co-lead.

This falls a little short of the nearly 51% who identify as women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report also found that only 17 women leads or co-leads from the top 100 films, excluding films with ensemble casts, were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.

However, as an earlier report by USC highlighted, “(N)o girls or women identifying as Native American/Alaskan Native, Middle Eastern/North African, or Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander filed a leading or co-leading role in 2019.”

Race/ethnicity, of course, goes beyond Blacks and Latinx folks.

As for age and gender intersectionality, just three of the women-identifying leads or co-leads in the year’s top 100 films were 45 years old or older, and only one of those three was from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group.

The U.S. Census Bureau has Black-Identifying People of Color (BIPOC) comprising 13% of the population.

The brief concludes: “(T)he continued progress toward greater inclusion is important to celebrate, even as we urge ongoing change — particularly for women age 45 and over, and for individuals (especially women) from racial/ethnic groups who are routinely erased in popular film.”

While yes, there is cause for celebration, there’s also clearly more work to be done. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a “Black Panther,” but there shouldn’t be decades between “The Joy Luck Club” and the aforementioned “Crazy Rich Asians.”

And clearly, it goes beyond black and white.

So here’s to distributors, producers, directors and casting agents who think outside the box and cast folks who don’t look like them. And to more Black directors making movies with folks who do look like us, as diversity and inclusion allow us to tell richer and more vibrant stories.

See you at the movies. Or maybe not.



Kiki Monifa of Oakland, California, is editor-in-chief of This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.


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