Diversity Pays: New CAA study shows diverse casting increases box office

Creative Artists Agency (CAA) recently released a study showing that films at every budget level with diverse casts outperform releases with casts lacking that diversity.

The study analyzed 413 theatrical films released from January 2014 – December 2016 and noted the cast ethnicity for the top ten billed actors per movie. CAA found that films with a cast at least 30% non-white outperformed releases that did not meet the 30% non-white cast standard in the opening weekend box office. When considering audience diversity, the average opening weekend for a film with a 38%-70% non-white audience brings in $31 million vs. $12 million for films with non-diverse audiences.

 “One of the interesting things that the most successful movies share is that they’re broadly appealing to diverse audiences,” said Christy Haubegger, leader of CAA’s multicultural development group. “People want to see a world that looks like theirs.”

Diversity has long been an issue in Hollywood casting with social campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite highlighting some desparities. Furthermore, GLAAD's 2017 Studio Responsibilty Index, a report that maps the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ people in films released by the seven largest motion picture studios and their subsidiaries during the 2016 calendar year, found that racial diversity among LGBTQ characters in film is on the decline and again dropped drastically year over year. In 2016, only 20% of LGBTQ characters were people of color, compared to 25.5% in 2015 and 32.1% in 2014. 

Earlier this year, GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis emphasized the need for greater representation of LGBTQ people in Hollywood, particularly in the context of the global scale of many movies in a Variety op-ed tied to financial success of 'Beauty & the Beast":

Including LGBTQ characters doesn’t just demonstrate good values — it’s also good for business. TV shows like “Empire” and “Modern Family,” and movies like “Star Trek,” have been tremendous global hits. At a time when only 17.5% of studio films include LGBTQ characters (according to GLAAD’s latest Studio Responsibility Index), and only a small portion of those have any meaningful screen time, we hope these heartening small steps will inform studio heads that audiences are ready for more inclusion in our movie theaters and on our TV screens.

Entertainment is one of America’s biggest exports, so these characters make a real difference not just at home, but all over the world. We live in a country where LGBTQ people have the right to get married and start families, but think of what seeing LeFou will mean to youth in countries where that’s not the case. Some of those young adults will see this movie and know they don’t have to change their identities to fit someone else’s definition of who they should be.    

With the critical success of this year’s Oscar-winning ‘Moonlight’ and the financial success of ‘Hidden Figures’ ($230.1 million worldwide) and ‘Get Out’ ($251.2 million worldwide) the support for films with the diverse casting is clear.

“The hope is that seeing real numbers attached to the success of the inclusion of more voices and diverse casts will be further motivation for studios, networks and others to be really conscious of the opportunity,” said Richard Lovett, CAA’s president.