McKinsey report offers advice on increasing Black representation in film industry

Black actors face many barriers to equal opportunities and representation in the film industry

A recent report by McKinsey entitled: “Black representation in film and TV: The challenges and impact of increasing diversity” explains what industry organisations can do to increase workplace equality.

Calls to diversify Hollywood became mainstream when the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending in 2015 in response to the racial homogeneity of the nominees. This was followed in 2021 by the news that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association hadn’t had any Black members in nearly twenty years.

By furthering Black inclusion in the industry, the aim is to make the sector “more equitable and inclusive for all, including Asian Americans, members of the Latinx community, LGBTQ+ individuals, Native Americans, people with disabilities, and others,” according to the report.

Black representation in the film industry

Like in all industries, a more diverse workplace leads to better business performance; and the same is true of the film industry, where addressing racial inequalities could add “$10 billion in annual revenues—about 7% more than the assessed baseline of $148 billion.”

Currently, the film sector lags behind even the likes of energy, finance, and transport when it comes to ethnic minority individuals holding senior positions.

Black professionals account for less than 6% of writers, directors, and producers of US-produced films in off-screen industry roles. This is in contrast to 92% of film executives and 87% of TV executives who are white.

Lack of industry access for Black talent

When breaking into the industry, Black actors commonly face a barrier in the form of wealth inequality, where the “median Black family” has around “$150,000 less than the median white family.”

This is made worse by the fact that entry into the industry can be based upon nepotism, or by shared networks, such as if an actor has been to the same Ivy League university as a director or producer.

Often, emerging actors volunteer their time for no pay, which shuts out less economically privileged candidates from the outset: “Our research underscores that jobs in the industry often go to insiders’ acquaintances or members of their extended networks, who tend to be overwhelmingly white and upper-class.”

The research found that without “at least one senior member of a production” being Black, other Black candidates won’t attain key roles in films, which shows that racial bias from the industry’s mostly White professionals is likely.

According to the data, films with a Black producer, which account for only 8% of all US-produced films, or a Black director (6%) are significantly more likely to have hired a Black writer, which shows the importance of getting Black talent into senior film roles to encourage Black recruitment.

An independent report commissioned by streaming giant Netflix found that “when a Black creator was behind a Netflix series, 72% of series regulars were Black, while only 15.4% were Black when a non-Black creator developed a series.” This shows by largely commissioning shows led by non-diverse creators, hiring bias is more likely: “Our research points to a pattern of entrenched industry gatekeepers such as agencies, unions, and guilds responding more favourably to people who look, act, sound, and write as they do.”

When Black actors are hired for film roles (only 11% play leading roles), they are “twice as likely” to be hired for “race-related projects” which not only “receive lower investment in both production and promotion,” but pigeonhole Black actors into stereotypical roles.

Within this group, Black women are more likely to be the only person with their identity working on a film or television programme and consequently have fewer role models: “As in other industries, many Black women in film and TV report having to work harder than their white, male counterparts—for less recognition.”

Discrimination against “Black content”

There is a lack of confidence within the industry about Black-led films performing well globally. In 2019, major films with Black stars “were distributed in 30% fewer international markets on average—yet they earned nearly the same global box-office sales as films with white leads and earned more than those films on a per-market basis.”

The research points to “the lack of diversity among marketing teams, executives, and other industry decision-makers” as the reasons why Black film content isn’t understood or supported enough.

Another statistic that shows the white-majority industry discriminates against Black film content is that “Black professionals are particularly vulnerable to market shocks,” where “the share of films with Black talent significantly dropped after studios cut their output of films starting in 2008–09 and had still not fully recovered by the end of 2019.”

The research then outlined what film and television organisations can do to make their workplaces more inclusive for Black groups and other minorities.

1. Set targets

The research suggests that “key entities such as studios, networks, streaming companies, agencies, and production companies should set targets for Black and non-white representation across all levels and roles—including in the boardroom, which remains predominantly white—and make those goals public to hold themselves accountable.”

They also recommend that organisations “publish intersectional reporting” and include data on their workforce’s racial, ethnic, and gender makeup and share these figures with an independent institution.

The research also suggests that firms adopt “best practices from other industries by formalising all performance evaluations and promotions” to decrease racial bias as currently “strong accountability structures and uniformly enforced HR processes and rules are lacking in many cases.”

2. Pursue diverse recruitment and offer financial aid

The research also suggests that businesses recruit talent from more non-majority-white institutions such as “historically Black colleges and universities” away from the industry centres of Los Angeles and New York.

They also said organisations “should look at the possibility of boosting and formalising mentorship and sponsorship programmes and paying interns, assistants, and early-career talent a living wage.”

3. Get Black talent into senior roles

The research says that by hiring Black talent in decision-making roles, representation across various off-screen roles at multiple levels could be encouraged, thereby creating a more diverse talent pipeline.

4. Collective industry action is needed

As various organisations in the film industry are interconnected, the research says that “different stakeholders would need to act in concert” as “no single studio or agency can make the industry equitable.” They also suggest that “industry decision-makers” need to “commit to changing their own beliefs and behaviour.”

5. Allocate funds to diverse projects

Organisations could set aside a relatively small portion of their annual budget (the report suggests 13.4%) to Black and other ethnic-minority-related projects and allocate funding to hire diverse talent.

6. Lobby for the creation of an independent body

The research suggests that a “well-funded, third-party organisation” could help design and implement “best practices” and “intersectional data and reporting on progress across the industry.”

To view McKinsey’s research in full, click here.
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