The movie industry struggled again in the second pandemic year with changes in both viewing habits and release-cycles. But according to a new study from UCLA, people of color were integral to keeping the business afloat — both on screen and in the audience.
The study found that in 2021, people of color made up the majority of domestic ticket sales on opening weekend for six of the top 10 films. Also, minority households were overrepresented among streaming audiences for each of the top 10 films last year.
"Last year, every time a big movie exceeded expectations or broke a box office record, the majority of opening weekend audiences were people of color," said co-author Ana-Christina Ramón in a press release accompanying the study. "For people of color, and especially Latino families, theaters provided an excursion when almost everything else was shut down."
The well-respected yearly study took the 252 top performing English language films (both theatrical and streaming) in 2021, and catalogued various representation statistics for women and people of color.
Within the industry, the two groups made gains as both directors and film writers, while mostly holding steady when it came to lead-acting roles.
As for budgets, the study found that in 2021, there was little difference in the budgets for films with people of color as leads compared to films with white leads, shrinking a gap from the previous year.
But for women, nearly 69% of films with female leads in 2021 had a budget smaller than $20 million, compared to 46.8% of the films with male leads.
The study also notes that films written or directed by women last year had significantly more diverse casts than movies written and directed by white men.
And in time for the Academy Awards this weekend, the study examined the demographic breakdown of recent Oscar wins. While people of color posted unprecedented gains as both directors and lead actors in Oscar-winning movies, women still struggle to find parity at the Academy Awards.