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Ben Yennie: 5 Reasons Why Better Minority Representation is VITAL for the Entertainment Industry

While we acknowledge that ProductionNext is primarily run by two CisHet White guys, we readily acknowledge that the lack of diversity in the film industry is a pretty major problem.  While as far as we can tell the diversity problem is generally trending in the right direction given the shake-up of the demographics of the Academy as well as some notable releases including Moonlight, Sorry to Bother You, Get Out, and Black Panther, it’s unclear how much that’s going to stick and whether that trend is going to continue.  

So with that in mind, I’ve decided to write a post more targeted at executives in the entertainment industry, illustrating how increasing the diversity of our industry is good for the overall health of an industry that’s suffering from a bit of decay.  Before I get into it, I do want to thank my friends Cira and Sarah for checking to make sure my reasoning and argumentation was sound.  A lot of this piece is about the importance of authenticity, so it only made sense to check with my friends in the communities I write about prior to publishing.  

1. More Diverse Crews will help tell New Stories.

I know, I know, I’m supposed to be making a monetary argument, not a creative one.  Well, this one is both.  We all know that studios have been having trouble coming up with new stories that they can tell while making enough at the box office to boost their bottom line.  The result is remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, adaptations, and rehashes that have left much of the movie-going public craving something different.  

While this creates an opportunity for independents and smaller studios, it’s not something that can be filled by those smaller studios and independent filmmakers in the same way that the demand is growing for them.

This is why we need more diversity In the writer's room, and in more of the creative positions all around a set.  Most writers rooms are completely monotone, and most of the writers blend into the beige walls of the room.  The same can be said for most of the creative positions on set.  If you fill these writers rooms with more diverse voices.

Many of these minority communities, be they communities of people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, the Asian American community, the Hispanic Community, or any other community lacking representation in the film industry have unique stories to tell that will feel much more original to audiences sick of the same old thing.  This has some pretty massive potential to increase the deteriorating theater attendance.   

Diverse stories tend to be more profitable anyway.  Look at this study from Variety which examines how to Get Out grossed more than 253 million worldwide on a 4.5 million dollar budget from a first-time feature director.

Read the full story here.  https://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2018/01/25/more-evidence-tha...

It’s not just true in films, the results are mirrored in more corporate structures, showing that increasing the number of diverse executives in a corporation will increase your overall profits.  For more, read here: 


2. Diversity will Open up New and Underserved Markets.  

Just as diversity will help you find new stories to tell, there will be a strong community of people who are anxious to hear those stories.  There’s not enough content that feels authentic to most minority communities, and the only real way for this content to feel authentic is to give these communities representation not only in front of the camera but behind it as well.  

In the end, these are communities of people.  People like to have their stories told, and people like it to feel authentic.  

On that note, given the current political situation, I would be remiss to not say this outright.  

TRANS PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE. They are not political bargaining tools.  No matter what the current administration tries to claim.  They need representational stories told of them in the media as well, and part of telling those stories accurately is placing them behind the camera.  It’s the only way we’re going to be able to move towards removing this asinine stigma we have against them.  Even in that, there’s a monetary advantage.  Look at the ratings for Will and Grace and the fact it was recently rebooted for confirmation on this opinion. 

Also, The trans community is growing, and people are becoming more accepting of them.  Smart marketers always look for growth markets.  In a study of nearly 81,000 teens, 2,200 identified as gender non-conforming or transgender.  Sure, that’s only about 2.5%, but Minnesota isn’t exactly known as a progressive state, and it appears that as society becomes more accepting of non-binary gender acquisition, that number is likely to grow.  

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/02/05/more-u-s-teens-identify-transgender-survey-finds/306357002/

Also, as we saw with the growth of the LGBTQ+ community, many who do not identify as LGBTQ+  came to call for more support of the LGBTQ+ community and also began consuming LGBTQ+ media.  Look at the growth of shows like Queer Eye, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and of course Will and Grace as examples.  

3. All Communities Crave Authentic Representation

I’ve touched on this in both of the points above, but despite the fact that superhero action movies are currently crushing at the box office, most communities still crave some level of authentic representation.  Even the superheroes have some level of authentic reliability that goes beyond the fantasy fulfillment of being a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist with a fancy suit that makes him practically indestructible.  They have flaws just as we all do.  That makes them more relatable.

We all know the saying write what you know.  If you want to represent a community authentically, you’ll need to have people who actually lived the struggles that these people face.  

A prime example of this is the relative failure of George Lucas’ Red Tails which had a very well known black cast and told the story of an all-black air force regimen in World War II that only ended up grossing around 50 million worldwide with around 49 million in the US on a 58 million dollar budget.  It had primarily white people behind the camera.  

If we look at Black Panther, it was shot for around 200 million but made more than that back just in the opening weekend, and made 1.35 Billion Worldwide with 700 million of that coming from the US.  While there were certainly more factors than just the fact that Black Panther had more black people behind the scenes, it is a striking example of the difference authenticity can make.  

Source: IMDb.

4. America Will be a Minority-Majority Country sooner than you might think.  

Like it or not, the demographics of America are changing.  In the near future, white people will represent less than 50% of the country.  That doesn’t really matter, except that those people will be a target market that you’re going to want to adequately address.  While the shift isn’t expected to actually put white people as a plurality rather than a minority until 2045, smart executives will move with the changing times and start telling stories authentic to the emerging demographics sooner rather than later so that it will be deeply ingrained in their brands well before the shift actually takes place.  

More on that here.  https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2018/03/14/the-us-will-become-minority-white-in-2045-census-projects/

5. Inauthentic Casting is More Trouble than it’s Worth.

This is something that’s come up a lot recently, whether it be Matt Damon in The Great Wall or Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell.  The amount of backlash that the studio got for whitewashing Asian people out of Ghost in the Shell is something that will remain fresh in the minds of both executives and moviegoers.

If you want these communities to see your movie, then cast people authentic to the role.  Otherwise, you may end up with a flop like the 110 million dollar budget of Ghost in the Shell only bringing in 40 million in the US and 130 in the cumulative worldwide gross.  That sounds profitable, but it’s probably not since most of the time the budget doesn’t include marketing and the gross is before the theaters take their cut.  

Numbers sourced from IMDb.

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GET OUT AND VOTE, DAMN IT.  It matters.  A lot.  I don’t care who you vote for, but get up off your ass and VOTE.  It may only be a midterm, but this one is so incredibly important and may be more important than many of the upcoming elections.  Hell, if you tweet us a sticker of your “I Voted” sticker (@Production_Next) we’ll add an add an additional month to your annual membership as a thank you.  


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