Women, people of color are being shortchanged by TV industry, study finds

An image from HBO's "House of the Dragon."
Big-budget series like HBO’s “House of the Dragon” are driving the conversation in TV. But they are far more likely to be run by white men. Steve Toussaint, pictured.
(Ollie Upton / HBO)

Shows with diverse casts — such as “FBI,” “Bridgerton” and “Snowpiercer” — are popular with audiences, but white men are getting more opportunities to head up series with substantial budgets than are women and people of color, according to a UCLA study released Thursday.

The 2022 Hollywood Diversity Report, which covers data from the 2020-2021 season, finds that the TV industry is so far falling short on pledges made by executives in recent years to bring more diversity to writers rooms and the producing ranks, particularly when it comes to big-budget shows.

“The next few years may be a test of whether Hollywood is truly committed to the changes they promised during the nation’s reckoning on race following the murder of George Floyd,” said Ana-Christina Ramón, director of the Entertainment and Media Research Initiative at UCLA, which produces the report.

Although series with sizable budgets, such as HBO’s “House of the Dragon” and Prime Video’s “The Rings of Power,” are attracting large audiences and substantial media attention, a revelatory finding from the 2020-21 data shows that women and people of color — despite making gains in representation across all platforms — are not receiving the same financial backing as their white male counterparts.

A Times analysis has found that Latino representation in film and TV has stagnated for a decade-plus, even as Latinos’ share of the population has grown.

June 13, 2021


“We saw an uptick in opportunity for people of color and women having their shows greenlit, which should be a marker of progress,” Ramón said. “However, when we examined the episodic budgets of all the TV series, we see a strong pattern indicating that shows created by people of color and women tended to receive smaller budgets than those created by white men, particularly in the digital arena.”

While nearly half of white men enjoyed a budget of more than $3 million per episode, creators of color rarely reached that level, according to the study. Women fared much worse.

“Diversity initiatives traditionally are the first to be cut or sacrificed when there are economic downturns,” said UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt. “We’re already seeing it start with [Warner Bros. Discovery] cutbacks. But rolling back efforts before equity has been truly achieved for women and people of color would be a major miscalculation. Any cost savings studios realize now will come at the expense of alienating increasingly diverse viewers who expect increased representation in their TV shows, and do not make good business sense in the long term.”

UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report provides a consistent analysis of the last 11 years of film and television using independently gathered race, ethnicity and gender identity information about actors, writers, directors and show creators. Read the full report here.