All this, despite the fact that Latinos and Hispanics (as well as members of other racial and ethnic groups) continue to be underrepresented on-screen. In 2015, just 5.3 percent of characters in the top-grossing movies were Latino. Almost 4 percent of characters were Asian, and 4.9 percent were of Middle Eastern or Native American descent or were multiracial.
It’s true those numbers suggest that members of minority communities will continue to go to the movies even if they don’t see themselves represented on-screen. But they also suggest an opportunity for the studios that make movies and the theater networks that screen them to get already-loyal audiences to come back to the cinema even more frequently.
National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian said that diversity was good for his member companies’ bottom line. The Theatrical Market Statistics Report showed a bump in per-capita movie attendance in 2016 among African American and Asian American audiences; MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd suggested that the former was driven in part by movies such as Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s “Fences,” which brought in $57.5 million at the box office, and “Hidden Figures,” which has made $165.7 million.
“Diversity is a great thing for our business, diversity in the movies, diversity in people making the movies, diversity in people attending the movies,” Fithian said, pointing to the “Fast & Furious” franchise as a model for the global audience that movies can garner by embracing diversity. “It was gigantic in part because it was a fantastically fun franchise, but also because the cast of the movie reflected the population of the world.”
Dodd said he was not aware that any of his member companies had set specific benchmarks for becoming more representative, either in the mix of characters they present on-screen or in hiring behind the camera. But he said he was confident that “there is categorically an effort to provide more diversity in the creation of content,” driven in part by the reaction to all-white slates of nominations for acting Academy Awards in previous years.
“Sometimes there’s something of a lag time between getting the message and seeing a result,” Dodd said. “There’s no question in my mind the message has been received.”