Rebuttal- cardinal

Diversity Sells–But Hollywood Isn’t Selling It

Hollywood has led the entertainment industry in America for over a century, playing the vital role of not only entertaining the masses but also shaping our social climate through storytelling. The images and stories we take in sway the way we view ourselves and others as well as our ideologies. Given the power of storytelling, people understandably want stories to represent them and the beliefs and experiences they hold dear. Others want stories that detail experiences and ideologies different from their own in order to expand their worldview. Basically, audiences want diversity. America grows less tolerant of racism and a lack of inclusion by the day, and many expect entertainment to reflect that social climate. Puzzlingly, though, Hollywood continues to stay behind the curve when it comes to racial diversity.

One long-held belief in Hollywood is that diversity doesn’t sell. Any studio executive would likely say that diversity and inclusion is a noble pursuit, but might add that it’s not the most profitable one. Executives clutch onto concerns about diverse movies not performing well overseas. Granted, the concerns are not entirely unfounded, even in recent years. For example, in 2015, the Chinese poster for Star Wars: The Force Awakens made a prominent Black character smaller and took out a Latino character entirely. Other similar incidents allow studio executives to say that while America is surely not racist, the rest of the world just might be, and therefore making non-diverse films to rake in money at both domestic and worldwide box offices is the wisest business practice.

This belief, however, is a misconception. Diversity sells, and not just domestically. In UCLA’s 2020 Hollywood diversity report, the numbers pointed to diverse films attracting audiences around the globe. The study, which accounted for 286 theatrical films released over 2018 and 2019, showed that films with diverse casts performed better overseas than non-diverse films. Films with casts made up of 21-50% minorities performed the best overseas, and the trend holds up even at the extreme ends of the spectrum; films with over 50% minority casts performed better than films with less than 11% minority casts.

The overwhelming individual successes of diverse films make the truth even clearer. Take, for example, Marvel’s 2018 hit Black Panther. The superhero film, which featured a predominantly Black cast and a fictional African society that was developed and technologically advanced, was both a critical and commercial success. Not only was it the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it grossed over 1.3 billion dollars at the global box office, making it, currently, the twelfth highest grossing film of all time according to Box Office Mojo’s data. Black Panther also outperformed similar blockbuster films, such as Aquaman and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, that were released in the same year and featured predominantly white lead casts. Furthermore, Black Panther was well-loved enough to break cultural barriers, and not just cultural barriers in America or even ones related to race. In order to host a special screening of Black Panther, Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on movie theaters that had gone on for 35 years. To make the impact even greater, men and women were allowed to sit together, and according to NPR, it was the start of a more widespread reopening of movie theaters in the country. Black Panther was a success in every sense not despite its diversity, but because of its diversity, if the reactions of critics and fans alike are any indication. The world ravenously adored this movie and the groundbreaking diversity it brought to the table, clearly illustrating that diversity is attractive and does, in fact, sell.

Another considerable success is 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. One of the two lead characters was played by a Black man and a supporting but still narratively important character was played by a Latino man. Despite China’s theatrical poster seeming to suggest an issue with these characters, the film went on to gross over 2 billion dollars globally, becoming the current fourth highest grossing film of all time as shown by Box Office Mojo’s data. Granted, The Force Awakens did face considerably greater backlash from fans regarding its diversity, with some groups threatening to boycott the movie because it featured a Black lead. While these pockets of backlash may seem to suggest that diversity is a risk, they actually prove the opposite. The numbers don’t lie. The movie was an overwhelming success at the box office, proving that diversity did not actually hinder the movie’s success.

The success of diversity is no secret to Hollywood executives. It’s reasonable to think that diversity would be their goal, if not for ethical uprightness then for a profit, and especially when the desires of the consumer are this clear. Since catering to the desires of the global audience cannot reasonably be the rationale behind inhibiting diversity, perhaps Hollywood executives are withholding some truth. Perhaps the real motivation lies within the Hollywood hierarchy.      

As of early 2020, the overwhelming majority of Hollywood studio CEOs, senior executives, and unit heads were white, according to the UCLA study. White people have held the power in Hollywood since its conception over 100 years ago, they still hold it today, and when people have power, it’s not in our nature to easily relinquish it. With white executives making the biggest decisions about what stories to tell and who should tell them, it’s no surprise that white stories are overrepresented. In Hollywood, where risk is inherent in every decision, executives “surround themselves with people who make them feel comfortable, who are a lot like them,” according to Darnell Hunt, the leader of UCLA’s study. Hollywood’s history of over-representing white people has tricked executives into thinking that less diversity equates to less risk, allowing them to rationalize the white monopoly on power in the business. Hiring white people and telling white stories makes white executives feel secure, and they use a disproven economic excuse to cover for their true desire- to remain in power.

References

https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/02/12/275907930/redefining-hollywood-diversity-makes-more-money

Deggans, E. (2014, February 13). Redefining Hollywood: ‘Diversity Makes More Money’. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/02/12/275907930/redefining-hollywood-diversity-makes-more-money

Hunt, D., & Ramón, A. (2020, February). Hollywood Diversity Report 2020: A Tale of Two Hollywoods [PDF]. Los Angeles: UCLA College of Social Sciences.

https://www.boxofficemojo.com/chart/top_lifetime_gross/?area=XWW

Top Lifetime Grosses. (2020, November 04). Retrieved November 05, 2020, from https://www.boxofficemojo.com/chart/top_lifetime_gross/?area=XWW

https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/2020-hollywood-diversity-report

Wolf, J. (2020, October 22). 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report: A different story behind the scenes. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/2020-hollywood-diversity-report

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8 Responses to Rebuttal- cardinal

  1. cardinal7218 says:

    This truly might be one of the worst papers I have ever written, and I do apologize that you’re on the receiving end, Professor Hodges. I had to turn in something. There are more problems with this than I am even able to identify, but here’s what’s at the forefront of my mind.

    I think what caused a lot of the problems in this paper is the fact that I had trouble finding sources that opposed me. I went with the “diversity doesn’t sell” argument because I had seen it mentioned throughout my research and figured someone had to be saying it if everyone’s lamenting about it so much. Can you give me some advice on how to find sources to respond to?

    I think my rebuttal is really weak because it’s almost entirely facts and statistics. I attempted to elaborate on them, but is there enough evidence of critical thought? And then I deviated from statistics and attempted to use the facts I had established to “uncover the truth” but I think that anyone opposed to my way of thinking would be immediately turned off. If I hadn’t already lost the argument I definitely lost it the second I suggested that Hollywood is built on white supremacy and doesn’t want to budge. Is there anything I can do with that thought or should I scrap it and pursue a new thought line for the ending? Do you have any suggestions on a direction?

    Feel free to comment on any other pressing mistakes 🙂

    • davidbdale says:

      Before I read your essay, Cardinal, I suspect your worst effort is still very good. I hope I haven’t contributed to your self-doubt, which you already seem to have enough of for one smart person. I’ll do my best to help you find sources to match your request, but that likely won’t happen before Friday, so be patient on that.

      One more thing before I read what you’ve written. The less offensive way to accuse someone of acting on racial supremacy is to allow that they were making financial decisions, not social decisions.

      An example from the American 60s. A black family moves into an all-white suburban neighborhood. Slowly, but surely, the white families sell their homes and move. Those who sell fastest get the highest prices for their homes. The last holdouts, perhaps the most honorable families, lose the most. Not one family considers itself racist. They all explain their actions as the only way to protect the equity in their most important financial investment. Is old Hollywood reluctant to change its ways? Yep. Does the Academy of Arts and Sciences consider itself racist? Nope. Does that help? Or are you waaaaayyy ahead of me on that one?

  2. davidbdale says:

    One early thought is that you may have chosen the wrong angle for refutation. Your thesis—that Hollywood matters less because streaming services and smaller producers have taken the lead on providing the diverse entertainment audiences demand—is not refuted by claiming that Hollywood is racist. That claim is irrelevant to yours.

    Take Hollywood at its word. It’s never been racist. It’s always made its choices based on precedent. White leads and all-white casts have always been the most profitable for them, so they’ve stuck with it. Their lame efforts to explore diversity have sometimes failed, reinforcing the notion that they’re too risky.

    The recent successes of Black Panther and the Star Wars confirm your position. You can still use them, as evidence that streaming services had to prove the viability of diverse films first before Hollywood was willing to take the chance. Netflix et al are now the leaders in the field and Hollywood is playing catch up. If they want to play in the new playground, that’s fine, but it no longer matters to black producers, Asian authors and directors, Latinx actors whether Hollywood acknowledges them or not. The game has shifted. That’s your thesis, right? And you don’t have to accuse anyone of being racist.

  3. davidbdale says:

    Put this back into Feedback Please if you still want help finding sources, Cardinal. (And remember to tell me that’s what you need.)

    • cardinal7218 says:

      I would still appreciate help finding sources since that’s likely the best way to take my argument in a better direction. I really am struggling to find a position or piece of evidence worth refuting.

  4. davidbdale says:

    I take it you’re looking for a prominent or otherwise reputable source that claims “Diversity Doesn’t Sell.” Is that it, Cardinal? (Before I start searching for something to help you.)

    • cardinal7218 says:

      If you think that argument works as something I can respond to then yes but I think I need to write an entirely new essay if I am to fix this. I think I need an entirely new opposing claim, but I struggled to find sources that have something. On the other hand I don’t want to create unnecessary work for myself so if I can build off of what I have then by all means stick with what I already came up with. If the rebuttal isn’t a required rewrite and I can just redo my definition and causal, another option is to forget this mess altogether and I can apologize for wasting your time. Sorry for my lack of clarity in communicating my needs!

      • davidbdale says:

        To begin, the Rebuttal Rewrite does not have to be part of your Portfolio, and a Rewrite does not have to be a complete overhaul of the draft, so if you want to concentrate your effort making your Definition and Causal Rewrites the best they can be, I completely support that decision.

        As for the material you have collected here, it will probably find a comfortable place in your 3000-word Research Paper, where it will not have to be classified as rebuttal material.

        To be clear, the only truly relevant refutation to your thesis that Hollywood is irrelevant to the needs of minority creatives now that they’ve found a profitable arena for their talents with the streaming services would be that Hollywood is somehow still essential and that minority talent can’t survive without it.

        Instead, you’re more likely to find evidence that the Hollywood establishment will take cover under the explanation that “US audiences demand diversity, but our films are global, and other countries want white leads.”

        Either way, don’t sweat it. You’re hypercritical of yourself. I see great grades in your future, and I hope you’ll spend more time on classes in which you might be struggling.

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