Despite all of the small steps that institutions within Hollywood have taken to address the industry’s well-documented issues with diversity, representation, and inclusion, it’s no secret that only so much has substantially changed in the grand scheme of things — even if they are technically better than they used to be.
Because qualitative systemic change is often difficult to measure, analyses like Nielsen’s latest Diverse Intelligence report are especially useful in getting a read on how television networks are responding to and acting on the increased calls for more diverse productions. “Being Seen on Screen: Diverse Representation and Inclusion on TV” breaks down by race, gender identity, and sexuality the casts of the top 300 most-viewed television shows from 2019 that aired on broadcast, cable, and a number of streaming services.
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By comparing the composition of each show’s 10 most recurring characters to different groups’ representative size in the population (for instance: the percentage of a show’s recurring female characters compared to the American population of women) the report’s researchers assigned each series a score on the Inclusion Opportunity Index.
“Among the 300 most-viewed programs in 2019, 92% had some level of diversity in the cast (i.e. women, people of colour or LGBTQ+),” a Nielsen statement about the report describes. “Whites, African Americans, and LGBTQ+ had the largest overall share of screen while women, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans were underrepresented relative to their population estimates.”
While Nielsen’s findings indicate that television as a whole is making some effort to feature characters who aren’t straight, white, cisgender people, the report’s researchers were careful to explain that things aren’t uniform across platforms, and representation for traditionally marginalised characters is still lower across the board.
Nielsen did note, however, that streaming platforms were comparatively stronger in their offerings of content with more inclusive casts, and both science fiction and horror had a tendency to spotlight both women and people of colour. From Nielsen’s report:
While women are not well represented in any single genre, the highest representation for women is in science fiction, drama, comedy and horror.
Women have the lowest representation in news.
People of colour representation is at parity in music and drama, followed by science fiction and action and adventure.
People of colour have least relative representation in news.
News does prominently feature LGBTQ talent on-screen.
The biggest takeaway from Nielsen’s report is that there are actually shows out there performing well viewership-wise that have put in the effort to centre a broader array of stories that better reflect the makeup of the U.S., and viewers are moving toward the platforms where these shows live.
“Viewing audiences are increasingly seeking content that tells their stories,” the report states. “As a result, people are migrating to platforms that have broad and more diverse content offerings.”
Going forward, it’s only going to get more and more ridiculous if and when network execs pretend that successful shows have to revolve around straight, white people.
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