“Movies make more money when exactly half their casts are non-white, according to an annual analysis released Thursday that shows an increasing demand for diversity in film.
In previous years, movies did better at the box office if two or three of the top eight billed actors were non-white. In 2014, four of eight was the magic number, ticket sales show.
“These aren’t momentary glitches. It’s the handwriting on the wall,” and it points to how profoundly out of touch the motion picture academy is when giving Oscars only to white actors, said Darnell Hunt, who directs the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The Bunche Center has taken a close look at each year’s top-grossing films since 2011, grouping each movie according to how many non-white actors hold the top eight roles, and calculating the median global haul of each level of diversity.
The best performers, with a median ticket revenue of $122.2 million, turned out to be movies in which half the main cast was non-white. That’s more than double the $52.6 million median haul for films with no non-white actors in the top eight. Films where more than half the principal actors were non-white also did worse, with a median of $52.4 million.
Casts with non-whites in four of the eight top roles also provided the best return on investment, delivering ticket sales that were 3.4 times the films’ budgets, on average.
The study points to “Lucy,” a science-fiction film with Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi and Amr Waked in prominent roles alongside Scarlett Johansson, grossing $444 million worldwide according to IMDb.com; and “Annie,” with Jamie Foxx cast as Daddy Warbucks and Quvenzhane Wallis as the orphan, with Cameron Diaz in a supporting role. That multiethnic update of the classic musical made $119 million, according to IMDB.com.
And for franchises like the widely hailed “Fast and Furious” — which has swallowed $3.9 billion in global ticket sales — marketing campaigns and posters have purposefully played up the multiracial casts of the seven movies.
“The main payoff is always going to be the seven people on that poster…”