New Study Confirms That Movies With Authentic Cultural Depictions Yield Better Financial Returns

(Disclaimer: I probably could've opted for an image from the fantastic 2016 film "Lion" for a more "serious" example of a movie with authentic cultural depictions, but who in their right mind could pass up the opportunity to throw some praise towards this year's beloved and hugely successful "RRR," I ask!)

Sometimes, this job requires breaking down immensely complicated Hollywood developments into a fine powder, parsing a multitude of different factors in order to get to the heart of what's really going on for the layperson and, more importantly, why anyone should care. On other occasions, the industry news can be so straightforward, obvious, and self-explanatory that my intrusive middle-man presence is probably not even necessary. Believe it or not, this just so happens to be one of those latter examples. I mean, how else would you describe the notion that inclusive productions made with an eye towards cultural authenticity and a healthy respect for the life experiences of those who come from non-white backgrounds would actually — okay, everyone stick with me here — lead to tangibly improved profits at the box office? As if movies that appeal to a broader range of audiences would actually lead to more people paying for tickets in order to watch those movies? Who knew!

That bit of conventional wisdom has always come with numerous examples of highly popular and mainstream hits over the decades, boasting results that speak for themselves. Now, however, this narrative has taken one big leap past any potential allegations of merely being apocryphal and waltzed directly into the arena of research-based fact. That's the latest report according to Variety, which documents the efforts of a research study conducted jointly by the University of California, Los Angeles and the Creative Artists Agency, focused on studying the end results of how "authentic inclusive representation" (AIR, as it's referred to in the study) plays a role in three major aspects of a film's performance: box office results, critical reception, and audience reception.

And wouldn't you know it, the study managed to find that each quantifiable increase in AIR translated to hard numbers — an $18.8 million increase in revenues for big-budget movies that cost $159 million or more, to be precise.

By the numbers

Now, this is the part where we introduce a little nuance into the topic.

Admittedly, the idea of taking such a broad concept like "authentic inclusive representation" and turning it into a mathematical variable of sorts is slightly eyebrow-raising. To use a recent real-world example, some may have found the depiction of the scene-stealing limo driver Karun (Harish Patel) in "Eternals" to be cloying and stereotypical to the extreme, while the majority of viewers were wholly unbothered by such comedic relief and praised him (along with the casting of Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo) for the increased diversity in the superhero movie. See how tricky this can get when the complexities of what constitutes "proper" representation is boiled down and treated like a math equation of sorts? For the purposes of putting this study into context, it'd perhaps be better to consider this as more of a restatement of the obvious — the fact that diverse movies generally lead to greater eyeballs and butts in seats — rather than a foolproof measurement of such a complex and unquantifiable idea.

At the very least, the report goes on to mention how AIR scores are calculated in the first place: through a combination of factors like "casting, creative teams, and storytelling." As Ruben Garcia, executive and co-head of cultural business strategy at CAA, put it:

"These findings are consistent with what our industry has known for years — authentic, inclusive representation drives our communities and business forward. We remain committed to using our place within the industry to inspire storytellers and industry partners to center inclusion across their work, and to elevating conversations around the positive impact of AIR."

In any case, this is yet another study to add to the increasing pile that reinforces what has already been obvious to most reasonable people. Far from being a mere fad, diversity and inclusiveness in Hollywood should continue to be a priority moving forward — not just out of altruism (although that'd be nice!), but because it directly affects the bottom line, too.