"We're not afraid to make movies that appeal to different demographics as long as the stories are good," says Donna Langley, Universal Pictures Chairman. "If we build them, they will come."
Our track record over the past year speaks for itself. Universal Pictures brought in an industry high of $6.7 billion in 2015, powered by notably diverse films. Furious 7 had one of the biggest opening weekends in history in April, with the franchise’s latest installment — and its diverse cast — reaching an audience that was 75% people of color. Straight Outta Compton became the highest-grossing film from an African American director in American film history.
Pitch Perfect 2, which featured a female cast and director, brought in $70.3 million in its debut weekend. And The Danish Girl, which received a GLAAD Media Award nomination for outstanding film, made waves by bringing the story of one of the world’s first known recipients of gender reassignment surgery to movie theaters.
On the small screen, shows like Superstore, The Carmichael Show, Shades of Blue, Telenovela, and the three-hour telecast event The Wiz Live! have won praise for the diversity of their casts and for sharing stories that help connect us regardless of our backgrounds and experiences.
"We’re looking for the best storytellers out there, and we want those storytellers to accurately represent our world today," says Jennifer Salke, President of NBC Entertainment.
On-screen diversity is good business. It’s proven to be a big draw at the box office and in ratings. It helps us stay culturally relevant among younger audiences, for whom a broader understanding of race, gender, and sexual orientation is increasingly the norm. And supporting diversity behind the scenes gives us access to exciting new talent.
But more than that? It’s just good storytelling.
"It’s never about meeting a quota," Donna says. "It’s about looking for quality. I look for the types of stories I’m interested in seeing on-screen."
Karen Horne, who oversees our pipeline efforts to bring diverse new voices to our television productions as Senior Vice President of Programming Talent Development and Inclusion for NBC Entertainment and Universal Television, agrees. "We’ve found that the contributions that diverse voices bring to a story help us create more compelling entertainment and spark more meaningful conversations," she says. "It makes us better content producers and richer storytellers."
On-screen diversity also makes stories relatable to wider audiences. It’s no small thing for people from all cultures and communities to see themselves represented in film or TV.
One of the most powerful outlets for diverse storytelling is reality television, precisely because it’s unscripted and depicts the lives of real people.
In July, E! launched the docuseries I Am Cait, chronicling the life of Caitlyn Jenner. Each episode raises awareness of the issues and challenges facing the transgender community, in addition to highlighting nonprofits and crisis hotlines that focus on LGBT issues. Resources include GLAAD, the Trevor Project, Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, and more.
And Oxygen’s series The Prancing Elites Project attracted 1.13 million viewers on its premiere night by profiling a group of five gay and gender-nonconforming African American dancers from Mobile, Alabama. Its sleeper success made it the NBCUniversal-owned cable network’s highest-rated new series of 2015 in all key demographics.
"Our diverse lineup of original scripted and unscripted content speaks to an equally broad and diverse audience," says Jeff Wachtel, Chief Content Officer of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment and President of Universal Cable Productions and Wilshire Studios. "Whether our viewers are tuning in to E!, Oxygen, Bravo, USA, or Syfy, we want them to see reflections of themselves and their personal experiences in the stories we tell."
GLAAD Media Award nominations in 2015, recognizing NBCUniversal for its inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities
In addition to telling more inclusive stories in our films and television programs, we’re serving more audiences in other platforms. NBCNews.com features verticals dedicated to black, Latino, and Asian American news. We also developed special XFINITY programming to commemorate Black History Month, including films like Malcolm X and The Great Debaters.
And we expanded our His Dreams, Our Stories series commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington. The series has evolved into an award-winning multimedia project titled Voices of the Civil Rights Movement.
Diverse content matters because it reflects who we are as a culture. Just as importantly, people want it.
"When my kids watch TV, they don’t think about diversity," says NBC’s Jennifer Salke. "All they see are characters and stories that feel real to them because they live in a world where people are all different colors and where it's normal to have two moms or dads. When I think about our industry 10 years in the future, I’d like to think that what we now call diversity will be a given, and that the content we produce will accurately represent the best version of the world in which we live."