It's no secret that Hollywood has a diversity problem. After this year's Academy Award nominations were announced, #OscarsSoWhite started trending on social media for the second year in a row. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences responded, pledging to make the organization more diverse by 2020. But by the time the academy and the entertainment industry become more diverse, the U.S. population will be far ahead of what's reflected on the screen.
By 2060, there will be no majority race or ethnic group in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Minorities already make up 37% of the population, and that percentage is only expected to increase in the coming years, so much so that minorities will eventually become the majority.
As our country becomes more diverse, so do our families. By 2060, when minorities are projected to make up 57% of the population, more families in the United States will have more than one ethnic group in the mix. How that'll be reflected in television (whatever that might look like in 2060) has yet to be determined.
Traditional depictions of American families look more like The Brady Bunch (1969) or Swiss Family Robinson (1975). These all-white casts embody the stereotypes of a typical American family: a father who works, a loving mother who stays home and takes care of a good bunch of goofy kids. But in the last few years, a few mainstream TV shows that feature nonwhite families as the main characters have made it to primetime.
"It's getting to be more interesting in terms of how TV portrays families," Maureen Ryan, chief TV critic for Variety, told Mic. "It's still within a few acceptable arenas, but I think what the definition of what a TV family is has definitely evolved."
Fresh Off the Boat (2015) and Blackish (2014) have taken prominent spots in ABC's primetime lineup, featuring ensemble casts of Asian and African-American actors, respectively. Fox's Empire (2015) and the CW's Jane the Virgin (2014) have reminded us that family drama is still some of the most compelling television, with minorities taking almost every leading role in both casts.
The new nuclear: American families don't necessarily follow the traditional mom-and-dad template anymore either. According to the Pew Research Center, less than half of American children live in families with two heterosexual parents. Single-parent families and families with gay or lesbian couples are much more prevalent than even 10 or 20 years ago.
These different family constructions reflect the reality of what a family looks like in America today much more than The Brady Bunch or Father Knows Best (1954) stereotypes that used to dominate prime time.
"Characters and families are not necessarily defined by their relationship to white people, and that's a long overdue connection," Ryan said. "I still think that there's a long way to go, but it's certainly much more varied, and there's more to choose from than there was a short time ago."
Audiences like diversity: Diversity not only provides a more realistic representation of what people in the United States are truly experiencing, it's also translating into the ratings. According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, produced by the Bunche Center for African-American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, films with relatively diverse casts took in the highest median global box office receipts while TV shows that "at least match the minority share of the population in terms of overall cast diversity" drew high ratings among 18-49-year-olds.
While the number of movies and TV shows with diverse casts remained low, the movies and shows that did exemplify more diverse backgrounds and stories brought in some of the best sales. As Sophie Kleeman reported for Mic, "the 15 films with 41% to 50% minority casts in 2012 received the highest return on their investment."
Median ratings were also higher for shows with more diverse casts. In both black and white households, TV shows watched with the highest ratings had 41% to 50% minority casts.
Ryan attributes part of the rise in more diverse television to the fact that streaming networks have opened up new avenues for these types of shows to live on.
"Five years ago, there were 200 scripted TV shows out there," Ryan said. "Now, as of last year, there are 412 — it's basically doubled. From 10 years ago, it's tripled. There's a lot more ways to find a family and portray a family."
With more TV shows, there's a greater opportunity to present a more nuanced picture of different experiences — be that through casts with more diverse backgrounds or TV shows about more diverse family structures.
"Channels have to create their own niche in order to continue to appeal to consumers who are more and more media savvy than ever before and have more options than ever before," David Bushman, television curator at the Paley Center for Media, told Mic. "You have to find a way to resonate with consumers if you expect them to stay with you. It makes good business sense."
Bushman believes that television will continue to become more diverse as these new platforms for TV shows continue to grow with different platforms like streaming networks and online video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo.
"It will continue to become more and more diverse because it's the right thing to do and because it's important for TV to survive and continue to be relevant and meaningful in a very fast-paced, changing society," he said.