79 Percent Say More On-Screen Diversity Is Needed in Film, TV: ViacomCBS Study

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79 Percent Say More On-Screen Diversity Is Needed in Film, TV: ViacomCBS Study
ViacomCBS

Only half of people globally are satisfied with the level of representation they see in TV shows and movies, and 79 percent say more diversity is needed on screens, ViacomCBS, the entertainment giant behind streamer Paramount+, studio Paramount Pictures and such networks as CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, found in a new study.

The call for more diversity rises to more than 80 percent among people who consider themselves part of an under-represented group and nearly 90 percent among Black people, according to the company’s newest “Global Insights” study with the title “Reflecting Me: Global Representation On Screen.”

Of those who feel poorly represented, nearly 60 percent say people like them are not represented enough, while 52 percent feel poorly represented due to a lack of accuracy in portrayals, ViacomCBS highlighted in summarizing key findings on Thursday.

In every country surveyed, the top issue with representation in film and TV is either around race and ethnicity or economic status, according to a summary of its findings. Race and ethnicity ranked no. 1 in the U.S., U.K., Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Singapore, ViacomCBS said. Economic status was the top-ranked issue in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Germany, Italy, Poland and Malaysia.

In a sign of how much representation matters to audiences worldwide, more than 80 percent said more needs to be done to ensure that TV shows and movies represent different groups and identities in front of and behind the camera. While 84 percent of people globally agree with the statement that “companies making TV shows and movies should commit to increasing diversity and representation on screen,” 83 percent agree that they should commit to improving diversity and representation off screen, according to ViacomCBS. And 85 percent of respondents agreed that representation has an impact on the real world by influencing people’s perceptions.

ViacomCBS’ exploration of how television and entertainment “teach people about themselves and others” surveyed more than 15,000 people aged 13-49 from 15 countries and was published during the conglomerate’s global Inclusion Week. The study was commissioned by ViacomCBS Networks International’s Race and Equity Taskforce as part of “Content for Change,” a global initiative that aims to counteract racism, bias, stereotypes and hate through the company’s culture, creative supply chain and the content it creates.

“Representation in media is a critical component to authentically connecting with diverse audiences and communities,” said Colleen Fahey Rush, executive vp, chief research officer, ViacomCBS. “Along with launching our expanded Content for Change initiative, this study reflects how ViacomCBS is proactively taking steps to transform our entire creative ecosystem to better serve our audiences and create meaningful change now and for the future.”

Christian Kurz, senior vp, global streaming and corporate insights, added: “We know representation done right can aid in improving the lives of people globally and have the responsibility not only to continue the changes within our industry but also serve as a catalyst for positive social change around the world.”

Here are some more findings from ViacomCBS’ study:

How well people feel represented depends on who and where they are in the world. For example, race and ethnicity is not an issue ranking in the top 5 for respondents in Argentina, Chile, Germany, Italy and Poland. On the other hand, age ranked second in the U.K., Australia, Germany and Poland. And “religion or beliefs” ranked no. 2 in Brazil, Malaysia and Singapore.

Many who feel poorly represented do not see enough people like them on screen, based on aspects of their appearance. Nearly 70 percent of people who feel poorly represented say they do not see enough people like them based on such things as their body type and how they dress. Among people with a physical disability who feel poorly represented, nearly 40 percent say they don’t see people with their body type on-screen.

However, those who feel poorly represented don’t just mention looks, but also say they do not see enough people who “behave like me” (33 percent), “are the same economic level as me” (29 percent), “speak with the same accent or dialect as me” (22 percent), “have a family like mine” (21 percent) and “live in a home like mine” (21 percent).

“Perpetuating stereotypes and lazy portrayals of different groups are hugely damaging to audiences,” ViacomCBS also found. “Harmful stereotypes are especially apparent among certain ethnic groups, who feel they are portrayed in particularly negative ways. For example: Middle Eastern and Arabic people (20 percent) and Black people (18 percent) feel they are portrayed as criminal; Middle Eastern and Arabic people (19 percent) and Indigenous people (10 percent) feel they are portrayed as angry; Middle Eastern and Arabic people (17 percent) and Black people (16 percent) feel they are portrayed as dangerous.”

Poor representation also has a negative impact on the way audiences feel. “Nearly 60 percent of those who feel poorly represented say it makes them feel unimportant, ignored or disappointed,” ViacomCBS found. “Among those that feel poorly represented, the top three areas that a lack of representation impacts are: self-esteem and confidence (41 percent), sense of belonging (40 percent) and opportunities (34 percent).

In the next five years, however, “nearly half of people globally think representation in TV shows and movies will get better,” ViacomCBS found.

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