The Golden Globes Fall Short In One Major Category

January 11th 2015

Kathleen Toohill

The Golden Globe nominees for best film at this weekend’s awards ceremony couldn't be more different in tone than the movies that were hits at the box office this year. The five films nominated for best picture are grounded in real-life stories, while the top five money-makers at the box office were set in the realm of the fantastic, centered around super heroes and big-name franchises. 

But whether escapist or realistic, there's one thing these movies all have in common: all fall short of reflecting the racial and gender diversity of their audiences. 

Who still goes to movies anyway?

White people in the United States and Canada in 2013 represented a share of moviegoers (59%) smaller than their share of the total population (63%), according to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). (The MPAA defines “moviegoer” as someone who went to at least one movie in a given year.) Minorities, on the other hand, had higher per capita attendance than white people in 2013. Hispanics reported attending six movies per year on average, while African Americans and  “others” reported four visits per year. White people, however, only reported attending three movies each year. Both Hispanics and African Americans also made up a larger share of moviegoers than their share of the population.

In terms of gender, women make up more than half (52%) of moviegoers, while men comprised just 48%.

So if white men are not the most loyal customers that Hollywood has, why do so many movies tell stories about white men? 

Women on screen

Russell Crowe recently made headlines for telling actresses that they should be more realistic about which roles are appropriate for their age. 

"I think you'll find that the woman who is saying that [the roles have dried up] is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingénue," Crowe told Australian Women's Weekly. "And can't understand why she's not being cast as the 21-year-old.” 

Actresses including Jessica Chastain and Famke Janssen reacted negatively to Crowe’s comments, with Janssen adding that a clear dichotomy persists between the diversity of roles available to men and women. 

"The good news is it's changing,” Janssen said, “and it's changing largely because a lot of [television] shows... are turning to women for female driven story lines and plots. I think that’s a really great departure from where we were." 

Actress and producer Reese Witherspoon is helping to bridge this diversity gap by using her production company, Pacific Standard, to create challenging and complex roles for women.  

The diversity breakdown: blockbusters

The five highest grossing movies of 2014, according to Box Office Mojo, were “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “The LEGO Movie,” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” In addition to sharing a penchant for colons and science fiction/fantasy/dystopian settings, these movies, for the most part, do not succeed at mirroring the diversity of their audiences.  

Guardians of the Galaxy

The top grossing film of 2014, “Guardians of the Galaxy” features a large ensemble cast that perhaps better represents the diversity of its audience than do the other four movies. The cast of “Guardians” features seven white men and women, and five men and women of color (including actors of Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Beninese descent, as well as Vin Diesel, who does not know his biological father but says he “self-identifies” as a person of color). 


The human cast of “Transformers” (as opposed to those who voice the Transformers) includes ten white men and women, and only two minorities: one actress of Chinese descent (Li Bingbing) and one African-American actor (Charles Parnell). 

Captain America & The Hunger Games

“Captain America” also features a relatively homogenous cast (eight white actors and two African American actors in the primary cast) with a white lead, as does “Mockingjay – Part 1.” The cast of “Mockingjay” is somewhat limited by the world created by Suzanne Collins in her books – African American singer and actor Lenny Kravitz played Cinna in earlier movies, (Spoiler Alert!) but his character had been killed off by this point in the trilogy. District 11, which represents the American South and has a more heavily African American population in the movies, plays a smaller role in this movie than it did in the first one. This raises the question: to what extent should studios and casting directors push for diversity in their films when it’s not provided for in the source material, whether this source material is literature or real life? 

“Mockingjay” is the only one of these ten movies with a female protagonist. In addition to Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss Everdeen, Julianne Moore (President Coin) and Natalie Dormer (Cressida) have roles as strong, self-sufficient women who aren’t accustomed to taking orders from men. 

The LEGO Movie

Cast diversity is a bit more difficult to characterize in “The LEGO Movie,” given that the characters are, well, Legos. But even a movie about tiny plastic toys fails the diversity test – among the actors voicing the characters, eleven are white. Morgan Freeman is the only minority represented in the cast. 

The diversity breakdown: best picture nominees 

The 2015 Golden Globe best picture nominees are “Boyhood,” “Selma,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything,” and “Foxcatcher.” In terms of cast diversity, two of the five stand out, by virtue of the stories they tell: “Selma” and “The Imitation Game.” 

Selma and The Imitation Game

“Selma” tells the story of the civil rights marches in the South in 1965, while “The Imitation Game” tells the story of computer scientist Alan Turing, prosecuted for his homosexuality despite his groundbreaking work during World War II. These two movies allow audiences to see historically underrepresented groups as drivers of narrative rather than side notes or sidekicks. The other three nominees contain narratives that are no less valid, but more focused on white males, more homogenous, and more typical of Hollywood. 

Boyhood, Foxcatcher, and The Theory of Everything

“Boyhood” tells the story of a white boy growing into adulthood amidst his white family. “Foxcatcher,” which tells the true story of John du Pont’s obsession with wrestling and his relationship with the Schultz brothers, has a predominantly white cast, as does “The Theory of Everything,” which chronicles the relationship of physicist Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde.

Should we alter stories to increase diversity? 

Out of these ten films, the five top-grossing blockbusters and the five Golden Globe Best Picture nominees, only three focus on the stories of minorities, the LGBTQ population, or women.

Four of the five Golden Globe-nominated movies (“Boyhood” being the exception) are based on real people and real events, so casting directors necessarily faced limitations on the choices they could make. But should casting directors make diversity a priority, regardless, or are they simply beholden to the stories they bring to life? And if the directors of historical dramas are in fact responsible for historical accuracy above all else, shouldn’t the directors of science fiction and dystopian films “pick up the slack” by choosing to embrace more diverse casts? 

Regardless of the agency of casting directors, these white male-centered movies are still the movies that studios are choosing to make and that nominating committees are choosing to award. If studios don’t start creating and marketing movies containing a broader range of narratives, and casting directors don’t start making bolder and less narrow-minded decisions, there may be a point when minority and female audiences taper off, in search of entertainment that’s less homogenous and better captures their own experiences. 

With the population changing toward majority-minority and women increasingly taking on traditionally 'male' roles in society, this strategy of only marketing to white men won't work.