Audiences See More Diversity On-Screen, But Would Like More Complex and Accurate Portrayals
How do audiences feel about the diversity they see in TV shows and movies today?
In 2021, Paramount Insights surveyed 15,000 consumers across the world to understand their perceptions of the state of on-screen representation and diversity. The resulting study, Reflecting Me, revealed that audiences craved better representation both on- and off-screen.
In 2023, as part of our Content for Change initiative, we set out to refresh our understanding and build upon those findings from two years earlier. In addition to a new global survey of consumers ages 13 to 49 in 15 countries, we spoke to a variety of leading figures shaping the global conversation around media and culture.
Here’s some of what we learned from this research about audiences’ current perceptions of representation in TV shows and movies:
Viewers want more on-screen diversity. Three-quarters of people globally think there needs to be more diversity in TV shows and movies.
Media portrayals continue to have a strong positive influence upon people’s perceptions of different groups. Our research in both 2021 and 2023 found that TV show and movie portrayals have a positive influence the ways different groups are seen, exceeding the influence of news coverage, laws, and the opinions of friends or family. Additionally, most people (82%) agree that “the portrayals of groups and identities in TV shows and movies influence perceptions about them in the real world”
Audiences believe the quantity of representation is improving. Since 2021, people have shifted toward thinking a variety of groups have “the right amount” of representation, including many groups that were perceived to be more underrepresented two years ago – women, Black people, people of Asian heritage, immigrants, indigenous people, and people with mental or physical disabilities.
Satisfaction with the quality of portrayals has not improved, however. Many people do not feel reflected in the content they see. Even though there is more diverse content available than in 2021, the percentage of viewers who feel satisfied with representation has remained at around 50%. Additionally, 56% of consumers agree that “people like me are not represented enough” and 53% agree that “people like me are represented inaccurately.”
Stereotyping is felt most acutely when it comes to race/ethnicity, as well as sexual and gender identity. Among people who feel poorly represented, people feel most stereotyped based on their race/ethnicity (66%), sexual orientation (64%), gender identity (63%), body shape/type (63%), economic status (62%), and religion/beliefs (60%).
Viewers want intersectional representation that depicts the nuance of the human experience. This research found that among those who feel poorly represented, the more marginalized identities with which a person self-identifies, the more likely they are to agree that “the stories told only ever focus on one aspect of my identity.” Among people globally, 81% agree that “multiple facets of identity should be represented in TV shows and movies, not just one.”
People want the entertainment business to commit to better representation on both sides of the camera. Almost 8 in 10 consumers believe that the companies making TV shows and movies should commit to increasing diversity and representation within the content as well as among those involved in all facets of its creation – from writers to directors to camera operators and beyond.
Looking to the future, audiences remain optimistic that on-screen representation will improve. When asked how they think representation in TV shows and movies will change over the next 5 years, people were three times more likely expect it to get better (46%) rather than worse (15%).