Happy Friday. Time to blow up the “talent pipeline” myth, Hollywood style.
The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California is back with a new list about diversity in Hollywood. But rather than focusing on where inclusion isn’t, this one focuses on where it is.
The Inclusion List, released Thursday evening and debuting at the Cannes Film Festival this weekend, is a new, data-driven ranking of the 100 most inclusive theatrically-released films from 2019 to 2022. (The think tank’s streaming list will drop at a later date.) The data also highlights the distribution companies and producers outdoing their peers with inclusive casts and intentionally curated crews. “We thought it would be really important to actually quantify how folks are doing on screen and behind the camera,” Stacy Smith, founder and director of USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative, tells Fortune. “There are so many excuses against inclusion happening. But you can see from this list what is, in fact, possible.”
The analysis yields some interesting insights.
Topping the list of inclusive films are The Woman King, The Farewell, Zola, Harriet, and Laal Singh Chaddha, three notably earning a Metacritic score of 75 or above. “People like to think that film is this high art, but most of the films that we evaluate every year are failures—most of them receive a score below 60,” she says. “I’m an academic, and that’s a failing grade.”
The clear winner on the distribution side was Universal Pictures, which has 24 films in the top 100 list, including Harriet, Honk for Jesus. Save your Soul, and Queen and Slim.
The eight producers who made the cut demonstrate a real commitment to inclusion and have clearly found solidarity with each other. (Many have worked together over the years.) That list includes Will Packer (Little, The Photograph, Beast), Dede Gardner (Minari, Women Talking), and Jordan Peele (Candyman, Us, Nope). “These are the folks over four years who are consistently making decisions to include people who have talent and not exclude them based on their identity, which is exactly what Hollywood has done since the dawn of the industry,” Smith says.
Smith, who spoke to me by phone from LAX on her way to Cannes, frames the list as a truth-to-power tool.
“We actually capture people who are doing a really good job. There are no excuses,” she says, noting that the studios and filmmakers are effortlessly finding composers, production designers, cinematographers, and writers from underrepresented backgrounds who traditional power players say don’t exist.
And yet true inclusion remains elusive: The movie industry became less diverse last year. Why? Smith ticks through the usual talking points. Yes, the business case for inclusion in entertainment has been made and remains compelling. And, of course, the world would be vastly improved if we understood each other more deeply through the powerful medium of cinema and storytelling.
Make no mistake, she says, this is about power.
“Who gets to kill people’s dreams? Who gets to shut the door? Who gets to tell somebody they’re not gifted, brilliant, or talented?” she says. “When a very small group of decision-makers get to give a green light based on somebody’s identity, not their talent, that’s a form of oppressiveness and discriminatory action.”
In a perfect cinematic moment, she boarded her flight with a rallying cry for equity.
“Until we see at every level that people have recognition—and command respect through pay and opportunity that is equal to all the achievements of white men—then this work matters.”
This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ruth Umoh.
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