Movies That Pushed For Diversity, And Came Out On Top

In Hollywood, diversity has a slightly different meaning than it might in the "real world." Hollywood generally recognizes a film as "diverse" when it has at least 30% inclusion of women and/or members of minority populations among the cast and crew. When actress Frances McDormand popularized the term "inclusion riders" during her 2018 Oscars speech, she was referencing conditions within actors' contracts that "demand at least 50% diversity not only in casting but also the crew."

According to the powerhouse talent agency CAA, out of almost 100 feature films with budgets exceeding $100 million, there's a massive difference in the worldwide box office average between movies with diverse casts and without – a $120 million difference in favor of diverse films, to be exact. This eye-opening data proves that successful movies with diverse casts aren't the exception to the rule; diversity means bigger box office numbers across the board.

There are a variety of reasons diversely cast films do well at the box office. First, previously untapped talents are finally given an opportunity to share their abilities with the world. Also, movies that employ diverse creative teams include different perspectives and different stories, meaning it's not the same old formulas and business as usual when you sit down to watch a movie. And there's the not-insignificant fact that when folks who belong to marginalized communities see themselves and their lives reflected on the big screen, it benefits everyone. Representation truly does matter.

  • Crazy Rich Asians
    Video: YouTube

    In Crazy Rich Asians,  Rachel Chu travels to Singapore with her longtime boyfriend, Nick, to attend his best friend's wedding. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick's family is loaded, and he is considered one of the most eligible bachelors in the country. Rachel has to keep up appearances, fend off status-hungry socialites, and try to win the approval of Nick's mother, all while coming to terms with her boyfriend's hidden identity. 

    While the movie fits into some romantic comedy molds - like the modest girl/Prince Charming relationship - Crazy Rich Asians defies stereotypes, subverts tropes, and boasts an all-Asian cast - something unheard of since 1993's Joy Luck Club. The film raked in $34 million during its first five days in theaters, and Warner Bros. almost immediately greenlit a sequel due to its wild success. 

    The movie isn't a success in a strictly financial sense, either. Alissa Wilkinson from Vox called it a "dazzling, sumptuous success," and believes it "triumphantly breathes new life into the Hollywood rom-com," and thousands of fans took to social media to show their appreciation and encourage others to see it. 

    • Actors: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu
    • Released: August 15, 2018
    • Directed by: Jon M. Chu
  • Black Panther
    Video: YouTube

    As of July 2018, Black Panther is the second highest-grossing movie of the year. But that's just one of the many superlatives earned by this diverse superhero movie that follows T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and his battle against N'Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan) for the soul of Wakanda. It is also the highest-grossing solo superhero movie of all time, as well as the highest-grossing movie by a Black director. In its first six months it earned nearly $1.35 billion against a production budget of roughly $200 million.

    Manohla Dargis of the New York Times wrote in her review:

    In its emphasis on Black imagination, creation and liberation, the movie becomes an emblem of a past that was denied and a future that feels very present. And in doing so opens up its world, and yours, beautifully.

    • Actors: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman
    • Released: 2018
    • Directed by: Ryan Coogler
  • Get Out
    Video: YouTube

    In many regards, Get Out is unusual for a major Hollywood film. It's simultaneously a horror movie, a comedy, and an incisive social commentary. Led by writer/director Jordan Peele and starring Daniel Kaluuya in his first leading onscreen role, it defied expectations and grossed $255.5 million against a $4.5 million budget. Kulaaya plays Chris, a young Black man who goes home to meet his white girlfriend's family, and encounters horror beyond his wildest imaginings.

    Get Out earned four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor; Peele won for Best Original Screenplay. Critics lavished heaps of praise on the movie, and it appeared on many year-end best-of lists. Stephanie Young for The Root wrote the thriller was "unafraid to comment on race," noting, "Black people will never be able to relate to white privilege, and it’s obscenely displayed with violence and complete entitlement in Get Out in a way that’s sure to make folks uncomfortable, but isn’t that a testament to true artistry?"

    Rolling Stone's Peter Travers called it, "A jolt-a-minute horrorshow laced with racial tension and stinging satirical wit. How is one movie all that? See Get Out, from debuting director Jordan Peele... and get woke."

    • Actors: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones
    • Released: 2017
    • Directed by: Jordan Peele
  • Wonder Woman
    Video: YouTube

    Another superhero movie that bucks the trend to focus on characters not often given the spotlight, Wonder Woman is female-led, female-directed, and one of the top-grossing motion pictures of 2017. With a production budget of $149 million, Wonder Woman brought in over $821 million at the box office.

    Gal Gadot plays the title character, an Amazonian goddess who must claim her birthright in order to save the world. Time magazine praised the film as setting a new benchmark for what superhero movies can be. Stephanie Zacharek wrote:

    Wonder Woman points a way forward toward the possibility of better blockbusters. The movie’s opening section, which details Diana’s path from scrappy girl to fearless warrior, is clever and lively, as well as gorgeous to look at... Leaping and soaring through her training, she’s like one of Degas’s bronze ballerina sculptures grown up and come to life, strong and free and at least a little pissed off. Her grand jeté is all muscle and all heart. At last, it’s her time to shine.

    • Actors: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston
    • Released: 2017
    • Directed by: Patty Jenkins