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Audiences gravitate to TV shows with more diverse writers and casts, report says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A report on diversity in Hollywood finds that audiences are receptive to diversity. Put another way, it's a diverse country, and all kinds of people like to see people who reflect themselves. The UCLA report finds that TV streaming has made room for a much wider range of characters, but not quite as wide as the population. NPR's Mia Estrada reports.

MIA ESTRADA, BYLINE: The report looked at TV shows from the 2019-2020 season, like the Netflix series "Gentefied." It zooms in on three Mexican American cousins who try to save their grandfather's taco shop.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENTEFIED")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) There's nothing gentrifiers hate more than being called gentrifiers. We're tapping into their biggest fear.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Brown lesbians?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) White guilt.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Oh.

ESTRADA: Shows like "Gentefied" and Netflix's "On My Block" have a majority minority cast and ranked in the top 10 streaming shows for Latinx households. Francisco Cabrera-Feo wrote an episode for the upcoming season of "Gentefied" and says he could be every part of himself in a diverse writers room.

FRANCISCO CABRERA-FEO: Because now there's a show where I can be queer, I can be Latino, I can be bilingual, I can be an immigrant, and, also, I can be a chubby kid. What?

DARNELL HUNT: Those shows did incredibly well, and they show what's possible if you just produce what diverse audiences want.

ESTRADA: That's Darnell Hunt, co-author of the annual report. He said the biggest takeaway was that people of color want to watch programming where their identities are featured, not just in the background, but in prominent roles. But despite that appetite from viewers, the UCLA report showed that Hollywood is still failing Latinx people, even though they are one of the fastest-growing communities in the country.

HUNT: It's really unfortunate. I mean, Latinx people make up about 18.5% of the population. But if you look at TV, you know, across all three platform types - broadcast, cable, digital - Latinx people are woefully underrepresented.

ESTRADA: According to the report, Latinx people were cast in 6.3% of broadcast TV roles and even fewer in cable and streaming TV shows. Behind the camera, the numbers get even more glaring. Hunt said the lack of representation can be attributed to the studio and executive suites, the people who decide what gets greenlit.

HUNT: Whites are overrepresented in these halls of power, and unfortunately people of color and women just haven't had the same access to influence the way things are made.

ESTRADA: The UCLA report showed that Asian Americans and Native people are also underrepresented. But Hunt said the continued rise of digital streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu is opening doors for diverse show creators to pitch ideas that would have never been considered viable on the major broadcast and cable networks. "Gentefied's" Francisco Cabrera-Feo says he's living an experience he wishes more people had.

CABRERA-FEO: There's so much work to be done. I just want to be a little light of hope - right? - that those leaders - that all the people - all the shoulders that I know I'm standing on know that it's working.

ESTRADA: But as the report notes, only when women and people of color are integrated into executive positions will Hollywood truly solve its diversity problem.

Mia Estrada, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY OF THE SUN'S "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE MATTERS TO EVERYTHING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.