Holiday Films: A Racial Diversity Scorecard

Credit: YouTube

Credit: YouTube

The holidays are coming up, which means it’s almost Oscar season, which means it’s time to camp out in the movie theaters!

Earlier this week there was a leak of some Sony movies like Annie and Fury just in time for the holiday season. While this might be considered great for people who can’t necessarily afford to go to the movies to see everything they want to, what actually happens is that movies with actors of color—in this case, a black child actor in a remake of a musical already getting racist backlash—lose potential profits, and movies with lead actors of color are continually deemed unmarketable or undesirable by audiences.

Based on this, I took a quick glance of the movies currently in theaters and opening this month, just to measure up how racially diverse the holiday season theater offerings are this year.

The methods for this are not exactly scientific, nor do they actually reflect screentime or representation. I simply counted any wide-release or “Oscar-buzz” prestige movie that had a single actor of color listed in the cast on its IMDb main page. Seriously, just one. Again, this is a very wide net. Often IMDb cast listings do not necessarily reflect the actual cast listing and billing order until after the movie release, if ever. IMDb cast listings again don’t reflect screentime, so while Jamie Foxx will be in most scenes of Annie, he had about 10 minutes total screentime in Horrible Bosses 2. Similarly, The Interview meets this bare minimum of having Asian actors in the roles of Kim Jong Un and other North Koreans, but I think we can all agree that the representation of Korean Americans and types of roles given to Korean actors is not going to dramatically improve in a post-Interview world.

December Releases

Movies with Actors of Color in Lead Roles

Top Five – Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union
Annie – Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx
Selma –  David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Tessa Thompson
A Most Violent Year - Oscar Isaac

Movies with Actors of Color in Supporting Roles

The Pyramid
Dying of the Light
Exodus: Gods and Kings – Ben Kingsley, Indira Varma
Inherent Vice – Michael Kenneth Williams, Maya Rudolph
The Captive – Rosario Dawson
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb – Rami Malek, Mizuo Peck
The Gambler – Michael Kenneth Williams
Unbroken – Takamasa Ishihara
The Interview – Randall Park

Other Major Releases

After the Fall
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Mr. Turner
Into the Woods
Big Eyes
American Sniper

I included the movies in November because let’s be honest, they’re probably still showing in many movie theaters.

November Releases (That Might Still be Showing During the Holidays)

Movies with Actors of Color in Lead Roles

Big Hero 6 – Daniel Henney, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, Maya Rudolph
Beyond the Lights - Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker
Rosewater – Gael García Bernal, Shohreh Aghdashloo

Movies with Actors of Color in Supporting Roles

Interstellar – David Gyasi, David Oyelowo
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I – Mahershala Ali, Jeffrey Wright
The Penguins of Madagascar – Ken Jeong, Annet Mahendru
Horrible Bosses 2 – Jamie Foxx

Other Major Releases

Dumb and Dumber To
Saving Christmas
The Imitation Game
The Babadook

Did you want an overview of December and November combined? Of course you did. Pie charts are fun!


What did we learn? There may have been more actors of color listed than I originally thought, but again that doesn’t guarantee that they will have much screentime. Mahershala Ali and Jeffrey Wright were barely onscreen during Mockingjay, and David Oyelowo basically had a cameo in Interstellar. The bar for representation is so low, that even those glorified cameos are something that audiences of color are excited about. For those who cared, recognizing President Snow’s advisor Egeria (whose character name I just found out) in Mockingjay as Mississippi Masala star Sarita Choudhury was exciting and even affirming.

This list doesn’t even take into consideration the representation of LGBTQ actors and actresses, in these holiday films, or the movies with LGBTQ characters. Similarly, actors with disabilities haven’t been included in this quick overview. I barely parsed out how various races are represented and by whom. You’ll notice that a few of the most diverse movies are in fact, animated, and that often actors repeat across a few movies. Behind the camera factors haven’t been looked at either (i.e. directors, screenwriters, producers).

The fact that more than a third of the movies released in the past two months had all-white casts is disappointing and inaccurate to the world today. To explain it in Hollywood terms, in appealing to a global audience/market, it just doesn’t make sense. As far as the importance of representation in our media goes, my seven-year-old cousins both said their favorite part of the Thanksgiving parade was seeing Annie perform, so that’s gotta count for something.

This story first appeared at Persephone Magazine, a daily blog focused on topics of interest for modern, intelligent, clever women.

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