Today the major US film studios--known as the Big Six--are Warner Bros. Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures/Touchstone Pictures, and Universal Studios. Together these six companies got about 80.6% of the market share in 2009. So these six are very big, and very influential. Let's see how they do.
First, a boring discussion of how I went about this. I checked the IMDb page for each company, counting Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures as the same company, as well as Universal Studios and Universal Pictures. I didn't look at any of their subsidiaries or child companies specifically, but I think most of those films were included in the IMDb lists I perused. I examined films that these companies either distributed or produced between 2000 and 2009. I tried to limit it to US theatrical releases--I attempted to cull out direct-to-DVD releases, though I may have missed a few. I also more or less kept it to films created in the US--I didn't feel that studios should get credit for casting an Asian person because they brought over a Chinese film, for instance. However, I'll admit that what films I admitted and excluded were sometimes chosen at a whim, so I counted quite a few UK, Canadian, and Australian films too, I believe... as long as they got a theatrical release in the States. I also omitted documentaries and the like. Some films were counted more than once, because they showed up on the IMDb pages of multiple companies.
I tried to figure out who was the main character of the movie, which was not always the same person as who got first billing on IMDb (even setting aside the times when IMDb appears to list cast alphabetically or by order of appearance). For instance, Will Smith gets first billing in The Legend of Bagger Vance, but I took Matt Damon as the main character. And countering that, Robert De Niro gets first billing in Men of Honor, but I counted Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the main character. I mostly cross-referenced the films with Wikipedia to decide who was the main character (since I haven't seen most of these movies), and so may have made some mistakes. In movies where there's an ensemble cast and no clear main character, I think I mostly took whoever was listed first of the main characters on IMDb or Wikipedia.
Then I recorded their race and gender, which is another instance in this pursuit where I had to make personal choices about things. In most cases it was pretty clear what race the actor was, but some of them I had to make a decision. In a lot of cases where a star had mixed ancestry, but I felt they came across as white to the public, I counted them as such. So Cameron Diaz, though she could count as Latina, I counted as white. Johnny Depp apparently has some Cherokee in him, but I counted him as white, too. Keanu Reeves is part Hawaiian, but I counted him as white. And so on. In the interests of fairness, I also maintained a separate tally where those stars were counted as people of color--not that it changes the results a whole lot.
In the case of animated and CG movies, I followed the example of the parent study and looked at the race and gender of the voice actor--for the most part. In some cases, the animated character was a human with a clear race or gender that differed from that of the voice actor. In those cases I counted the race & gender of the character portrayed, instead of the voice actor. So Lilo of Lilo & Stitch was counted as Native Hawaiian, even though her voice actor Daveigh Chase is white. Kuzco of The Emperor's New Groove was counted as Native American even though David Spade is white. And, well, you get the picture. Of course, live-action films didn't get the same leniency. So while the main character of Hidalgo is supposed to be part Native American, because he's played by all-white Viggo Mortensen, I counted him as white.
Since, as I've said, I had to make (often arbitrary) decisions in the course of this, other people who did the same survey might get different results. (In fact, for a lark I surveyed Paramount's films, too, to see how my results differed from those of the Racebending.com staff.) So I maintained an Excel spreadsheet of the studios and films I examined, so anyone who's interested (read: no-one) could double-check my work and come to their own conclusions. You can find that here.
I think I've said more than enough--probably more than necessary--about all that. So, on to the results.
Warner Bros. Pictures
I found that Warner Bros. Pictures distributed or produced 241 films in the years 2000-2009. Of those, 172 had a white male as the lead; 44, a white female; 10 a black male; 3 a black female; 5 an East Asian male; 3 a Latino male; 1 a Latina female; 1 a Persian male; 1 an Indian male; and 1 a multiracial female.
So in total that's 89.6% white leads in their films--71.4% white males, 18.3% white females. Blacks were leads in 5.4% of the films. East Asians got to be the lead a scant 2.1% of the time, with no East Asian female leads. Latinos were the lead in 1.7% of the films. There were no Native American leads (unless you count Johnny Depp and Mandy Moore, both part-Cherokee).
Males were the lead in 192, or 80%, of these films. Women of course were only 20% of the leads, but women of color were a miniscule 2% of the leads, getting only 5 films.
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox distributed or produced 209 films in the decade I looked at. The leads were: 133 white males; 45 white females; 16 black males; 4 black females; 1 East Asian male; 1 East Asian female; 2 Latino males; 3 Latina females; 2 Indian males; 1 Indian female; and 1 multiracial female.
So that's 85.2% white leads, with 63.6% going to white males and 21.5% to white females. Blacks got to lead in 9.6% of their films, while East Asians only 1%... and that after rounding up. Latinos fared scarcely better with 2.4% of the lead roles going to them. And Indians got 1.4% of the leads.
Men were the main characters in 154, or 73.7% of these films. Women of course therefore got 26.3%, with women of color only having 4.3% of the leads, due to 9 films.
I counted 156 pictures distributed or produced by Columbia Pictures during the years in question. And I tallied their main characters at: 90 white males; 34 white females; 23 black males; 1 black female; 1 East Asian male; 2 East Asian females; 2 Latino males; and 3 Latina females.
Thus, in percentages, that's 79.5% white leads--57.7% white males, 21.8% white females. Blacks were the lead in 15.4% of the films, but East Asians only 1.9%. Latinos got to star in 3.2% of their movies.
Men lead in 116, or 74.4%, of the films. Women had 25.6% of the films, although women of color were the main characters in only 6 movies, a mere 3.8% of the total during this time.
Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures are different labels of the same motion picture company, so I counted them together. In total I counted 144 films produced or distributed by them from 2000-2009. The main characters were: 91 white males; 33 white females; 10 black males; 1 black female; 3 East Asian males; 1 Latino male; 3 Native American males (two of them animated and voiced by white actors); 1 Hawaiian female (also animated and voiced by a white actor); and 1 Indian male (again, animated and voiced by a white actor).
Let's divide and multiply by 100! We've got 86.1% white leads, 63.2% being white males and 22.9% white females. Black leads made up a small 7.6% of the films, East Asians an even smaller 2.1%, and Latinos less than one percent. We actually got some Native American leads from these companies, though: 2.1% of them.
Men were the main character in 109, or 75.7%, of the films for these companies. Women starred in the other 24.3% of them,and women of color in an embarrassingly small 1.4%--and half of that is Lilo. The other half is Tiana from Princess and the Frog, so there wasn't a single live-action woman of color as main character from these companies.
I found a Universal Pictures and a Universal Studios on IMDb, and I couldn't tell you how they differ. But together I counted 179 films from them. I counted the stars as: 115 white males; 43 white females; 16 black males; 1 black female; 2 Latino males; 1 Latina female; and 1 Indian male. That's right--no East Asian stars.
In other terms, there were 88.3% white leads, with 64.2% of the total being white males, and 24% white females. Blacks starred in 9.5% of the films, and Latinos in 1.7%. East Asians, sadly enough, were entirely absent.
Men got the starring role 74.9% of the time, in 134 films. Women necessarily got the remaining 25.1% of the films. Women of color were the main character in only 1.1% of the films.
There's a lot of work left to be done. Actors of color are sadly underrepresented as main characters in cinema--Asians make up ~4.4% of the population of the US, but struggle to get half that representation in films. As a matter of fact, in total Asians were the stars in only 1.4% of the films I looked at. And perhaps an unfortunately high percentage of those films were action/martial arts ones: I count 3 films as martial arts ones, and another 2 or 3 as action films. That's close to half of the 13 films with Asian leads.
As far as I could tell, there was only one Native American actor cast as a lead in all 929 films I looked at, and that was as the lead in Apocalypto, which was hardly a shining example of how to represent Native Americans. As well, all three films that had a Native American lead (including the two animated ones, The Emperor's New Groove and Brother Bear) all took place in the past. Native Americans are treated as relics of the past, as though they were all extinct now.
Compared to their portion of the US population, Latinos may fare the worst. They make up 15% of the US population (more like 10% if we only count white Latinos), but get only around 2% of the leads in films.
And even blacks don't fare too well, despite their highly visible place in American society and decades of trying to improve matters. African-Americans are around 12% of the US population, but the only company that actually reached (actually, exceeded) that level representation in their films was Columbia, though Paramount and 20th Century Fox come close.
Women, of course, get far less than their fair share of leads, and women of color are barely present as main characters.
And as I'm sure we're all aware, white males land leads at rates vastly at odds with their portion of the population. Non-Latino white males would make up roughly 32% of the population, but regularly get twice that in starring roles.
Not to preach to the choir or anything, but this is what makes the mission of Racebending.com and other advocacy groups an important one. When we already have so few roles going to people of color, to take a role that was meant for someone of color and give it to a white actor is incredibly insulting.