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January 20, 2018

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Diversity issues still loom large in Hollywood

IN January, Hollywood’s traditional award season, two important reports and remembrances of Martin Luther King rekindled the focus on the issue of diversity and inclusion.

The issue come to a head last year in Hollywood with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Equality advocates protested the lack of people of color in any of the main acting categories of the 2017 Oscars, voted by the Academy membership which the Los Angeles Times reported to be 94 percent white and only 2 percent black and less than 2 percent Latino.

And adding fuel to the fire is a study published early this month by the highly respected University of Southern California which conclusively showed that diversity in Hollywood and media representation still has a long way to go.

“We’re seeing that there’s not just a diversity problem in Hollywood; there’s actually an inclusion crisis,” said Stacy L. Smith, founding director of the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The USC study cited, “an epidemic of invisibility” that is skewing public awareness of race and ethnicity, because of the under-representation of women and people of color in the media. For instance, though women make up over 50 percent of the US population, only 33.5 percent of the speaking characters were female. While minorities represent 40 percent of the population, they only take 28.3 percent of the speaking roles and a scant 13.5 percent of lead roles.

Anita Hill, the federal attorney who rocked the nation when she accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his US Supreme Court nomination hearing in 1991, said “the content of race, gender, LGBT will impact on what the next generation sees as their place in the world.”

So, while certain ethnic-centric films such as last year’s Best Picture winner “Moonshine,” this year’s Golden Globe nominee “Get Out,” plus “Mudbound,” and Disney’s animated Mexican tale “Coco” grab the limelight, only 7 percent of US films in general had an ethically balanced cast.

The interracial megahit thriller, “Get Out” is especially shaking things up as it nabbed two Golden Globe nominations, won the American Film Institute’s Film of the Year award, and racked up US$254 million in box-office returns.

The TV industry stats showed a marginal improvement over film, with 19 percent of programs being more ethnically balanced, including such standouts as the Golden Globe winner “This is Us” and Emmy Award winner “Atlanta,” ”Westworld” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” However, shows with LGBT characters weighed in at only 2 percent.

Nely Galan, best-selling author of “Self Made,” predicted that “‘minorities’ are about to be the majority in this country — we need to get our power back. We must be louder and braver.”

A second study released by UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunch Center for African American Studies’ “2015 Hollywood Diversity Report,” reported that a key issue exacerbating Hollywood’s diversity problem is the overwhelming number of white executives. The study found that 94 percent of CEOs or chairs and 92 percent of senior management in film studios were white.

Former president of PepsiCo Global Beverage Group, Brad Jakeman, said “the vast majority of decision-makers are white, straight men. But gender and racial diversity are key drivers of innovation. Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue are too homogenous, and we are seeing the consequences.”

The USC study also cited Hollywood’s top talent agencies as exclusionary gatekeepers. Only 12.2 percent of minority actors were represented by the top three agencies, and that minority writers and directors were routinely underrepresented.

Bryan Allen, founder and CEO of the first African-American film studio in the Hollywood entertainment industry, said “the problem is to have a seat at the table. We need more women and People of Color in positions of power. We need to have more voices in the room.”

However, as the Inclusion and Times Up movements gain momentum in the entertainment community and minority-centric film and TV projects are performing profitably, pressure is mounting for the studios and networks to include more women and people of color in executive and creative positions.

“Forty-nine percent of box-office sales are to minorities. Inclusion is good for business,” said Jay Tucker, the executive director of UCLA’s Center for Media, Entertainment and Sports Memes.

Connie Neilson, who plays Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons in the female-centric blockbuster “Wonder Woman,” said everyone needs to be more pro-active in order for the movement to make progress. “No gatekeepers of just one race or one gender. These are the principles this country was founded on.”


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