NAACP Television Report Shows Diversity Remains Unfulfilled Goal

On August 15th, Kweisi Mfume, President & CEO, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said that while there have been increases in the number of minority actors in on-air television roles, since 1999 when he said there was a “virtual whitewash” in network television, an absence of color remains in the executive levels.

Mfume said: “A review of the television industry shows, there is practically no representation of people of color in the top echelon of production, which is the nucleus of the industry. Whether the paucity of minority executives at the networks, studios, or other entities is because of nepotism or cronyism, or racial discrimination, the results are the same.”

Mfume made his remarks at a press conference to introduce a NAACP report on the television and motion picture industry. “It is still unknown whether there is any identifiable African American who has authority to ‘green light’ a new series, or make final decisions relevant to creative activities. The snail’s pace reaction by some of the networks eighteen months after reaching a set of preliminary agreements with the NAACP and other groups has been discouraging.”

The report shows the lack of progress is most evident in the News, Public Affairs and Sports departments. In entertainment programming, the report says the scarcity of writers, show runners and casting directors changed little during the 2000-2001 season and corporate Boards at the networks and or their parent companies remained virtually all white.

This report encompasses the NAACP’s 18-month compilation of facts and findings in its investigation of what the networks have or have not done to remedy the issue of meaningful diversity and extension of opportunities for people of color in the industry.

All four networks voluntarily submitted year-end statistics of their diversity initiatives to the NAACP and its coalition partners. The results included in this latest report include information submitted from the 2000-2001 season.

The report shows for African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans progress on diversity by network television over the last year has been relative at best. African Americans and other races of people are underrepresented in almost every aspect of the television and film industry and, they have been denied access to positions of power in Hollywood.

In managerial positions filled by people of color the report shows the Fox Network is composed of 27 percent, CBS 20 percent, NBC reported little to no progress in the numbers of minorities hired in front of and behind the cameras and ABC failed to provide adequate information to determine any progress in this category.

For on air positions, Fox Network reported having 24.8 percent African American actors, 6.4 percent Hispanics, 4 percent Asian Americans and 1.6 percent Native Americans. CBS reported the numbers of African American, Latino and Asian American actors increased in the 2000-2001 season. CBS reported no Native American actors nor presented any percentages according to the total workforce. NBC reported African American were down 11 percent, Asian Americans were down 18 percent, Hispanic actors were unchanged and there were no Native American actors at the network. ABC did not provide information as to the total number of actors employed for their primetime schedule therefore we were unable to determine the relative progress of such information.

In directing, Fox reported 15 percent of the total number of directors were people of color an increase of 5 percent. CBS reported an increase in the number of African Americans only 1 Latino and no Asian Americans or Native Americans hired as directors. NBC reported no directors of color and ABC reported 30 percent of the directors for its comedy and drama programs were minority.

Of the total amount spent on goods and services in the fiscal year 2000, Fox reported that 27.96 percent was spent with minority vendors. CBS did not provide any information as to the dollar amount spent with minority vendors but it has hired an African American owned public relations firm to enhance the networks outreach to minority press and the public. NBC has increased its use of minority vendors and spent more than the $10 million it pledged by reporting a total of $10.2 million being spent in minority goods and services. ABC reported no information on money spent with minority vendors.

Fox, CBS and ABC have in place programs to train and recruit candidates for careers in network television while NBC offers an internship program for aspiring directors.

Mfume added, “We applaud the efforts of the VP’s of diversity at each network, however they must be given greater latitude over the decision making process if real change is to occur company wide. The constant second-guessing of them and their opinions opens the door for a ‘business as usual’ approach at the highest levels of management. In the aggregate, those facts leave the NAACP with little hope that all of the networks understand or are really willing to work on the issue of diversity of opportunity in the executive, production or talents ranks of television as we know it.”

In motion pictures, despite the emergence of films produced and/or directed by young minority filmmakers, many established actors of color are without work. This is particularly true of African American actresses, who are becoming increasingly invisible on the movie screen.

The situation is made even more pronounced when one considers that there is an obvious correlation between lack of minority creative executives in Hollywood and the lack of funding for minority-oriented projects. Such projects traditionally enhance opportunities for African Americans, Latinos and Asians particularly behind the camera where it is the hardest to gain employment. The dearth of opportunities for people of color in behind-the-camera employment is in part tied to the highly subjective hiring practices in the entertainment industry, the closed roster system and membership requirements of guilds, and the lack of access through major Hollywood agents. Additionally, since the majority of production jobs are covered by collective bargaining agreements, lack of representation in the respective labor organizations further restricts access to these jobs.

Aside from employment opportunities and decision-making authority on the creative side, studios and networks for the most part have also made little or no effort to use minority-owned businesses for the many products and services they purchase. Although the NAACP’s current diversity initiative may have caused major networks to be cognizant of such patterns, production houses and procurement officers have yet to follow suit. While some film studios use African American or Latino advertising/public relations firms to help market black-themed films or sitcoms, there is no evidence that minority firms as a whole are receiving a fair share of the industry’s purchasing dollars to market other mainstream productions.

As in other industries, the lack of ownership of distribution and retail businesses by African Americans and other minorities allow others to control and exploit and neglect minority creative talent for their own economic benefit. Minority entrepreneurs should be encouraged to invest in film distribution companies, including movie theaters.

The NAACP’s work in this area over the years indicates that occasional attacks on discrimination are not sufficient, and that the time has come for decisive activity through its permanent presence to deal with the issues affecting equity for people of color in Hollywood.

The NAACP has identified four options for action should progress not be seen during the 2001-2002 season: a sustained selected boycott of one of the major networks and its advertisers; revisiting the Fin-Syn rule; using the Children’s Programming Rule as a precedent to have the courts mandate programming opportunities for people of color; and a class action lawsuit against the networks that seeks to prove a long term systemic denial of opportunity through employment, hiring and promotional practices that have resulted in the abysmally low number of people of color employed by the networks.

Mfume said, “It appears increasingly likely that the NAACP may vote soon to employ a massive, targeted and sustained economic boycott aimed at one of the four major networks and their major advertisers. We envision that such a boycott would last indefinitely, particularly during sweeps periods. Furthermore, the NAACP believes that if there is not a greater forum of opportunities for qualified men and women to compete in without being discriminated then class action litigation must be pursued.”

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