Report: From Top Down, Hollywood Lacks Color

Updated Mar 26, 2015

LOS ANGELES — The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at the University of California Los Angeles has released a new report that basically confirms what we already know: minorities continue to lag far behind their White counterparts in securing jobs as actors, directors and top-level executives in Hollywood.

Their findings were revealed in the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report titled, “Flipping the Script,” the second in a series of detailed reports that examines diversity within the Hollywood entertainment industry.

Dr. Darnell Hunt is director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies and a professor of sociology and African-American studies at UCLA. He is the co-author of the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.Dr. Darnell Hunt is director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies and a professor of sociology and African-American studies at UCLA. He is the co-author of the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.

Researchers analyzed 200 theatrical film releases in 2012 and 2013 and all broadcast, cable and digital platform television programs from the 2012-13 season, in an effort to document the degree to which women and minorities were present in front of and behind the camera.

They found that minorities write 10 percent or fewer of episodes on nearly two-thirds of broadcast-scripted shows. White actors occupy more than three-quarters of digital-scripted shows and dominate broadcast-scripted roles, while minorities were underrepresented by a factor of nearly 6 to 1 among lead roles in all broadcast-scripted shows.

But the most glaring form of underrepresentation has been among Hollywood executives. During the same time period, film studio heads were 94 percent White and 100 percent male, while film studio management was 92 percent White and 83 percent male. Television network and studio heads were 96 percent White and 71 percent male, while television senior management was 93 percent White and 71 percent male.

“It is the best of times and the worse of times,” said Robert Townsend, an actor, producer and director best known for his movies Hollywood Shuffle and The Five Heartbeats, a popular 1991 musical drama.

Townsend appeared last week on a panel about diversity in Hollywood at the annual meeting of the National Council of Black Studies, which gathered in Los Angeles.

He said that, while popular television shows such as Scandal, Being Mary Jane and Empire showcase positive representations of African-Americans on television, minorities still have a long way to go in terms of breaking the glass ceiling.

“When I was a kid, television was the babysitter,” said Townsend, who will receive an honorary doctorate in May from California State University, Northridge. “Now it’s not the babysitter you want to have.”

Actor Wren T. Brown said that, despite the limited role of African-Americans on television and in films in previous decades, actors such as Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen approached their craft with a degree of “integrity and dignity” that he said is absent in Hollywood today. “I feel like we are regressing as a society,” he said. “We have to continue to grind, but we have to grind with a purpose.”

Still, Brown said that there is little effort on behalf of Hollywood to embrace racial diversity.

“If you can deliver a man of color to the White House before you can deliver a man of color to the studio, now that’s very interesting,” said Brown. “We have to keep pushing.”

Although the success of African-Americans in Hollywood, including director Shonda Rhimes and casting director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd, indicates a degree of progress, Dr. Darnell Hunt, director of the Bunch Center and a professor of African-American studies, said that a variety of new initiatives are needed to produce different outcomes.

“There is no magic bullet,” said Hunt, who co-authored the report. “This requires interventions on all fronts. But I don’t see anything on the horizon that would lead me to believe that there’s an impetus for sufficient change in the near future.”

Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at jwatson1@diverseeducation.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson.