The Hollywood Diversity Association (HDA), a Los Angeles area organization, is taking an important first step in a broader effort to add more color to the boardrooms, workforce and on-screen talent lineup in Tinseltown.
Next week, on June 7, the group is bringing entertainment industry leaders together for a critical first conversation intended to push the diversity in Hollywood discussion. Titled “Where Do We Go From Here?’” the event will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City.
“We all heard about the criticisms of the Oscars and how the Academy did not include minorities in the award process,” says James D. Pittman, HDA co-founder. “The recent research is extremely clear. There is a problem in Hollywood and we must do something about it.”
Although America is becoming more and more diverse, Hollywood—our familiar shorthand for the multi-billion dollar American film and television industry—has some major catching up to do.
According to the 2016 “Hollywood Diversity Report: Busine$$ as Usual,” compiled by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, minorities only played 13 percent of leading roles in major films in 2015. They only directed only 12 percent of those films.
Those numbers are particularly disturbing because, in total, minorities make up about 38 percent of the total United States population.
“The data is abysmal,” says UCLA professor Dr. Darnel Hunt, who heads the Bunche Center that operates in a region of the state where nearly half of the film industry jobs are located. “The unions have diversity officers, diversity departments, etc. They publicly talk about diversity but that’s not what the members always want. The unions are predominantly White and predominantly male, so pushing for diversity is voting against their own interests. Unfortunately that is the reality. Unions have been weak in pushing the football down the field.”
The picture gets Whiter and more uniform when you take a look at the complexion of executive suites and the broader employee rolls in Tinseltown. In the film industry, for example, studio heads are 94 percent White and 100 percent male.
The television industry isn’t doing much better on the diversity front, with the notable exception of ABC where CEO Channing Dungey and one of the broadcast network’s main writers and producers, Shonda Rhimes, are Black women. CEOs of television networks are 96 percent White and 73 percent male.
“Even being inside Hollywood, I have felt like I was standing on the sidelines,” says Vanzil T. Burke, co-founder of HDA and a former talent manager that represented celebrities, including Victoria Rowell, Jackie Christie, Todd Bridges and Michael Colyar. “I know I can no longer be a spectator.”
Burke says there has always been widespread belief that Hollywood needs more diversity but now the HDA has hard data to back that claim.
At next week’s event, Hunt will be the keynote speaker. He will be joined by co-authors of the Hollywood Diversity Report for a panel discussion which will be followed by a Q&A session and a networking reception.
Some HDA supporters say Hollywood’s diversity problem is even more striking because the industry had received so much in funding from taxpayers in California. In a 2009 Legislative Analyst Report, California provided about $700 million over the previous seven years in tax credits to the industry, although that number has since decreased.
“ There isn’t anything in writing from the state that forces the productions to be committed to diversity,” says Hunt. “Even the Screen Actors Guild uses non-specific language about diversity but their numbers don’t support that pledge.”
Vanzil says the HDA has clear, achievable goals that can make a dent on diversity in the industry.
“By the end of the year, our goal is to have 500 diverse people in front of the camera and behind the scenes. We are aiming to have 50 minority organizations attached to to the organization as well,” he says. “We also want to have five major networks signed up.”
More long term, Burke says he wants the HDA to play a central role in sourcing talent for the industry.
“We want to be the go-to organization for networks and studios,” he says. “We want them to be to reach out to us and see who we can recommend for particular jobs.”