*On Sunday, February 21st I participated on a panel called Where Am I?: Dialoguing: Multi-Cultural Representation in the Film and Television Industry, along with award-winning Director, Oz Scott, Cinematographer, John Simmons, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, Kathryn Galan, and Assistant Executive Director of the Directors Guild of America, Regina Render, which was moderated by Tanya Kersey, Founder and Executive Director of the Hollywood Black Film Festival.
The discussion was opened by Ms. Kersey’s expression of disappointment regarding Vanity Fair’s “New Hollywood” spread, which did not feature any women of color. Although roles for people of color are still scarce, Gabourey Sidibe is an Oscar nominee this year and Zoe Saldana, who is Dominican and Puerto Rican, had roles in two of the top films of 2009, “Star Trek” and “Avatar.” So there is no excuse for them, or any other talented non-white actresses, to have been omitted from the Vanity Fair spread. But clearly, new Hollywood is still being viewed through the eyes of old Hollywood.
And as I mentioned during the panel discussion, before UPN and the WB networks were merged to form the CW, there were several shows with African-American leads running, and thriving quite well in primetime. And UPN was home for many shows headed by very talented African-American females, such as Yvette Lee Bowser, Sara Finney-Johnson, Eunetta Boone, Mara Brock Akil and Meg Deloatch. At one point, both Eunetta Boone and Mara Brock Akil had two sitcoms on the air at the same time. But unfortunately, since the CW became an official network in the fall of 2006, “black” television as we once knew it to be is now non-existent. Currently there aren’t any shows with African-American leads on network television either. In fact, Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns” are the only two shows with African-American leads currently running on cable (as first runs, not syndicated). And this was why discussions about the lack of diversity in film and television are so important. This has to change. Since so many shows starring people of color have been cancelled, it appears that we’re going backwards instead of forward. African-American creators, showrunners, writers, directors, producers, actors, and even many of the below-the-line crew people, are still displaced and in search of a new network home. Actually, make that a new network community. Why should we have to settle on just one network?
But diversity isn’t lacking just in front of the camera. John Simmons is only one of 4 African-Americans who is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, which has at least 300 members, who are selected by invitation only. As Mr. Simmons joyfully stated, he’s very proud to be included in this organization. But the bigger problem is there are only 7 African-American cinematographers in the International Cinematographers Guild, out of over 3,000 members and that is what disturbs him the most… as it should.
Unfortunately, things for our Latin-American colleagues aren’t any better. “Lopez Tonight” is currently running on non-primetime cable, which is hosted and produced by Mr. George Lopez, so that is a plus. And Peter Murrieta, the Executive Producer of “Wizards of Waverly Place,” a show about a Latino family on the Disney Channel, is also Latino, but again, they’re both cable shows, not network shows. So currently there aren’t any shows with Latino leads on network television.
And despite Kathryn Galan stating that there are actually several Latinos in executive decision-making positions, including Nina Tassler at CBS and Lucia Cottone at Lifetime, the major studios, the mini majors, and the agencies do not have Latino presidents, EVPs, SVPs, VPs, directors or managers (except for NALIP board member RIck Ramirez, VP of Home Entertainment Marketing at FOX), in creative, production, legal, marketing, or publicity, which is simply unacceptable.
In a February 4th post on Baseline Research, it was reported that “of the 66 pilots documented so far, 13 pilots had at least one female writer as part of the “created by” team; however, of those 66 pilots, only 7 of them were written entirely by women… A closer look at all the names will reveal one writer of Hispanic origin, three Asian-Americans and an entire absence of African American writers.” How can this be in 2010?
As part of our talks to find solutions, it was agreed that we need more people of color, especially women, in executive decision making positions like Traci Blackwell, the V.P. of Current Programming at the CW, who works extremely hard to make sure she helps writers and directors of color, as well as mentor young people. Ms. Blackwell is so committed and dedicated, she recently spoke at the WGA’s Committee of Black Writers December meeting. And as Oz Scott suggested, we must realize the power of relationship building and networking as effective strategies in obtaining work in this industry, as well as the importance of working in a variety of mediums to keep one’s skills sharp – He moves between theater, TV and film.
Overall, it was truly a phenomenal panel discussion, which was coordinated by Tiffini Bowers, curator at the California African American Museum, in association with the America I Am exhibit at the California Science Center. I just hope one day we’ll no longer need to discuss topics such as this one. But until then, details about events and programs that encourage diversity and inclusion can be found on the WGA,w and the WGA Foundation websites: wga.org; wgfoundation.org. Or you can always contact Kimberly Myers, Director of the WGA West’s Diversity Department.