Critics of Hawaii Five-0 Diversity Debacle Eye CBS

Grace Park, right, and Daniel Dae Kim talk Hawaii Five-0 at San Diego Comic-Con in 2010.
Grace Park, right, and Daniel Dae Kim talk Hawaii Five-0 at San Diego Comic-Con in 2010.

Critics of the newfound lack of diversity at television's Hawaii Five-0 are focusing some of their ire on the network that broadcasts the primetime cop show, CBS.

Citing the 2014 Television Network Diversity Report, the National Hispanic Media Coalition said in a statement over the weekend, "The lack of diversity at CBS isn't new."

"In 2017, the fact that we're still fighting for equal and fair representation on a major television network is extremely problematic and changes must come about," Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the organization, said in the same statement.

It was reported that co-stars Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, the remaining Asian-American headliners on a show based in a majority-Asian state, exited Hawaii Five-0 after failing to achieve the same pay as fellow actors Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan, who are white. Kim appeared to confirm the motive for his departure with a Facebook post. "The path to equality is rarely easy," he wrote.

The diversity report, which graded networks on diversity initiatives and on the hiring of Latino actors, writers, producers, directors and executives, ranked CBS among the worst, giving it a final mark of "mediocre." "CBS’ performance is lagging in nearly every category, including Latino on-screen talent in scripted and unscripted roles," according to the report.

CBS' saving grace at the time was its elevation of Latina Nina Tassler to the role of entertainment chairman. The next year, however, she stepped down and assumed an advisory role with the network. "Given the networks' record in terms of diversity, the loss at Hawaii Five-0 is incredibly ill-advised," Nogales says during a telephone interview.

"I think it's reckless," he adds. "It's going to cost them with the Asian community and with other communities of color."

The latest UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report examined 806 scripted broadcast TV roles and found only 4 percent were filled by Asian-Americans. It didn't rank the networks on diversity, but last year the Los Angeles Times looked at the broadcast networks' fall lineups and concluded that CBS had the fewest minority lead actors. It also stood out as the only such network without a show built around a family of color.

In a statement responding to criticism that Kim and Park were worth equal money, CBS said, "We did not want to lose them and tried very hard to keep them with offers for large and significant salary increases."

Producer Peter M. Lenkov added, "The actors were getting unprecedented raises, but in the end they chose to move on. Over our 168 episodes, Hawaii Five-0 has and will continue to showcase one of the most diverse casts on TV."

Some Hollywood observers have pointed out that TV stars are usually paid by their billing and, technically speaking, Kim and Park were billed third and fourth on Hawaii Five-0. To pay them the same as the first and second stars could open the network to such demands from other actors, regardless of their ethnicity. Nogales, who has monitored industry diversity for more than three decades, suggests that CBS should have helped to bend the rules in the case of Hawaii Five-0, particularly given the show's setting.

"When you have four people and they're all talked about in the same breath, and you've not compensated them as the rest, it's bigoted," he says.

Variety reported that Kim and Park were offered pay that would be 10 to 15 percent less than what their white co-stars were expected to make for the upcoming eighth season of the program. It's not clear if O’Loughlin and Caan offered to pitch in for pay equity, but similar scenarios have taken place at other shows, including The Big Bang Theory and Friends. Those pay equity battles, however, weren't about diversity.

April Reign, the former attorney who founded the #OscarsSoWhite social media movement, said via email that Kim and Park have brought renewed focus to the matter of equal pay for people of color.

"I am encouraged to see that the issue of pay equity has traction and I hope that it continues to gain momentum," she said. "It is incumbent that we all do our part to ensure inclusion in entertainment. That includes those who are able to use their privilege to stand in the gap for those fighting for a seat at the table."


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