Should White Film Industry Titans Get a Tax Break as They Fail at Diversity?
According to a recent report by the Milken Institute's California Center, Hollywood is losing jobs to out-of-state locations, including New York City, because they offer greater tax incentives. The losses account for 1 in 10 jobs from 2004 to 2012, and they're good gigs, paying an average of more than $95,000 a year, according to the institute.
California assemblymen Mike Gatto and Raul Bocanegra think they have the cure, a bill that would expand the state's own tax credits for film and television production. Except they might have missed a chance to address another burning issue in Hollywood:
UCLA's "2014 Hollywood Diversity Report" last month found that whites made up nearly 9 out of 10 lead roles in 172 theatrical releases from 2011.
It also found that, in a nation that is half women and nearly one-third minority, in a state where Latinos are expected to become the largest ethnic group this month, and in a city where Latinos make up one out of every two of us, as do women, Hollywood has been seriously lagging:
-Three-fourths of the lead roles were male.
-Nearly 96 percent of the directors were male.
-Nearly 88 percent of the directors were white.
-More than 92 percent of the writers were white.
-Nearly 86 percent of the writers were male.
-Nearly 93 percent of television "show creators" were white.
-Major talent agencies were 90 percent white.
Notwithstanding last night's Academy Award wins by Alfonso Cuarón (best director), Lupita Nyong'o (supporting actress) and 12 Years a Slave (best picture, directed by Steve McQueen), those UCLA numbers are pretty sad.
The report notes that all the Oscar-winning films it examined in 2011 were directed by whites. The Academy, it says, is 93 percent white and 76 percent male, with an average member's age being 63.
The runaway-production bill proposed by Gatto and Bocanegra seeks to expand eligibility for California's 20-to-25 percent tax credit, which applies to a limited number of stay-at-home projects.
As it stands, films with a production cost of more than $75 million are out of the running. So are TV pilots and one-hour shows.
In New York, movies that cost as much as $420 million can qualify. Though there is no specific number yet, it appears the legislation would attempt to make California more competitive with New York. It would also seek to add an additional 5 percent credit to those productions outside L.A., apparently to appease Northern California lawmakers.
Still, this is one of the wealthiest industries in the state where, as mentioned above, people working at desks, in editing bays and on sets can make nearly $100,000 a year and more. That can make the cost of living in Los Angeles just that much more difficult for Angelenos outside the industry.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has said the Gatto-Bocanegra tax bill "represents a prudent investment in the future of California's middle class." But which middle class? The white, male one?
A giveaway of millions of dollars in public tax money should support good jobs, but not just for white men, says Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
"Incentives have to be there for the hiring of people of color in the film industry," he told us. "Why are we pouring money into it if the white guys are getting all the jobs?"
Nogales is all for increased tax incentives: If the jobs aren't here, nobody works, regardless of their race, ethnicity or gender. But he'd like to see women and minorities get a piece of the pie too:
We can put political pressure on state legislators to do better. We've got to give incentives to those productions that have people of color in them.
Darnell Hunt, lead author of the UCLA report and director of the university's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, says minorities have been fighting to get jobs and better representation in Hollywood since at least the 1970s, when the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights addressed "Window Dressing on the Set: Women and Minorities in Television."
"The networks and studios talk about diversity, why it's important, but I haven't seen concrete translations to actual business practices," Hunt told us. "Something like incentives to stem runaway production could work in that regard if there was a requirement that is much more inclusive of our workforce."
Ironically or not, Hunt says his past research has shown that movies and television shows with more minorities tend to do better with audiences.
"Most people in the industry see themselves as progressive," he says. "There's got to be a way to include other people into the business. The current industry is not sustainable. We're talking about stories that people pay to see. People increasingly are going to want to see stories that resonate with their experiences."
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