Deadline, a trade publication that started as a spinoff of Nikki Finke's notorious Hollywood industry column at L.A. Weekly, was lambasted last week for an article that argued “the pendulum might have swung a bit too far” when it comes to casting minorities on television shows. (Finke and Deadline parted ways in late 2013.)
As we've noted, the latest research shows that people of color were getting only 6.5 percent of speaking roles on major broadcast-network shows, which is a far cry from America's 37 percent minority demographics, and an even farther cry from L.A.'s roughly 73 percent minority population.
We've said it before: Hollywood's film and TV industry operates in a white bubble. Even with recent on-air successes that include Empire, Fresh Off the Boat and Jane the Virgin, Hollywood has a long way to go in employing and representing the people of its community (people who just gave the industry roughly $1.6 billion in tax dollars).
It appears that Deadline's article was inspired by griping Hollywood talent agents (90 percent white, overwhelmingly male) who said too many roles were, in the words of the author, “off-limits for Caucasian actors.”
Maybe those agents, notorious for sending out lists of available actors that are overwhelmingly filled with white candidates except in rare cases when a minority is specifically called for, should have been prepared with more diverse talent rosters.
Nonetheless, for anyone following Hollywood's dismal minority hiring record, for both off- and on-screen gigs, the suggestion that whites were being elbowed out was preposterous.
A coalition of minority media organizations that included American Indians in Film and Television, Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, NAACP Hollywood Bureau and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, quickly called on Deadline to …
… take immediate steps to hire more reporters and editors of color to broaden its coverage of people of color in the entertainment industry and increase understanding of diversity's value in the industry.
Over the weekend, Deadline's top-of-the-masthead editor, Mike Fleming Jr., apologized for the article in an online column he shares with former Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart.
It was half sincere. Fleming partly blamed the piece's original headline (“Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing?”), which he said “created a context from which no article could recover.”
The Deadline co-editor-in-chief says he had been traveling, suggesting that he wasn't there to approve or edit the controversial piece:
A perfect storm of events left us vulnerable, including me choosing the worst time to be zonked from a 22-hour return flight from New Zealand, and normally smart editors on duty failing to respond decisively even after a torrent of hostile comments rolled in.
(Interestingly, Bart, whose time at Variety is marked by one of the whitest editorial staffs ever in Los Angeles, responds, “I have always nodded off at the word diversity' … ” No doubt. The record's clear on that. He argues that the best people deserve a fair shot regardless of race or ethnicity — a tenet told to this writer by another Variety editor years ago. Given that publication's lack of “diversity,” one could only conclude that it's mainly whites who make the best journalists, despite the recent misstep from the also-very-white Deadline team).
Fleming said that the piece received more than 700 comments, most from readers who had “teed off” on the publication for its data-challenged conclusion that “the pendulum might have swung a bit too far” in casting minorities.
Here's Fleming's apology and money quote:
The missteps were dealt with internally; we will do our best to make sure that kind of insensitivity doesn’t surface again here. As co-editors in chief, Nellie and I apologize deeply and sincerely to those who’ve been hurt by this. There is no excuse. It is important to us that Deadline readers know we understand why you felt betrayed, and that our hearts are heavy with regret. We will move forward determined to do better.
There was no word, however, on whether or not Fleming would take the advice of the minority media coalition and actually hire some journalists of color. Having one in the room when this article was edited might have made all the difference in the world for Deadline's cred.