Hollywood appears to have mostly responded to calls for greater cast and crew diversity with a collective yawn. As multiple diversity reports indicate, it's been show business as usual despite the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and furors over film and TV's reluctance to put the full breadth of American diversity on screen. In fact, USC's annual “Inequality in Popular Films” report earlier this month found that Latino representation in top-grossing films was at a 10-year low.
One of the more recent recipients of criticism over lack of diversity has been CBS Television, which let its Hawaii Five-O stars, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, walk away over a dispute about equal pay with the program's top white actors. The fissure left the show with no lead actors of Asian descent, despite its setting in an Asian-majority state. Critics quickly pointed to the network as one of the worst when it comes to diversity hiring. But this week, Latino groups preparing to target CBS for action said they're holstering weapons for now.
The groups — including the National Latino Media Council (NLMC), the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) — announced that after meeting with CBS chairman Leslie Moonves recently, the network has demonstrated some changes. It had doubled the number of regular Latino actors on screen since this time last year, doubled the number of Latino writers, and agreed to hear at least 10 pitches from Latinos and order at least some shows from Latino writers.
“We picked the worst network for action, and we were ready to fight,” says NHMC CEO Alex Nogales. “But Moonves surprised us with a doubling of actors and writers since 2016.”
The meeting included Nogales, who also represented the NLMC, and Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF. “CBS has now taken strides to address this issue, and others should follow the CBS example,” Saenz said in a statement.
“Now is the time for all networks and other media outlets to address this long-standing issue of significant Latino under-representation, for the outlets' own future prosperity as much as anything,” he said.
The groups had long sought a meeting with Moonves to discuss lack of progress on a 1999 memorandum of understanding between CBS and the NLMC, American Indians in Film and Television, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition and the NAACP. The agreement had Moonves “promising to diversify and increase people of color in the workforce,” according to the NLMC.
The Hawaii Five-O debacle served not only to accelerate calls for diversity and accountability but also appeared to have inspired the network to move quickly to shore up its numbers, Nogales said. Latinos compose 18 percent of the U.S. population, purchase about one in four major-title movie tickets, and represent nearly half the population of L.A. County, home to the film and TV industries.
Nogales said the NHMC was ready to launch a boycott, write letters to advertises and “put social media to work” before being surprised by CBS' figures. He said CBS will now have to face Asian-American organizations and other groups represented in the 1999 memo. “We're off to a good start,” he said.
The Latino groups did not divulge exact numbers on CBS diversity. And the matter of equal pay for minority actors, as highlighted by Kim and Park, remains a disputed one, says Nancy Wang Yuen, chair of Biola University's sociology department and author of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.
“It's great that CBS is making a push,” she says. “But we need to know if pay is equal, too. You add people of color but you invite them into an unequal environment. Is the quality of the characters equal? There needs to be equality beyond just numbers.”
Rick Najera, a screenwriter who directs CBS' annual Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase, agreed. “This isn't an imaginary problem,” he says. “The facts and data prove it. CBS recognizes this has to change, and I'm encouraged by it.”