UPDATE: Deadline has issued an apology for suggesting that whites aren't getting enough work in Hollywood. Sort of.
In Los Angeles, nearly three out of four people is a minority. In California, Latinos recently surpassed whites as the largest ethnic/racial group. And the United States' population is now more than one-third (37 percent) minority.
Darnell Hunt of UCLA’s Bunche Center for African American Studies has said that, because Hollywood has been so slow to change, and because the country's minority population continues to grow, film and television's reflection of America's diversity is actually getting worse.
His latest research shows that minorities captured only 6.5 percent of the lead roles on major-network scripted programs.
That hasn't stopped the industry trade publication Deadline from lamenting that recent “ethnic” successes in television — Empire, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, Jane the Virgin — symbolize a shift in casting that has created roles “off-limits for Caucasian actors.”
The piece, published this week, says that “imposing a quota of ethnic talent on each show might not be the answer.”
Of course, critics of Hollywood's stubbornly resistant whiteness in this here brown city were nonplussed. The story notes that scripts are actually designating that certain characters be minorities.
The Deadline story also says that some “original white protagonists have been changed to black this season” for some TV projects. One show is about women in the Boston Police Department in the 1970s. Those women at the time were mostly white, but damn if those producers didn't include four — four! — black women on the show, the piece says.
How dare they?!
What the story failed to note is that, in Hollywood, a character's background is almost always considered to be white unless otherwise noted. The piles and piles of scripts in this town are, almost always by default, based on white characters.
Now that's what we call being “off limits.” As in, if you're a minority in Hollywood, almost everything has been off limits.
In highlighting a refreshing and new exception to this rule, Deadline is claiming that “the pendulum might have swung a bit too far” toward casting minorities. It actually says that.
What's this world coming to? A Hollywood that gave us Ben Affleck as a Mexican American in Argo, Al Pacino as a Cuban in Scarface, and Scarlett Johansson as an Asian in the upcoming big-budget version of Ghost in the Shell is actually slipping a few African Americans into white history?
This progress is just too much. Stop this crazy train. The Deadline piece's main sources appear to be Hollywood agents. Interestingly, Hunt's previous UCLA research found that 90 percent of the agents at major talent firms in Hollywood are white. A vast majority are male. So … yeah.
What's really amazing is that, despite the handful of minority driven shows that have been successes this season, Hollywood had a tough year with critics for its apartheid-leaning employment scheme. It was just last month that the Academy Awards had to endure criticism that none of its acting nominees were anything else but white.
The balls on these suits: Instead of bowing their well-coiffed heads in shame as they drive their $200,000 Porsche 911 Turbo Ss out into this diverse city (median individual income $27,749) everyday, they are actually pushing back, saying, enough is enough.
Likewise, the Hollywood trade publications appear to reflect the industry they cover, with Spanish surnames and other minority bylines seemingly rare. It's no wonder that, in this Hollywood bubble surrounded by a minority metropolis, Deadline could apparently publish such a preposterous story without one editor stepping on the brakes.
Does Deadline's daily coverage even have any minority editors in this here majority-minority town? Good question. The author of the controversial piece is said to be from Bulgaria, which is a long way to go for editorial talent. It's certainly farther than East L.A.
In researching our recent cover story on the lack of minorities in Hollywood, we reached out to Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, The Wrap and Variety and asked what percentage of their editorial staffs were minority. Not a one responded.
This week a coalition of minority media organizations — American Indians in Film and Television, Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, NAACP Hollywood Bureau, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition — lambasted the Deadline story and called on the publication 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.”
The coalition went on to grill the trade publication with the following statement. Read it and weep:
Shame on Deadline for giving a platform to the prejudices of a few Hollywood agents who, under the cloak of anonymity, revealed themselves to be among the entertainment industry gatekeepers reluctant to change their unfair and exclusionary practices and make way for progress.
The inaccuracies and misconceptions the article put forth are patently offensive and reflect a larger problem of persisting racial and ethnic bias in the entertainment industry.
Genuine progress in diversity on television is an extremely recent phenomenon and we applaud recent steps to diversify television in front and behind the camera. For full inclusion to happen, however, the entire industry's discriminatory business model that has historically pushed out people of color needs to change.